Occupy Austin has been set up at Austin City Hall for eight days now, protesting the corporatism that drives our politics.
The protestors make up all of the 99%, making the scene at Austin City Hall very diverse. Professionals, college students, and retirees are just some of the groups that have come together to stand against the stranglehold that money has over our political process.
Protesters have set up a library, held general assembly meetings and maintained an amazing website. Today, protestors will attend a massive march on the banks.
Formula One racing appears to have secured the City Council’s approval after negotiating a familiar Austin issue: the environment.
On Tuesday, Council Member Chris Riley announced a tentative environmental agreement between local F1 promoters and the city. The deal is co-sponsored by Mayor Lee Leffingwell and Council Member Mike Martinez. Council Member Bill Spelman indicated he was likely to support it as well, which would make a majority.
The agreement comes after Riley and environmental activists spent two frantic weeks trying to secure environmental concessions from local F1 promoters. According to Riley’s office, the promoters agreed to plant hundreds and perhaps thousands of trees. And raise $5 million for on-site research into green technology. And provide 5 acres for a community garden. And hire enough low-emission shuttles and provide enough off-site parking to transport most of the spectators to and from Austin.
The City Council is scheduled to ratify the deal today. It is also expected to vote on the much-debated financial contracts, in what could be a final up-or-down vote that will surely draw opposition based on, among other issues, skepticism that the city will have no obligation to subsidize the event, as race promoters and city officials say.
Riley said F1 promoters agreed to the strongest environmental standards ever applied to an Austin event.
“This project shouldn’t just be about fast cars,” Riley said in a statement. “Austin’s version of the event should convey our commitment to clean technology research and development, and should inspire people across the planet to think green.”
Not everyone at the negotiating table came away happy with the results. Tom “Smitty” Smith, director of the Texas chapter of Public Citizen, who sat with city officials during discussions with F1 promoters, said the agreement contains too many “shoulds” and not enough “shalls,” and said the city should have pushed F1 to do more.
Even under threat of putting the project at risk the Austin City Council voted today to delay the decision to sign off on being the sanctioning city for a Formula One (F1) race in the United States. From the AAS, City Council delays Formula One vote.
The Austin City Council today postponed a vote on endorsing a Formula One race planned at a track being built in Southeast Travis County starting in 2012.
The motion to delay passed 6-1, with Mayor Lee Leffingwell voting no.
Council Member Laura Morrison, who made the motion to postpone, said she wanted more time to review the project because of its scope.
“I believe that our responsibility as elected officials to the citizens are pretty strong and deep,” Morrison said.
The Council’s endorsement would make the project eligible for $25 million in state subsidies.
The council was asked, among other issues, to allow a local organizing committee — a group put together by Austin F1 organizers — to act on the city’s behalf in negotiations with the state comptroller.
In correspondence, Comptroller Susan Combs has committed to making the subsidy available by the end of July to help local promoters pay for the F1 sanctioning fee.
Richard Suttle, attorney for local F1 organizers, said the delay could put the project at risk because of a tight timeline for the comptroller to review an agreement between the city and Formula One.
“I have no idea if I can get a quorum of the LOC any time after this Saturday,” Suttle said of the organizing committee. “We don’t know if we can get a quorum next week. … We cannot even start the process with the comptroller until that meeting occurs.”
Leffingwell said a delay “is frought with risk. This could potentially kill this deal for the City of Austin. … There’s no assurance that it will go forward from this point.”
Several speakers addressed the council to say that they had started small businesses based on Formula One coming to Austin and were already hiring employees. Another individual showed a brief film clip shot recently at the 2011 Montreal Grand Prix that showed Canadian supporters in a bar cheering the idea of the 2012 Austin Grand Prix. Richard Suttle, attorney for the F1 project, said that since the announcement of F1 coming to Austin, more than 7 million articles have been written about Austin.
