Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Perry's transfer of funds draws more negative coverage

Continuing to follow Perry taking money from unemployment insurance and giving it to A&M:


With the headline "How biotech plan turned into political storm."

Jason Embry reports of the $50 million transfer by Gov. 39% "that quiet transaction has spurred an onslaught of questions about the Emerging Technology Fund, one of Gov. Rick Perry's signature programs."

A major critic of Perry's funds transfer is Chairman of House Appropriations Committee Jim Pitts. The Committee is placing riders in legislation to prevent such a unilateral move in the future.

Perry had not planned on announcing the funding yet; investigation by legislators made the transfer public. Pitts is also questioning why the A&M center seems to be working with financially strapped pharmaceutical firms on the project.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Perry routes funds from Unemployment Insurance to alma mater

The Quorum Report covers what happened yesterday afternoon in the dust-up between Gov. 39% and House Appropriations Chair Pitts over Perry's possibly improper allocation of $50 million to A&M.


It appears that not only were the funds sent to A&M outside of the usual process, but also the money came at least indirectly from the Unemployment Insurance Fund. Pitts expressed concern about the way the money was acquired and routed and proposed "riders that will rein in
Governor's discretion to transfer monies between trustee programs."

In the introduction to their special report (the entire report is available to their subscribers only), Quorum traces the route the money took: " The connection is indirect but at the same time fairly evident. Statute requires the Texas Workforce Commission to transfer $120 million from the unemployment insurance fund to the Employment and Training Investment Assessment fund. The money is then divvied between a skills development program and the Texas Enterprise Fund. As has been reported, $50 million was transferred from the enterprise fund to the Emerging Technology Fund, which awarded the money to A&M."

As this story continues to unfold--and as reporters continue to cover it--it means negative publicity for Perry continues.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Perry funnels money outside of proper channels

This morning's Statesman legislative blog reports that the back and forth about the Perry's unorthodox funneling of funds to A&M is not cooling off. In fact, the headline is Battle Between Perry and Pitts Heats Up. Jim Pitts is chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, and over the last few days, he has been questioning Perry's action.


The Statesman says, "fireworks could come in the afternoon."

Below is a brief recap of the brouhaha. Follow the link "revelations" to read more background.

"Committee Chairman Jim Pitts wants to ask more questions about a $50 million Emerging Technology Fund grant to the Texas A&M University System, particularly in light of revelations Thursday that the fund’s 17-member panel did not review the grant, as is its custom. Pitts said he had been led to believe by the governor’s office that the panel did review it.

"The governor’s press shop used the panel’s approval earlier in the week to shield Perry from criticism about the grant. Spokeswoman Allison Castle, who volunteered Thursday that the panel had in fact not reviewed the grant, said she got bad information from someone else in the governor’s office."

If Pitts's pummeling continues, could this bad publicity through the legislative session weaken Gov. 39% further, working to benefit KBH? Perry had hoped that his being on-site, hands-on during the high-profile session while KBH necessarily was mainly in DC would help him, but it won't if he further angers legislators, resulting in continuing negative coverage.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

$1.8 billion for Wilco transportation--related to Sen. Carona's new taxing entities?

Eye on Williamson links together important transportation news today.


As we reported earlier, Williamson County will hold open houses to present their 25-year transportation plan.

Information on the plan will be available on the county’s website starting March 20 at www.wilco.org. Comments can be sent to roads@wilco.org or call 943-1195.
Precinct 1 - Monday, March 30, at the Rattan Creek Community Center, 7617 Elkhorn Mountain Trail, in Austin.
Precinct 4 - Tuesday, March 31, in the Taylor Public Library Meeting Room, 801 Vance Street, in Taylor.
Precinct 2 - Monday, April 6, at Pat Bryson Hall, 201 N. Brushy Street, in Leander.
Precinct 3 - Tuesday, April 7, at the Central Maintenance Facility, 3151 S. E. Inner Loop, in Georgetown.
County-wide open house - Thursday, April 16, from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m., in the Commissioners Courtroom in the Williamson County Courthouse, 710 S. Main Street, in Georgetown.

This transportation plan is covered in the Taylor Daily Press article by Philip Jankowski, "Report: $1.8 billion for transportation by 2035."

EOW comments, "The sky is falling, the sky is falling. Please, please commissioners, act quick, on this 25-year plan and save us. . . .Is it just me, or does it seem ludicrous to anyone else that the WCCC wants to decide on the fate of transportation in Williamson County over the next 25 years in a little over two months? You may also be wondering how they plan on getting that $1.8 billion."

EOW continutes, "Of course no one’s seen the plan yet, and we will likely get to see very little of it, and even less influence over it, before its approval in early May. I would advise everyone, but especially those who own land in Williamson County, to show up at least one of these meetings and seriously scrutinize what your elected officials, and those who fund their campaigns, are proposing to do in your county over the next 25 years."

At least part of the answer to EOW's question of how they plan on getting that $1.8 billion is in a second Taylor Press article "County backs car fee," also by Philip Jankowski.