Susan Moffat, an Austin resident, former Austin Chronicle journalist and a vocal opponent of Formula One to date, asked the council to postpone any decision until a better review can be conducted. She asked for outside counsel knowledgeable in racing contracts to be hired. Moffat cited Mandel’s piece, especially the “run away” quote. She questioned the city’s long-term responsibilities under the contract should the contract not be fulfilled for the entire 10 years.
At issue: Under the Texas Major Events Trust Fund legislation, without the endorsement of either the City of Austin or Travis County, the race promoters cannot access the $25 million in state funding.
Moffat, who spoke at length in opposition to state funds being used, said in her closing statement that, “Formula One would be welcome in Austin, provided they had an adequate business plan that did not require public funding”.
Once again by the end of the hearing, council members still appeared confused as they tried to sort out the legal issues in front of a packed hearing room. At times, it appeared that the council and the city legal department were debating each other regarding the contract. The city council appeared uncomfortable with the terms as written and was still attempting desperately to rewrite them as the hearing went along.
Pro F1: Business people, Del Valle residents and racing fans (as well as COTA and F1 bigwigs) talking up the positive economic impacts of the race and their request that the city not do anything to derail the process. As one Del Valle resident said: “we need jobs, and we need them now. In southeast Travis County, we need industry, growth and employment. We need infrastructure to support our community.”
Anti-F1: People who object to Formula 1 because they either don’t think supporting Formula 1 is a positive use of state and city energies when schools and health care are in real danger because of the budget crunch OR they say they have nothing against Formula 1 per se, they just want the decision to be delayed until the contract language is finalized (during the meeting, city staff were still working and reworking drafts), until outside attorneys with auto racing experience review the contracts, until an environmental review and environmental standards are completed and integrated into the deals and both the council and public have had ample time to review these things.
The lawsuit filed in state district court may affect the Austin City Council’s action scheduled for tomorrow to enact ordinances that would otherwise enable the comptroller to make the payments.
Race promoters have publicly stated that the comptroller’s payment must be made in July for the race to take place.
Combs jumped on the opportunity for the race before consulting with the City of Austin or Travis County. In fact, Combs issued a letter to Formula One World Championships Limited on May 10, 2010, to certify that, “With the understanding that the first Formula 1 United States Grand Prix will be held in Texas in 2012, full funding of the entire sanction (fee) for 2012 will be paid to Formula One World Championship Limited (FOWC) no later than July 31, 2011. In subsequent years, two through 10, of the race promotion contract, i.e., 2013 through 2021, we will be sending $25 million to FOWC by the end of July 31 of each year preceding the actual race event.”
As a result of the comptroller’s early commitment, and the extreme lateness in approaching the City of Austin to sign on as the sponsoring municipality, the city is under the gun to approve contracts and is scheduled to consider doing so at tomorrow’s council meeting. The economic study that projects tax revenue to be derived from the race was not delivered until late Monday.
The lawsuit further notes that the selection of Austin as the site of the race must have been preceded by a “highly competitive selection process” but no local government participated in such a process. In fact, Council Member Randi Shade was quoted in a June 3, 2011, article as saying, “The City of Austin did nothing to recruit F1 to Austin. We did not take any action, as far as I know, to encourage, facilitate, or drive those people to choose Austin as their site.”
The lawsuit contends the comptroller does not have authority to give Formula One “tax incentives” without that competitive process.
“One anticipated effect of the lawsuit is to demonstrate what an open-ended, sky-is-the-limit 10-year deal this can be for Formula One if permitted to proceed,” Aleshire said in a statement. “For example, in subsequent years, the only limitation on the amount of tax dollars that Formula One can receive from state or local taxes is how much increased revenue the comptroller is willing to estimate results from having the F1 race here.”
The lawsuit comes the day before the Austin City Council is due to vote on whether or not to “sign off” on the $25 million incentive deal. David Cay Johnston thinks the Lawsuit Applies Brakes to $250 Million Tax Giveaway, and highlights this part of the lawsuit.
The lawsuit says its purpose is to “prevent the unlawful plunder of public funds for promoters of a Formula One race at a time when the State of Texas claims it cannot afford to adequately fund essential services, such as its education system.”
As the editorial director of America’s largest racing magazine and a guy who has grown up around racing and racers, who has worked for a professional race team and who was weaned on horsepower and Castrol fumes, I have two words for the Austin City Council and its constituents before Thursday’s vote to bless the proposed 2012 Austin Grand Prix:
I don’t say this out of spite or malice. I want a Formula One event in the United States as much as anyone does. But Austin is already what’s right in America! It’s a city that’s, by almost all accounts, vibrant and exciting, filled with great music, people and food. It has extraordinary educational facilities and fantastic surrounding scenery and carries a thoughtful and an eclectic vibe. Austin is comfortable in its own skin, and as a resident of a city–Detroit–that has long yearned to redefine itself and its reputation, I say that if you allow Bernie Ecclestone and his F1 circus to attach themselves remora-like to you, dear Austin, it will be an enormous and very expensive lesson.
The point, gentle people of Austin, is not to be rushed into doing anything you don’t want to do. If after sufficient due diligence–surely you’ve talked with past U.S. F1 organizers and city fathers from, say, Indianapolis, Phoenix, Watkins Glen, Long Beach and Detroit and heard their collective tale of woe. If you want to offer up keys (and every other city part) to F1, that’s your choice. But think about this: If the cradle of American motorsports, the home of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, failed to keep F1 in America, what makes Austin–not the promoters, who have a bunch of reasons, maybe quite true, for why they are different–think it can succeed? Again, I’m talking to the fine people of Austin, not the people directly behind the track project.
Remember: Bernie always gets his money. Always.
Again, I like F1. AutoWeek has covered Grand Prix racing for all of our 53 years. I wake early to watch qualifying live from exotic locales such as Monaco and Seoul.
I just don’t want to see you hurt. I like your city too much to have that happen.
The Statesman article on the lawsuit adds a little more context, Lawsuit filed against state Formula One subsidy. With a response from the Comptroller’s office and a little more on how the lawsuit may effect the timing of the incentive deal.
Their lawsuit “strikes at the heart of the issue of whether Formula One even qualifies under the requirements of Texas law for such public funding,” Aleshire said in a written statement.
A spokesman for Combs defended the agency’s role.
“All applicable state rules and regulations were followed,” Allen Spelce said in an email. “By bringing F1 to Austin we create jobs and spur economic development.”
It is unclear how the lawsuit might affect plans to stage the international race in Austin; Jeff Hahn, a spokesman for United States Grand Prix, could not be reached. Local organizers have said they are depending on the public assistance to help cover costs of the race on the German-designed track being built southeast of Austin.
Hopefully this will give the city council pause, and decide to take a closer look at this give away of millions in taxpayer money to a billionaire. The deadline for the city to make a decision is July 31, 2011. There’s still time and this doesn’t have to be approved tomorrow.
Lots of other questions remain, such as how much will all of the support services supplied by the city–police, fire, EMS, sanitation, etc.–cost, and who will pay for them? What about the road conditions and capacties out near the track, and transportation in general?
From an on-the-scene scene perspective: In the middle of last week, with no official, notable or major tourist events on the Austin area’s calendar, the W Hotel in downtown Austin was at full capacity. Simultaneously, most–and at times all–of the rental cars and parking places at the airport were spoken for. The F1 promoters plan to add 120,000 people to this mix next year, in 100-degree daily temperatures. On Tuesday, a morning news program described major traffic congestion on Interstate 35, which rolls through downtown Austin, as “America’s Parking Lot.” So it’s not hard to see why concerns remain at the local level.
While Austin is home to sold-out seasons of University of Texas football, along with the annual SXSW Music, Film and Interactive festivals for 10 days each March and the increasingly popular annual Austin City Limits Festival, all of these gatherings occur right in downtown, walking distance from many hotels, restaurants and shops.