The Williamson County commissioners have asked to join the Central Texas transportation taxing authority that would be authorized by Senate Bill 855 by Sen. Carona. This bill has just been approved by the Transportation & Homeland Security Committee and is headed for the full Senate. The county could pay for new transportation projects by additional taxes on gas or auto registration fees.

"Here’s EOW’s take on the Carona’s plan, Enough of the half-measures and tinkering. In essence what the WCCC is doing is allowing a consultant to come up with this grandiose 25 year plan for transportation, and attempting to use fear and scare tactics, to trick county residents into voting for tax and fee, same as taxes, increases to pay for it."

There still seems to be a contradiction that will have to be worked out. At the same time that the wilco commissioners have voted to join the new taxing entity, the district's own Sen. Ogden has placed language in Sen. Carona's bill that exludes Williamson Co. from such a taxing entity. We'll follow this as it develops.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Eminent domain events--House hearing and Institute for Justice press conference

Two upcoming eminent domain events.

Tomorrow the House Land & Resource Management Committee will take up several bills to give property owners more protection against eminent domain. Some of them are similar to each other--don't know how this will shake out. The hearing is tomorrow, 8 a.m., in the Capitol Extension hearing room E2.012

Among the bills on the agenda are these two comprehensive bills:

HB 4

Orr et al.
Relating to eminent domain, including certain limitations, procedures, and standards relating to the use of eminent domain.

HB 1483

Pitts et al.
Relating to the use of eminent domain authority.

The Pitts bill is the one being supported by the Texas Farm Bureau. However, the Orr bill is said to be identical, or very similar. Pitts's HB 1483 is said to include the provisions in HB 2006 that was passed by both houses in 2007, but was vetoed by Gov. 39%.

You can follow this hearing online by going to


This hearing is scheduled to be on Livestream 3.

Institute for Justice press conference March 31

The IJ, the group that acted on behalf of Susette Kelo in her eminent domain case before the Supreme Court, will hold a press conference on the south steps of the Capitol on March 31 to release a report on the proposals to reform the eminent domain laws.

The IJ says, "Texas still has a ways to go until all of your homes, businesses, churches and farms are protected from eminent domain for private gain. IJ staff will be joined by affected property owners from Freeport, El Paso, San Antonio and Houston. We hope you will be able to join us, too! This is our opportunity to show the legislature that Texans still care about eminent domain abuse."

Press Conference on Eminent Domain Abuse in Texas Tuesday, March 31 @ 12pm South steps of the State Capitol 1100 Congress Avenue, Austin

"We encourage you to contact your representatives and tell them that you support strong eminent domain reform that earns Texas the A+ it deserves,"
(see: http://www.castlecoalition.org/pdf/publications/report_card/states/texas.pdf)
You can find out who represents you here: http://www.fyi.legis.state.tx.us/.

UT KBH/Gov. 39% poll--redux redux

For those who are keeping score, Burka has responded to the UT internet poll response to his second response to his first response, etc. Comments include more responses by the poll's authors.


As I said previously, this could go on for a long time--apparently forever. But with some interesting explanations and insights, for those of us following this "mother of all gubernatorial races" in its nascent stages.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Authors of latest gubernatorial poll respond to Burka

Yet another interesting update on the recent KBH/Gov. 39% poll analyzed by Paul Burka.


On March 21, Burka was re-thinking his first response to the UT poll in this post.

Perry camp touts UT poll results to national GOP activists, media–but is the methodology accurate?

Now a response from the pollsters, posted by Eileen Smith on the burkablog.

Texas Politics Project Responds

The blog includes a detailed explanation by Jim Henson and Daron Shaw of UT, plus some more interesting comments by readers, giving a lot of back and forth on desirable polling procedures and what the results may show. This could go on for a long time with little agreement in views on polling. Suffice it to say that all this polling in the gubernatorial race has started early, and we will be following it with great interest up to the 2010 primary.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Injustice on 290 E--CTRMA to use stimulus funds to HURT, not HELP the disadvantaged

On March 19, a Select Committee of the Texas House of Representatives heard testimony on whether certain transportation projects are suitable to receive Federal stimulus funds.

Thanks to Mary Anderson and Bruce Burton of Texans Against Tolls; Roger Baker, transportation analyst; Vince May, Elgin resident who has been active on this issue; and Mel Borel of TURF for testifying AGAINST using the stimulus funds to begin turning 290 East into a toll road.

Whatever your thoughts on whether there should be the stimulus fund program or not, I think that most of us can agree that if funds are going to be spent anyway, they should not be spent to force us to pay more money to drive to work on 290 E. Especially galling is that one of the priorities of the stimulus funds is to help economically disadvantaged areas. Using the funds to begin tolling the residents east of Austin will hurt an economically disadvantaged area.