The Circuit of the Americas track is located southeast of Austin in the same Travis County, but just barely. As of now, there is no public transportation to the track and only one decent two-lane road (FM 812), which will be restriped to accommodate race-day traffic by, (according to the latest plan submitted by F1 Circuit of the Americas), contra-flowing an additional lane, yielding three lanes outbound after the race. Estimates vary as to the length of traffic delays following the race. The promoters cite times “just under three hours,” while a county study said it could take more than 12 hours for traffic to clear.
There are the unresolved legal issues, which meeting to meeting have remained unresolved. City of Austin legal staff tried to explain to several skeptical council members the various points of agreement still to be negotiated. But rather than clearing the points up, the explanations led to more confusion.
Council member Sheryl Cole asked whether the city had considered outside legal counsel to help with understanding and preparing for everything involved in hosting an F1 event in Austin, since the city had never attempted an event of this magnitude before.
Council member Chris Riley asked about the track’s carbon footprint, whether the race facility will honor “green” initiatives important to the city, and where a plan stands to include bicyclists’ access to the event. Another council member even suggested a proposal for a community garden.
Council member Randi Shade was not present at Tuesday’s session. Shade is believed to be in favor of F1, though she has not committed one way or the other publicly. Still, her defeat in the regular election held in May triggered a $500,000 runoff election held last weekend in which she was defeated again. Many in Austin believe Shade’s defeat was related largely to city development and F1 in particular, since she was backed heavily by development and pro-business money, according to election filings.
Nonetheless, at a brief media question-and-answer period following Tuesday’s session, Suttle expressed confidence again. He said he believes that Thursday’s city council vote will be in favor of F1, citing the event’s positive projected economic impact and his own “natural optimism.”
Even if the support measure passes, previously recognized, practical issues remain. On the hotel front alone, several calls and visits on Tuesday to Austin-area hotels and hotel Web sites yielded responses of either “no availability” or “unable to book at this time” for the F1 dates in June next year.
While various estimates of available hotels in the area yield different results depending on who you talk to, the Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau states that there are 5,500 hotel rooms in downtown Austin and an additional 20,500 rooms inside the city limits.
With 120,000 fans potentially attending the inaugural F1 race on June 17, 2012, it’s not too early to try and book a room. Hopefully, it’s not already too late.
One of the most curious themes in tax policy is the steady attack on the best-funded and most stable government programs while taxpayer funds are diverted to risky commercial ventures unlikely to succeed.
These troubling developments are related. They reveal how we have lost faith in the future and are mining the present rather than investing. These policies mean a future that is poorer.
Recent events in Texas show how we are literally running off the road in spending imagined incremental tax revenues that cannot possibly materialize, stealing from public purposes to enrich a British monopolist and a Texas billionaire.
The government spending under heavy attack is financed with dedicated taxes, which makes those taxes inherently stable. The new welfare-for-the-rich programs are also being embedded in the tax system through dedicated funding streams that, at least in Texas, are growing like sagebrush on Miracle-Gro.
So how is it that the Texas Legislature appropriated $25 million to give to British monopolist Bernie Ecclestone as an annual fee to allow an annual Formula One race in Austin? He controls Formula One racing, purportedly the globe’s largest spectator sport after soccer. The plan is to pay Ecclestone every year for a decade, which amounts to a cool quarter of a billion dollars transferred from Texas taxpayers to the head of Formula One.
Texas cannot afford its current roster of teachers, but it can afford Ecclestone’s monopoly fee to license an automobile race? It can afford a subsidy of $41.66 for each of an estimated 300,000 fans, supposedly nearly all from outside Texas, to attend an annual road race? And yet it cannot afford the 300 or so teachers whose pay and benefits come to $25 million per year?
The race fee is part of a growing list of Texas subsidies to major entertainment events. Since 2004 those subsidies have ballooned as the controls have become weaker.
The Formula One subsidy gives up all pretense of promoting actual economic development, no matter how much the beneficiaries claim otherwise. Statements by Texas billionaire Red McCombs and his associates that the Formula One race will generate a pot of added tax revenues paid by people coming into Texas for the event are, to be polite, pure fantasy.
Johnston then goes on to describe why the numbers are a hoax. Essentially the numbers are based on a false premise that Austin will be able to house 95,000 plus “out of state attendees”. Keep that in mind as you read this article from the AAS, Study projects large economic windfall from F1 race.
A Formula One race in Austin next year would generate just under $288 million in direct economic impact for the area, according to an estimate released Monday by promoters of the race. That spending would produce $26.6 million in new tax revenue for the state, according to the study.
The numbers are crucial to F1 race promoters’ efforts to secure $25 million in public incentive payments from a state program designed to lure large, primarily sporting events to Texas for their economic development potential. The Major Events Trust Fund, which is administered by the comptroller’s office, in the past has been used to draw the Super Bowl and NBA All-Star games to the state.
The study released Monday was written by Don Hoyte, a former economist for the comptroller’s office who now runs a company that produces economic impact studies and advises trust fund applicants on how to secure money through the state program.
Jon Hockenyos, a public policy consultant, reviewed the numbers on behalf of the City of Austin, which must sign off on the incentive deal before it is reviewed by state officials. In a letter dated Monday, he cautioned that because of little historical F1 financial data, “the assumptions for this first event plausibly could vary from what is presented.”
Still, he added, “Overall, it seems likely that the event will have a substantial positive local economic impact.”
To qualify for the trust fund subsidy, organizers must prove that their event will generate at least the same amount of money in “extra” sales, alcohol, hotel and car rental taxes. Generally, economic impact studies arrive at that by counting the anticipated number of out-of-state attendees. Then, using past large event surveys as a guide, the studies estimate how much money each fan will spend on lodging, food and alcohol and then multiply that figure by the tax rate to arrive at the state’s take.
By giving sports event organizers a subsidy equivalent to the projected tax income from the event being held in Texas, supporters say that it costs taxpayers nothing directly.
In the case of Formula One, however, legislators in 2009 appropriated $25 million from general revenue to cover the first year’s incentive payment. Local race organizers, led by Tavo Hellmund and San Antonio automobile magnate Red McCombs, have said the money will pay international F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone the sanctioning fee required to hold the Austin event.
(This link at KLBJ has links to Hoyte’s study and Hockenyos, letter, Report: F1 racing would be a major economic boost to Austin.) It’s key to note that Hockenyos uses many qualifiying words when talking about the study. Stating that, “..the assumptions..plausibly could vary..”, and that “..it seems likely that the event will have a substantial positive local economic impact”. Not necessarily a ringing endorsement from the city’s consultant.
There’s a lot in the excerpt above, so here’s a summary. To qualify for the state subsidy organizers “must prove” the state will bring in as much in “extra” taxes as the $25 million sanctioning fee paid to the billionaire who runs F1. The study, which the city must “sign off on”, will then have to be approved by the Texas Comptroller. Which is likely, since the person who produced the study used to work for the Comptroller and “..now runs a company that produces economic impact studies and advises trust fund applicants on how to secure money through the state program”. Hoyte has produced a study that conveniently maintains the race will brings in a little more than the $25 million needed. But even if the numbers don’t work out the Comptroller’s office is prepared to work with him.
Allen Spelce, a spokesman for the comptroller, said analysts will review the underlying numbers Hoyte used to reach his conclusions.
“If we have questions as we calculate our estimate, we work with the applicant to gather more information,” Spelce said. “Our estimate is often less than the estimate provided by the applicant.”
The study’s number, ($1.6 million more than the $25 million needed), has some slack in it so the Comptroller can bring in their estimate “..less than the estimate provided by the applicant”, while still coming in at or above the needed $25 million. But the key to the whole study is how the “economic impact studies arrive at that [extra tax money] by counting the anticipated number of out-of-state attendees”. And the economics behind that is crap, or as Johnston calls it in his second column, Close Encounters of the Tax Myth Kind, malarkey.