You can email comments to the Select Committee Clerk at valerie.pizana@house.state.tx.us
Representative Jim Dunnam is the Chairman of the Select Committee, and you can email comments to his Chief of Staff at jenny.casey@house.state.tx.us

The Federal government has a website where you can leave comments if you think the stimulus funds are being misused—recovery.gov.
The comment form is here:

The site says: “The job of the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board is to make sure that Recovery.gov fulfills its mandate—to help citizens track the spending of funds allocated by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The Board consists of Inspectors General from about ten major cabinet agencies—including the Departments of Justice, Treasury, and Commerce—and one of its duties will be to review the comments and questions submitted to the site. Though the Board has not yet met, please feel free to submit your comments and questions below, and they will be gathered to present to the Board upon its first meeting.”

Here is the letter that I have emailed to the above offices:

"I watched the March 19 committee hearing online and would like to submit some comments to the Committee. I’m especially concerned about using stimulus funds that are supposed to help the economically disadvantaged to begin a toll project that will punish the surrounding economically disadvantaged residents.

"I am referring to the 290 E/183 flyovers. As reported, the CTRMA will get $90 million of stimulus money for this project. These flyovers are the west end of what they are calling the “Manor Expressway,” which will be tolled. Eventually, the tollway will run from these flyovers on the west to past the SH 130 toll road on the east—five or six miles. Then, in future years, tolling possibly will continue toward the east through Manor and on out 290 E toward or to Elgin.

"The Eastern Travis County/Manor area is a lower income area with many residents who have no disposable income to PAY EXTRA just to commute to work. ­­I think that using stimulus funds to begin this toll project is just the OPPOSITE of what is intended. The federal government has asked to use the funds to HELP the economically disadvantaged. Using stimulus funds to begin the 290 E tollway will HURT the economically disadvantaged.

"Turning the FREE lanes on 290 E into TOLL lanes is NOT NEEDED either for increasing traffic demand or for safety. You heard from Roger Baker, who has done much research over the years into transportation projects. I hope he provided you with written information, but to quote him briefly, 'Recent improvements to US 183 and also SH 130 have both REDUCED TRAVEL DEMAND on SH 290 E. The official TxDOT traffic counts thus indicate a DECRASING need to build this $623 million toll road in order to solve identifiable congestion problems.'

"Regarding traffic safety, Roger reported about the data he received from TxDOT for the sections where they would build the 290 E toll road, 'This knocks the props out from under the CTRMA/CAMPO theory that justifies rebuilding 290 E as a $623 million toll road in order to resolve worsening safety problems. You have to go back to 2003 to find a year as safe as 2008. As the traffic counts have gone down and travel has diverted to SH 130 and 183, the need for a 290 E toll road has DECREASED—in terms of both volumes and safety.'

2003—57 total crashes

"I hope that your Committee will do whatever is in its power to try to stop this injustice that is about to be perpetrated on the people who happen to live on the east side of Austin through a program that is supposed to be helping them. Indeed, I believe that using these Federal funds for an economically unjust purpose would violate Title VI that is supposed to prohibit such

DATE CHANGES for Williamson Co. Transportation Meetings

I had previously posted the announcement from Williamson County about their Transportation Update open houses. The County has now changed some of these dates and the new dates are below. Pct. 4 remains the same, Tuesday, March 31, in the Taylor Library, 6-8 p.m.

From Williamson County:

Williamson County will hold several open houses to get public input on its updated transportation master plan. The County is seeking feedback on what roads and transit improvements should be built over the next twenty-five years, as well as various transit options, to help address expected growth; it is this plan that guides these future capital improvements. The engineering firm URS was hired to manage and develop the plan for the County, working in close collaboration with each of the cities in the County. A draft plan will be available for the public to review at the end of March. All precinct open houses are from 6 to 8 p.m.

Information on the plan also will be available on the county’s website starting March 20 at www.wilco.org. Comments can be sent to roads@wilco.org or call 943-1195.

Precinct 1 - Monday, March 30, at the Rattan Creek Community Center, 7617 Elkhorn Mountain Trail, in Austin.
Precinct 4 - Tuesday, March 31, in the Taylor Public Library Meeting Room, 801 Vance Street, in Taylor.
Precinct 2 - Monday, April 6, at Pat Bryson Hall, 201 N. Brushy Street, in Leander.
Precinct 3 - Tuesday, April 7, at the Central Maintenance Facility, 3151 S. E. Inner Loop, in Georgetown.
County-wide open house - Thursday, April 16, from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m., in the Commissioners Courtroom in the Williamson County Courthouse, 710 S. Main Street, in Georgetown.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Dan Byfield, national property rights advocate, to speak in Coupland March 30

In the comment to yesterday's post, Eminent domain bill set for hearing March 25, Chris writes about the problems encountered by property owners with issues other than condemnation for transportation, such as energy and right-of-way. The Coupland Civic Organization is hosting a national property rights advocate on Monday, March 30, whose organization is involved in all these issues.

Dan Byfield, president of the American Land Foundation, a national property rights organization, will speak to the Coupland Civic Organization on Monday, March 30, in the Fellowship Hall of St. Peter’s Church of Coupland. The Coupland Civic Organization will host a spaghetti supper at 6:30 p.m.; the program will begin at 7 p.m.