Here I point to the Formula One racing subsidies starting next year in Texas. Bernard Ecclestone, the British billionaire who has monopoly control of grand prix racing licenses, wants $25 million a year to allow a race in Austin — a cool quarter billion if the races continue for a decade.
You can get an idea of Eccelstone’s riches, held mostly in tax havens, from the third home just acquired by his 22-year-old daughter Petra. She just bought the 57,000-square-foot home of the late television mogul Aaron Spelling, according to The Wall Street Journal. It was listed for $150 million. Petra also owns a $91 million London residence.
So Texas has oodles of money to pay as a fee for a car race, but is so broke it must fire thousands of school teachers? This is sound government policy?
The race sponsors, led by San Antonio billionaire Red McCombs, say this is a great deal for the taxpayers, who will put up that $250 million as well as pay for roads, water, sewer mains, and other costs.
The basis of their claims is this: 97,500 out-of-Texas visitors will visit Austin on race weekend annually, spending $220 per day each on average over three days on food and beverage plus lodging costs. I called that malarkey in my June 6 column and showed why the promised benefits cannot materialize — not that they are unlikely, but that they are impossible.
Christian Sylt, publisher of Formula Money, insisted in a series of e-mails that I am wrong and that Formula One will mean economic development for Austin. Others posted at Tax.com, Nieman Watchdog, and other sites asserting that the numbers of out-of-Texas visitors must mean the race will be a net benefit to taxpayers.
The problem is that Austin has just 6,000 convention-quality hotel rooms, about 3,600 of which are occupied in the normal course of business. Even if all other business stopped and a couple occupied every hotel room, there’s only enough room at the inns for 12,000 race fans. Where would the other 85,500 sleep? Austin cannot accommodate 97,500 out-of-Texas race fans, not even if many of them flew in on corporate jets, because the airport lacks the capacity to land thousands of extra planes for a day, much less park them. At eight people per corporate jet that would be 20,000 flight operations — no, closer to 40,000 because the planes would have to land, leave and return because of lack of plane parking space. Not going to happen, which means the touted economic benefits are not going to materialize.
Sylt insisted that there are more than enough hotel rooms “in Texas” to satisfy the demand on race weekend. True enough, but nobody rents a room in El Paso when the activity is in Austin. San Antonio, the nearest city, is 80 miles away, and even if all of its conventional-quality hotel rooms are filled, there would still be thousands of race fans with no place to sleep.
If just one person comes, it means economic development for Austin, Sylt wrote, arguing that my column was utterly wrong. [Empahsis added]
Collecting $135 in sales taxes (assuming $660 for food and drink and $1,500 for three hotel nights) at a cost of $25 million is indeed economic development — for Ecclestone. For Texas taxpayers it is grand prix robbery. The public does not know this, however, because these simple facts have not made it into the pages of the Austin American-Statesman or into that city’s leading broadcast programs.
Just as this column was going to press, the race organizers announced they would no longer seek a $4 million annual subsidy from the City of Austin; the $25 million from state taxpayers, however, would still be paid to Ecclestone. Local subsidies for road and infrastructure improvements, as well as race weekend police services would still be a burden on city residents. The decision not to ask for the $40 million over the next decade shows how when citizens organize, and subsidy news gets reported before the handouts, it can safeguard taxpayer funds.
That a significant number of Americans are certain that tax cuts mean more tax revenue, that a significant number of IRS managers go along with sophisticated tax cheating, and that journalists perpetuate tax myths should trouble us all because without taxes there is no America.
An extremely large crowd from all over the state gathered at the south steps of the State Capitol in Austin to ask the state government to Save Our Schools.
Perrin-Whitt CISD Superintendent John Kuhn makes a rousing appeal on behalf of teachers rated “unacceptable”. He then reads his Alamo-inspired email that he sent to Sen. Craig Estes, Rep. Rick Hardcastle, Rep. Jim Keffer and Rep. Phil King. Unfortunately I missed the first few sentences of this inspirational speech, and my vantage point in a 11,000-plus crowd was such that I could only capture Kuhn’s image on the big-screen that Save Texas Schools organizers set up.
UPDATE: I found another video that captures most of the portion of the speech that Kuhn gave before I began recording. Below is a transcript of that portion.
UPDATE2: via Half Empty, Hal shares his video, providing the final missing words to the transcript below of the beginning part of Kuhn’s speech:
I just got a text from Rick Perry. He wanted me to tell you that it’s not his fault. (crowd boos) I’ll tell him you said that.
Public school teachers, can you hear me? The school reformers say you are bad at what you do. But the secret to their success is simple: Keep the bad kids out. Exclude the children who are hardest to teach and let them go to public school. But we say “Send them to us. We will take them.” We say, “Send us your poor, send us your homeless, the children of your afflicted and your addicted. Send us your kids who don’t speak Englin en es otros le hablamos en Espanol. Send us your special needs children, we will not turn them away.” And I tell you today, public school teacher, you will fail to take the shattered children of poverty and turn them into the polished products of the private schools. No. The most damaged public school children will not turn out as shiny and nice and new as the children whose applications are vetted and approved. Whose parents buy them books. Nor will you scrub them as clean as those whose parents keep them bundled in the snug blanket of home schooling….
I was near the tail end of an 8-block-long procession that flooded the south lawn of the Capitol with some 15,000 people. Here’s about one minute of video I took as we approached the Capitol from the North.
I must admit that I was a little taken aback by the title of Ben Wear’s weekly transportation column in today’s AAS, A truck toll break might offer I-35 relief. I thought it would make me mad – how dare they give truckers a break I thought. But Wear did a good job of making the case. After all one of the main reasons we were always told, over and over, that a road East of Austin like SH 130 was built was as a bypass around Austin by 18-wheelers – to get a significant portions of the truck traffic off of I-35. But it wasn’t meant to be, the response from TxDOT to Wear’s suggestion wound up making me mad anyway.
t’s easy to understand why [trucks don't drive on SH 130]. For one thing, a large chunk of trucks entering the Austin area on I-35 carry loads bound for points within the metro area. Texas 130 would be out of the way for them. But even for those 18-wheelers simply passing through, the toll bypass is both 12 miles longer — meaning more diesel cost — and carries a toll of about $26 .
Big rigs, you see, have a toll rate four times that of two-axle vehicles. Every time I write about this, I hear from people suggesting that TxDOT lower or eliminate this truck toll to get more of them off I-35. So I looked into it.
Turns out TxDOT could lower or eliminate the truck toll. The agency’s legal agreement with bond investors requires only that it make enough in tolls to cover its debt payments along with a 40 percent cushion called “coverage.” The three-tollway system of Texas 130, Texas 45 North and Loop 1, while not a wild financial success, is making much more than that.
I asked Mark Tomlinson , TxDOT’s toll division director, if the agency has discussed some sort of truck toll rate cut. Yes, he said, they had, and it’s not out of the question. Is it about to happen?
No, Tomlinson said, saying that it’s no slam-dunk that a toll cut would lure trucks off I-35. It might be worth finding out.
Far be it from them to try and devise a plan so the road can be used as it was intended. They could even use some of the millions of dollars in advertising money that TxDOT has to help truckers understand the new toll strategy.
The Texas seasonally adjusted unemployment rate declined to 8.0 percent in November, down from 8.3 percent a month ago, and continued to trend well below the U.S. seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for November at 10.0 percent. The Texas Civilian Labor Force reached its highest level ever at 12.1 million workers in November.
Total nonagricultural employment in Texas increased by 17,300 positions in November for a total of almost 70,000 jobs over the past two months, while the nation as a whole lost 122,000 jobs.
“Texas employers added a significant number of jobs in most industries during October and November,” said Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) Chairman Tom Pauken. “Job growth coupled with a lower unemployment rate indicate movement in a positive direction for Texas.”
During November, Mining and Logging employment increased by 5,100 jobs, Financial Activities employment rose by 4,700 jobs, and Professional and Business Services added 3,300 positions. Leisure and Hospitality employment increased by 4,800 positions in November.