Byfield will discuss the “391 Commissions” that he has formed in Texas to fight projects like the Trans-Texas Corridor. He says, “The American Land Foundation and Stewards of the Range have joined efforts to teach local communities how to fight for and protect private property through a strategy known as ‘Coordination.’ Utilizing federal and state land use statutes, Coordination gives local units of government the power to bring government regulatory agencies to their table.”

These agencies are required by law to “coordinate,” meaning that they have to give notice of any plans or projects they are considering to the local unit of government, such as a “391 Commission.” The agency must take local plans and desires into account when making its plans. “The strongest aspect of Coordination,” Byfield explains, “is the government agencies have to make their plans, as closely as possible, consistent with the local plans.”

The first “391 Commission” is the Eastern Central Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission in Bell County, which was founded in 2007 to fight the Trans-Texas Corridor. Byfield says, “In 2008, we went to over 20 locations utilizing Coordination, with nine in Texas. This year, we expect to get to over 40 communities implementing Coordination nationwide for every type of issue, including Endangered Species Act listings, water rights, zoning, transportation, conservation easements, oil and gas exploration, and dozens of other land use issues.”

In addition to discussing helping local communities fight for their property rights, Byfield will also speak on related legislative issues, such as eminent domain.

Dan Byfield has worked on property rights, water, and natural resource issues as a legislative staff member. He has lobbied on behalf of agriculture for the Texas Farm Bureau. He did legislative work on property rights matters in New Mexico, Texas, and Washington for the Farm Credit Bank of Texas. In 1993, he formed the American Land Foundation and serves as its president. The American Land Foundation assists landowners and other property rights organizations nationwide.

Burka rethinks his analysis of the latest KBH/Perry poll

Very interesting analysis of the latest KBH/Gov. 39% poll by Paul Burka.


The UT poll showed the race seeming to tighten, and in a previous post, Burka called it bad news for the Hutchison campaign. However, he has done more research into the methodology and concludes:

"When I first wrote about the poll, I said that it was good news for Perry, bad news for Hutchison. I’m not comfortable enough with the poll’s methodology to let that comment stand."

Also look at the very interesting reader comments on the post. I especially like the reference to the PBMT:

"Wow! Didn’t take PBMT (”Perry Blog Management Team”) long, did it? Methinks thou protesteth a bit much."

Friday, March 20, 2009

Eminent domain bill set for hearing March 25

HB 1483 by Rep. Pitts, supported by the Farm Bureau, which will give more protection to rural residents against eminent domain for such projects as the Trans-Texas Corridor, has been set for a public hearing in the Land & Resource Management Committee, for Wednesday, March 25, at 8 a.m., at the Capitol in Room E2.012.

Pitts has secured many co-authors, so there is legislative support for this bill. It would be good for as many of us as possible to show up and testify in favor or to submit written comments.

Our new District 52 Representative Diana Maldonado has signed on as a co-author of this bill. Thank you Representive Maldonado! I doubt if our former Representative Krusee would have supported anything that was opposed by Gov. 39%, even if it was in the best interests of his constituents.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Carona's rail bill allocates scarce funds to an effort that is unworkable--at least in the Austin area

The Houston Chronicle editorializes in favor of pouring scarce resources into the empty Rail Relocation Fund.


SB 383 filed by Sen. Carona, Dallas Republican, would take $200 million a year from the state sales tax on vehicle sales and rentals and put it into the Rail Relocation Fund. The bill was referred to the Finance Committee yesterday.

Companion bill HB 564 by Rep. McClendon was referred to Ways and Means today.

The Chronicle advocates using the funding in the Houston area to relocate freight rail out of neighborhoods and reduce at-grade crossings. This might make sense for Houston. Where the argument falls apart is where the editorial wants to "free up existing trackage for eventual use as commuter rail. The public funding would be accompanied by enhanced investment by the industry."

This argument has already been rejected out of hand by Union Pacific in the Austin area. UP has said it is satisfied with its existing routes and has no desire or need to move. Also, UP has said that if it is to even consider such relocation, it would put NO money into it. UP requires that public funding completely cover all costs of relocation, including a fully completed new route. In addition, UP has said that it will refuse this alternative if it in any way hurts its service to its customers. I assume that includes the many rock quarries that are convenient to UP's current route that parallels IH-35.

The Chronicle does admit that there may not be the budget for moving freight rail, but it hopes that some money can be found--from existing taxes that are already needed for highway funding. The railroads will not fund it, and the citizens of Texas don't have the money for such a huge undertaking.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

KBH STILL ahead of Perry--latest poll

The latest poll on the gubernatorial race continues the trend of Kay Bailey Hutchison running well ahead of Gov. 39% among Republican primary voters.

W. Gardner Selby has the report at the Statesman:


He notes, “A wide-ranging poll . . . suggests afresh that GOP Gov. Rick Perry would trail U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison if their March 2010 primary were held at this time.”

The poll is from the UT Government Department and surveyed 800 residents state-wide between February 24 and March 6.

All poll results are here:

The pertinent question is 28, which asked only registered GOP primary voters, “If the 2010 Republican Primary election for governor were held today, would you vote for [rotate names] Rick Perry, Kay Bailey Hutchison, someone else, or haven’t you thought about it enough to have an opinion?”
1. Perry 29%
2. Hutchison 37%
3. Someone else 10%
4. Undecided 24%

This poll lowers him from Gov. 39% to Gov. 29%.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Update on Patrick Driscoll no longer covering transportation for the SAEN

Further info from the San Antonio Express-News about the replacement of long-time transportation reporter Patrick Driscoll. Re my question about if somebody will be covering transportation, why can't Patrick still have that position, their community liaison says, "Because transportation is an important beat, I'm sure it will be assigned to a veteran reporter, possibly as part of a larger area of responsibility, say he or she might cover City Council and transportation, or municipal government, to include transportation."

The upshot still is there will one less veteran reporter focusing on--shining a light on--the ever-growing topic of transportation in Texas.

Thanks Patrick for all your past work.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Future of transportation in Williamson County--give your opinion

Williamson County is asking for input on a new transportation plan. Please look at the information and give your input on what you'd like to see in the future for transportation in the county. Here is the release, giving information on public meetings and how to see the material online.


March 11, 2009 (Williamson County, TX) – Williamson County will hold several open houses to get public input on its updated transportation master plan. The County is seeking feedback on what roads should be built or improved over the next twenty-five years, as well as various transit options, to help address expected growth; it is this plan that guides these future capital improvements. The engineering firm URS was hired to manage and develop the plan for the County, working in close collaboration with each of the cities in the County. A draft plan will be available for the public to review at the end of March.

Williamson County Commissioner Valerie Covey, Precinct 3, will hold an open house on Tuesday March 24, at the Central Maintenance Facility, 3151 S. E. Inner Loop, 6 to 8 p.m. Commissioner Cynthia Long, Precinct 2, will hold on one Thursday, March 26, at the LISD LEO Center, 300 S. West Drive, in Leander, 6 to 8 p.m. Commissioner Ron Morrison, Precinct 4, will hold a meeting Tuesday, March 31, 6 to 8 p.m. in the Taylor Public Library Meeting Room, 801 Vance Street, in Taylor. Commissioner Lisa Birkman, Precinct 1, will hold a presentation for the Round Rock City Council, Thursday, March 26, at 7 p.m. and will hold an open house Monday, March 30, 6 to 8 p.m. at the Rattan Creek Community Center, 7614 Elkhorn Mountain Trail, in Austin. A county-wide open house will be held on Thursday, April 16, 2 to 8 p.m., in the Commissioners Courtroom in the Williamson County Courthouse, 710 S. Main Street, Georgetown.

Information on the plan also will be available March 30 on the county’s website at www.roadbond.org. Comments can be sent to roads@wilco.org or call 943-1195.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Valuable transportation reporter let go by SAEN

Patrick Driscoll, long-time and expert transportation reporter at the the San-Antonio Express-News, has been let go as part of the paper's need to cut costs. Patrick covered state-wide transportation issues, and his blog was a valuable sounding board for transportation opinions from citizens around the state.

I asked the SAEN: "Please reconsider your decision to let Pat Driscoll go. Over the past few years, his coverage has been the standard for in-depth, knowledgeable, and up-to-date transportation news and analysis. During the last several days, I kept returning to his blog for the latest news, wondering why he not updated as he always did. I had decided he must be on vacation until I heard he had been layed off. Thank you for any reconsideration."

I received a reply from the paper regretting that this step was necessary. However, in the reply was the statement: "He will be missed and his successor (no one has been assigned as yet) will have a tough act to follow."

I responded: "If there will be a successor, why can't Patrick Driscoll still have that assignment?"

If Pat Driscoll must be lost to the transportation conversation in Texas, it will be a sad loss indeed.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Transportation Commission NOT using stimulus funds where most needed

Ben Wear has coverage of the tolled "Manor Expressway" flyovers that will be built with the stimulus funds that are supposed to be going to help people and the economy:


"Q: I saw that $90 million of federal stimulus money will be used to build four flyover bridges connecting U.S. 290 and U.S. 183. Wouldn't it make more sense to use that money for flyovers at U.S. 183 and Interstate 35, or 290 and MoPac Boulevard? Isn't there more traffic at those places?

"A: Well yes, there is more traffic and missing flyovers at several other locations around town. The interstate has almost 250,000 cars a day at U.S. 183, which has 84,000 cars a day there, according to Texas Department of Transportation counts, and there are only two "direct connectors" there. It's the same at MoPac/U.S. 290 — two flyovers — with MoPac having 110,000 cars a day and U.S. 290 with 80,000 cars a day. At 183/290, by contrast, U.S. 183 has 50,000 cars a day and U.S. 290 has 43,000 cars a day.

"The key difference: tolls. The 183/290 interchange will be the west entry to and exit from what will be a toll road within three years, and the plan is to charge a 25-cent to 50-cent toll on the flyover bridges.