The sales tax numbers for Austin and Round Rock – as well as the state as a whole – continue their slide. Austin’s allocations are 8.73% lower this December than last, and down 10.64% for the year. Round Rock’s are even worse 21.76% for December and 12.43% for the year. (List of Top 20 cities in Texas allocations). For Williamson County cities as a whole allocations are down 17.05% in December and 9.91% for the year. (List of cities by county, scroll down until you see Williamson).
GOP Lt. Gov. Davide Dewhurst speaking in Waco yesterday, (tip to Comeandtakeitblog), appears to be willing to use the Rainy Day Fund (RDF) to balance the budget in 2011. He also wants most state agencies to cut their budgets by 2.5% to help balance the budget in 2013.
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst discussed a proposal to cut state agency spending during the next 3 1/2 years, hoping to offset a budget deficit and projected shortfalls, during a visit to Waco on Wednesday.
The state’s structural budget deficit — the result of 2006 school property tax cuts that weren’t offset by business taxes — along with the bleak economy have contributed to a gloomy long-term financial outlook for Texas that spells trouble in 2013, Dewhurst said in a meeting with the Tribune-Herald editorial board.
A Republican who, as lieutenant governor, presides over the state Senate, Dewhurst said that by using the Rainy Day Fund lawmakers will be able to balance the state’s budget in 2011. But he said agency cutbacks are crucial to getting through the 2013 legislative session. The sooner cuts kick in, the better, he said.
“I’d rather start today so that any belt-tightening is smaller than if we wait around and sit on our hands,” Dewhurst said.
Dewhurst laid out a plan that would cut most state agencies’ budgets by 2.5 percent during 3 1/2 years to cover the projected budget shortfall in 2013 and give the state’s economy time to pull out of the recession. He said his plan would spare public education and health and human services programs.
Gov. Rick Perry chose Gail Lowe (R-Lampasas) to chair the State Board of Education (SBOE). Kuff has many links to reaction around the state and here’s his take on Lowe.
At least she has a kid in public school, which is a clear distinction from the Dunbars of the world, who are working to kill public schools. If she really does focus on academic achievement, and stays away from the divisive stuff that’s been the SBOE’s hallmark lately, she’ll at least be a step up from McLeroy. On the other hand, if she really did think Dunbar would have made a good Chair but for her outspokenness, that’s worrisome. We’ll just have to see how it goes. What I do know is that getting some of the clowns off of the Board remains a top priority, and that means getting Dunbar and McLeroy unelected next year. The less crazy the Board is as a whole, the less it matters how kooky the Chair is.
Today Rick Perry appointed a Republican from Lampasas to chair the State Board of Education; Gail Lowe. Ms. Lowe calls herself a creationist and votes with the social conservative block of this education board. She is, though, according to some reputable sources the “most moderate of remaining conservatives.”
So, those who wanted Governor Perry to appoint someone better than Don McLeroy can thank him for that. Actually, unless he appointed Cynthia Dunbar, I don’t think it could have gotten worse. So Rick Perry made an easy choice that is meant to appease those who complained about Mr. McLeroy. And in some ways, he succeeded. Already, there are some who are applauding him for selecting a more moderate choice.
The opinion seems to be, still not good but it certainly could have been a whole lot worse.
Texas’ sales tax collections could fall $550 million short of budget projections for the current fiscal year, figures released Friday by Comptroller Susan Combs show.
The $1.6 billion collected in June, which reflects sales in May, was 11.2 percent less than the same month a year ago. It was the fifth consecutive month of sales tax declines.
Combs said the steep drop in June stemmed from the continued economic weakness, particularly in comparison to the strong sales tax collections last year, when higher oil and gas prices spurred companies to buy more drilling and other equipment.
Austin and Round Rock had the biggest drops, of 12 and 14.6 percent respectively, from a year ago. But six of the other 11 largest cities in the area had increases.