"The Texas Transportation Commission controlled the stimulus purse and, as evidenced by two-thirds of the $1.2 billion for new roads going to tollways, they had a clear preference."

If you follow the link, you can see several reader comments criticizing the stimulus funds going to this toll project.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Perry-appointed flunky calls citizen "bigot"--entire testimony

Bill Molina of Storm Pictures has created a wonderful video of Hank Gilbert testifying before the Transportation Commission, where Perry-appointed Houghton felt free to call a testifying citizen a "bigot." Here is the link:


Seeing Hank make his points calmly and rationally--valuable. Seeing the expressions on the faces of the commissioners--priceless!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Eminent domain co-sponsors needed--contact your State Senator and Representative

Kenneth Dierschke, Texas Farm Bureau President, has issued an appeal to contact your State Senator and State Representative and ask them to co-sponsor Senate Bill 18 by Sen. Craig Estes and House Bill 1483 by Representative Jim Pitts.

Dierschke says, "Both of these bills provide comprehensive eminent domain reforms, and each is almost identical to House Bill 2006 from last session. Senate Bill 18 and House Bill 1483 both have much needed provisions to help property owners protect their private property rights including: good faith negotiation, attorney's fees for bad faith negotiations, compensation for diminished access, and a stricter definition of 'public use.' Be advised that other Eminent Domain bills do not include the much needed 'diminished access' provisions."

"It is crucial that Governor Perry knows how strongly property owners support these eminent domain reform bills that include provisions for compensation. Each Senator or Representative can show that support by co-authoring Senate Bill 18 and House Bill 1483. If Governor Perry sees this kind of support, it will make it much more difficult to veto this legislation as he did last session."

"Powerful forces are working behind the scene to prevent these needed reforms. A grass roots effort by Farm Bureau is absolutely necessary."

Please call or write your Senator and Representative and ask for support for these bills. Find out who represents you at:


Friday, March 6, 2009

And another thing re Houghton calls Gilbert "bigot"

Bet this wouldn't happen if the Commissioners (or as one proposal has it, a single Transportation Commissioner) were elected by the people. An elected official wouldn't personally insult a constituent in a public hearing. We need more responsiveness and accountability to citizens from the Commission.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

"Bigots" are those who would oppress Manor commuters

Thanks to Bruce Burton and Texans Against Tolls for sending around this link. http://www.kxan.com/dpp/news/txdot_makes_plans_for_stimulus_money

Here, you can see the coverage of today's Texas Transportation Commission meeting, where they approved the list of Texas transportation projects to get the stimulus funds. The most expensive project in our area is flyovers at 290 East and 183, intended to be the west end of tolling 290 East, the "Manor Expressway."

The stimulus funds were supposed to help economically disadvantaged areas--this project will be the beginning of further oppression of an economically disadvantaged community in Eastern Travis County that cannot afford the additional burden of paying tolls to commute to work.

As transportation analyst Roger Baker says, "290 E had seen stagnant . . . user demand. It had to be combined with 183 A to keep it financially viable. . . . Starting the 290 E toll road project at one end will help keep it alive as a project, but it still needs a lot of additional federal TIFIA loans, plus big private bond loans to build the rest of the road. Bottom line: it's a waste of money to widen a road that ain't broke when you look at the numbers. It's pure road lobby pork."


The KXAN video shows Hank Gilbert testifying. Hank is one of the founders of TURF and was the Democratic candidate for Ag Commissioner in 2006, drawing the most votes of any Democratic state-wide candidate. For some strange reason, Commissioner Houghton decides to call Hank and his TURF group "bigots." It seems to me that the "bigots" are the Transportation Commissioners who use our taxpayer stimulus funds to cause even further economic distress to the Manor-area commuters.

Reports on TURF Lobby Day

Here is an account by TURF’s Terri Hall of Lobby Day on March 3. Lobby Day goals included killing the Trans-Texas Corridor for good and strengthening eminent domain protections.

Grassroots Lobby Day a success!

Written by Terri Hall
Wednesday, 04 March 2009
Concerned citizens took the time off work in difficult economic times and traveled hundreds of miles from all over the state (DFW, Austin, Houston, San Antonio, and everywhere in between were represented) to make their voices heard as part of TURF's Lobby Day. From wanting to raid public employee retirement funds to finance risky toll projects, and to hand over our highway system to foreign toll operators, to allowing the conversion of existing freeways into tollways and looking the other way when our reckless highway department engages in lobbying with taxpayer money, TEXANS are STANDING-UP and demanding that these irresponsible practices come to an END!

We started with a press conference on the East Capitol steps with 6 other organizations who shared the same message: Slow down TxDOT and spend the stimulus funds wisely, including NO STIMULUS FUNDS FOR TOLL ROADS! Projects aren't necessarily being chosen based on priority or even where the people and congestion are, but on anything they can conjure up as "shovel ready," including playing politics with the final list.

We had a great crowd, catchy homemade signs, and got national press coverage!Then it was off to the House gallery to learn about the proceedings in that chamber and to be introduced from the House floor by Representative Ruth Jones McClendon. Next,TURF supporters met one on one with their representatives to share the Citizens Agenda below:Citizens’ Toll Road/Eminent Domain Reform Agenda

* A Sunset Bill that provides real reform of TxDOT like abolishing Transportation Commission and replacing with single ELECTED Commissioner and Legislative Oversight Committee;
* Stop any and all conversions of freeway lanes into toll lanes
* Affordable transportation funding like raising or indexing the gas tax and ending diversions from the gas tax so that the funds are used strictly for transportation purposes;
* End privatization of our PUBLIC infrastructure through Public Private Partnership (PPPs known as CDAs in TX) * Prevent pension fund investment in risky PPPs;
* Local control and decision-making, so that any toll road projects are planned and voted on regionally;
* Real eminent domain reform (that provides just compensation including for diminished access to property, such as HB 2006 that was passed by the Texas legislature in 2007, but vetoed by Gov. Perry)
* Protecting unique and sensitive environments, such as the Blackland Prairies, Edwards Aquifer

We also delivered the TURF Edition of Truth Be Tolled to EVERY legislator as well as our Toll Road/CDA Fact Sheet highlighting the problems with widespread tolling and handing over our infrastructure to private, foreign companies.

We finished up with a mini workshop on the legislative process, or Legislation 101, and heard from some key lawmakers: House Transportation Committee Chair Joe Pickett, and from the offices of Speaker Joe Straus and Rep. David Leibowitz. This session emphasized the need for vigilant public involvement in the legislative process, particularly as watchdogs at the committee level.

Feedback for the day was positive and the overall consensus was that Lobby Day proved helpful in learning about the process.Concerned citizens can stay informed with important action items through TURF's Grassroots Action Center.


The Star-Telegram covered Lobby Day at
“The daylong lobbying mission was organized by several transportation watchdog groups . . . [they] demanded that lawmakers clamp down on the Texas Department of Transportation and scrap any vestiges of Gov. Rick Perry’s Trans-Texas Corridor, which originally called for a $184 billion network of toll roads.”

From the American-Statesman:


Called it “our home run in the press yesterday . . .
(click here for News 8 coverage ) at the lobby day and press conference organized by TURF, Citizen's Transportation Coalition and various members of Texas Alliance for Reform (including Independent Texans) .”

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Freight rail has to stay on Austin line to serve quarries, Ben Wear notices

Ben Wear had an interesting column in the Statesman several days ago--at least interesting to those of us who hope that moving freight rail from the Union Pacific line through Austin will NOT destroy the Coupland community. His column explains why it might be harder than the "powers that be" have let on to remove the UP freight traffic. Compliments to Ben for noticing and analyzing this, and I wonder why the activists in the movement to run commuter rail from Georgetown to San Antonio have not mentioned it.


Quarries present quandary for commuter rail push

A half-dozen quarries line the Union Pacific track in Round Rock-San Antonio corridor, making it problematic to move freight traffic to a new line east of Austin.

Ben describes the "quarries out west of the interstate. First, one just south of Buda. Then a large one by the community of Hunter, between San Marcos and New Braunfels. I saw two more before I got to Loop 1604 north of San Antonio.

". . . They hug the east edge of the Hill Country, just as I-35 does. And just as does Union Pacific's rail line, the one that cuts through Austin and San Marcos.

"Moving Union Pacific's freight traffic off to some new track miles to the east [eastern Williamson County], something that Central Texas civic leaders have pursued fruitlessly for years, may be more complicated than I had been led to believe. Because all those quarries, plus Austin White Lime in Northwest Austin and an enormous quarry operation north of Round Rock send their rock off to market on that Union Pacific track.

". . . Without finding a way to move all or almost all of those freight trains to some alternate track in the Taylor-Elgin-Bastrop corridor [possibly through downtown Coupland], the grandly named, if ill-financed, Austin-San Antonio Intermunicipal Commuter Rail District is just spinning its notional wheels.

"Asking them to truck all that rock 20 miles east to a new line would make little sense. . . .

". . . The Round Rock-San Antonio corridor was already going to have to compete with other parts of the state for what might be $1 billion to $2 billion, and a state study last year showed that relocating Union Pacific would cost between $883 million and $2.4 billion. [This is the Central Texas Rail Relocation Study that showed either a new line going from Taylor to San Antonio or expanding the existing line through Coupland.]

"No one has yet identified other funding sufficient to move Union Pacific, much less the additional $600 million or more to get the passenger trains up and running. . . . The Austin-San Antonio commuter line may eventually be the little train that could. But it may have to navigate around a bunch of limestone to get there. "

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Farm Bureau asks for support for bills against eminent domain

Two bills have been filed to give more protection to Texas landowners from eminent domain—in the Senate, SB 18 by Sen. Craig Estes and in the House, HB 1483 by Representative Pitts. The Texas Farm Bureau is supporting these bills, as it supported the bill that was passed by both houses in the 2007 session before Gov. 39% vetoed it.

The Farm Bureau asks, “Please request your Senator or Representative to co-author SB 18 by Sen. Estes or HB 1483 by Representative Pitts. These bills are almost identical to HB 2006 that was passed and vetoed by the Governor in the last session. It is critical that we have enough co-authors to demonstrate an ability to override any potential veto.”

Monday, March 2, 2009

TxDOT to misuse stimulus funds on toll roads

Houston Chronicle by ROSANNA RUIZ http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/hotstories/6285483.html

$700 million eyed for toll projectsGrand Parkway's among 21 Texas roadways where money will be spent

Texas Department of Transportation has set aside more than $700 million in economic stimulus funds for toll road projects across the state, sparking criticism and questions about whether the pay-to-drive roads are an appropriate use of the federal dollars.

“It’s a total rip-off,” said Terri Hall, director of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom, a nonprofit opposed to toll roads. “That’s not how the money is supposed to be used.”

The discussion should be on reducing gridlock now, said Rep. Jim Dunnam, D-Waco, whose criticism led the commission to postpone its vote. Toll roads should be built later with state money, not onetime federal stimulus funds, he said. “The Legislature continues to vote for toll moratoriums,” he said, “and TxDOT keeps ignoring us.”

U.S. Rep. Pete Olson, R-Sugar Land, who sits on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, also questioned the use of stimulus funds on toll roads. “It concerns me that state officials would prioritize toll projects that will hit already hard-pressed Texas drivers with additional fees,” he said in an e-mailed statement. “I would like to see stimulus dollars fund projects that ease not only congestion, but an over-taxed public as well.”

Info from Independent Texans about March 3 Lobby Day

Here's a good explanation of TURF's Lobby Day from Linda Curtis, Independent Texans. Linda includes brief talking points for people to use in visiting legislators in person, or if you can't get there in person, use these talking points in letters (best), emails, or calls to your legislators.

Dear Friends & Members:
Question: Why is TxDOT in such a rush to obligate all $1.2 billion of the stimulus funds for Texas transportation by THIS THURSDAY?
Answer: $700 million of the package is dedicated to toll roads.
What's more, 1/4 of the transportation stimulus -- if TxDOT has its way -- will be for one project, the Grand Parkway in Houston -- a road to feed a new speculative development!
Note: TxDOT actually has 120 days to commit the first 50% of these funds, then another full 12 months for the remainder.
So what's the big rush? Well, you know...it's that rogue agency again -- TxDOT (and Rick Perry behind them). Need we say more?
join us on the South Steps of the Capital at 9:30 a.m.
Here's where you can find your legislators: http://www.fyi.legis.state.tx.us/

TALKING POINTS (or you can make this in to your letter -- but personalize it please)
* FIX IT FIRST! No stimulus funds for toll roads! Stimulus funds for transportation should be used for where people are now, rather than new speculative developments like the Grand Parkway in Houston.
* No Trans-Texas Corridor -- really. Protect the blackland prairie, one of the richest farm soils in the world. Rick Perry changing the name is just more of the same trickery and dishonesty that Texans are fed up with.
* Raise funds for transportation in a fiscally responsible way -- index the gas tax rather than pushing privatized, more expensive and risky toll roads. Allow citizens to vote on toll roads for their area. Protect our pension funds -- do not invest them in risky privatized toll roads.
* Real eminent domain reform to protect Texans' property rights.
* Stop the plan for mandatory tagging of farm animals which favors big AG, rather than independent farms.

Independently yours,
Linda Curtis
Independent Texans
member of Texas Alliance for Reform

Sunday, March 1, 2009

TURF Lobby Day March 3 at the Capitol

TURF is holding a Lobby Day in Austin on Tuesday, March 3, to allow the legislators to hear from the grass-roots groups that are against the Trans-Texas Corridor, against tolling existing highway lanes, for more protection against eminent domain, and against forced national computer ID of every farm animal.

TURF’s message:

"Join us for Lobby Day in Austin, March 3!

"Having been in Austin many times since the session started, it's clear the Legislature is waffling on being tough on TxDOT and bringing much needed resolution on toll road policies and the Trans Texas Corridor. From wanting to raid public employee retirement funds to finance risky toll projects, and to hand over our highway system to foreign toll operators, to allowing the conversion of existing freeways into tollways and looking the other way when our reckless highway department engages in lobbying with taxpayer money, TEXANS must STAND-UP and demand that these irresponsible practices come to an END! We'll have t-shirts for folks to wear (suggested donation $10) so we can communicate our message around the Capitol.

"Meet at the South Capitol entrance at 9 a.m.

"We plan to have our group introduced from the House floor sometime between 10 & 10:30 AM, then you can spend time with your legislators to voice your concerns, do lunch at the Capitol Grill, and hear from some of our 'Good Guy' legislators between 3:00 PM - 5:00 PM before heading home."

If you can’t make TURF Lobby Day in person, you can still contact your Representative and Senator.
Find out who represents you here.
You may also contact each representative by calling the Capitol switchboard: (512) 463-4630.