For Democrats to retake Texas they have to show that they’re for common sense public policy changes, that most Texans are for, but Republicans will shun. I think these simple steps laid out by state Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin), as reported today by Jason Embry in the AAS, are a great example.
Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, gave a pretty thorough critique Wednesday of how the Legislature writes the state budget, saying he wouldn’t vote for tax increases or taking money out of the Rainy Day Fund until the budget-balancing gimmicks end.
For some time now, Watson has been one of the Legislature’s most outspoken critics of the practice of collecting money for one purpose and then spending it on something else — a practice that has become a cornerstone of the budget-writing process in Texas.
“My vote will not be there for taxes, my vote will not be there for the Rainy Day Fund, until we have real budget reform,” Watson said at a breakfast event hosted by the Texas Tribune.
He said the budgeting process in Texas has become about debt, diversions and delay. “Over and over again, it’s about how we can kick the can down the road,” Watson said.
He said state leaders are focusing too much on one piece of the economic-development puzzle — low taxes — while neglecting to “invest in Texans,” through, for example, higher education.
Asked about Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst’s claim that stimulus dollars weren’t necessary to balance the budget, Watson said, “I could be playing in the NBA Finals right now if I weren’t four feet tall.”
(As I have written before, yes, you could balance a state budget without stimulus dollars, but not one that spent as much as lawmakers spent last year, and isn’t that the only thing that matters?)
Finally, he said it could work to Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bill White’s advantage that he’s a details guy. “Bill White’s a nerd. But that’s a good thing. Bill White is going to be the kind of governor that will take the time to get the details.”
Go the this BOR post, Sen. Kirk Watson on an Open, Honest Budget, to see Watson explain this, in the form of a series of bills he files during the 81st legislative session.
Today, I’ll file a package of reforms designed to make the Texas budget more sensible, open and honest. These bills are about making a positive change and putting the Legislature more in touch with Texans.
The bills will help citizens see how legislators are spending their money. They’ll also create checks and balances to ensure public funds are going toward things Texans want and expect the state to invest in.
My package would require the state to spend money in ways that legislative leaders have always promised – and it would block those leaders from diverting the same money into what amounts to a hedge fund.
It would create unprecedented public access to the budget-writing process so people can get answers to their own questions, not just those questions that budget writers choose to answer.
And it would help small businesses, kids and the economy by bolstering programs that everyday Texans need and support.
These changes make sense, and make our state’s budget process more open and transparent. Why would anyone be against them?
Via the Texas House web site, Speaker Joe Straus Announces Appointments To The House Select Committee On Transportation Funding.
Today, Speaker Joe Straus (San Antonio) announced the formation of the House Select Committee on Transportation Funding to highlight the need for increased transparency and accountability in Texas transportation and to analyze current and future transportation funding requirements.
The House Select Committee on Transportation Funding will develop transportation proposals for the next legislative session. The committee’s analysis will include a study of ways to increase accountability in transportation planning and a review of the effectiveness and efficiency of current funding options.
Here’s what the proclamation states the committees will work on.
(1) focus on the need for increased transparency and accountability in all facets of transportation planning, development, and implementation;
(2) review the current funding options being utilized to determine their effectiveness at meeting future funding demands;
(3) analyze the amount of funding needed to meet future transportation infrastructure and maintenance needs;
(4) assess the dollars per mile spent in construction (considering the state’s varying geographic, environmental, and climate conditions) to determine whether our state is making efficient use of current transportation funding resources;
(5) explore innovative approaches to encourage local government entities to participate in the development of critically needed transportation projects; and
(6) consider the feasibility of using alternative funding options at the state and local levels to meet the expected growth and demand for transportation infrastructure, rail relocation, and high speed rail.
The committee members are:
The Honorable Larry Phillips, Chair
The Honorable Eddie Rodriguez, Vice Chair
The Honorable Roberto Alonzo
The Honorable Bill Callegari
The Honorable Drew Darby
The Honorable Ryan Guillen
The Honorable Patricia Harless
The Honorable Todd Hunter
The Honorable Edmund Kuempel
The Honorable Armando “Mando” Martinez
The Honorable Ruth McClendon
The Honorable Joe Pickett
The Honorable Wayne Smith
The Honorable Senfronia Thompson
The Honorable Vicki Truitt
There were two subcommittees created as well. One on funding and the other on planning and accountability.
Not to sure what this committee will accomplish other than making everyone look like they’re doing something. The best thing that could come out of it would be to have a sane and rational plan for planning and paying for transportation infrastructure in the future ready to go as the the next legislative session begins. We shouldn’t hold our breath.
Whether Gov. Rick Perry’s opposition to accepting the unemployment insurance (UI) portion of the stimulus will come back to haunt him, in either one of the possible two elections he could potentially face by November 2010, is mostly up to his opponents and how the Texas economy fares during that time.
There are several ways that Perry’s opposition to the UI money is often spoken of that must be put straight. First, the the bailout and the stimulus are two separate things. As far as the bailout goes, both Texas Senators, Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn, voted for it, and it occurred while Bush the younger was still President. The stimulus, of which the unemployment insurance that Gov. Perry rejected was part of, was passed after Barack Obama became president. So when Gov. Perry speaks of a “bailout mentality”, he’s using weasel words if he’s applying that to the UI money, which came from the stimulus and not the bailout. That’s stimulus money which was meant to help the unemployed survive the recession, pay their mortgage, car payment, etc.., while not overburdening business with an extremely high tax increase to cover the unemployed, until the economy picked back up.
Another part of this is that Rick Perry accepted, gladly, all the but a tiny portion of the stimulus, other than the unemployment insurance. Which has allowed him and his GOP cohorts in the lege to claim they were able to balance the budget without tapping the into the rainy day fund. This comment regarding an earlier EOW post says it perfectly.
I believe Gov. Perry accepted approx. $16.5 billion of the $17 billion offered from the Federal Stimulus package for political reasons rather than a legitimate financial reason. This allows him to go around to his base saying he rejected the stimulus package when in reality he accepted all but a fraction of it (1/34th). These are tough times for everyone but especially tough for the unemployed and workers that have had to lose hours.
And for the governor to go around saying this is downright ludicrous:
Despite the loan, Gov. Perry defended his decision to those who questioned it.
“They are shortsighted and probably criticizing for a political reason rather than a legitimate financial reason,” Gov. Perry said.
Sure, because there was ABSOLUTELY NOTHING POLITICAL about the rejection of the unemployment stimulus funds in the first place. Why can’t Governor Perry’s critics understand that? He was just operating in Texas’ best interests, politics be damned!
Yes his “principled” stand – that will hurt working Texans, city and county economies, and cause massive tax increases on Texas businesses soon – we’re supposed to believe had nothing to do with his upcoming election(s). There’s a great column from Mithcell Schnurman in the FWST on what should be done, Texas leaders should reconsider the federal stimulus money.
At what point does the real world trump politics and principle?
Texas is shaping up as a test case, because more than 23,000 workers are losing their jobs every week and $556 million in federal aid is sitting on the table, unclaimed.
Texas is one of only four states — the others are Alabama, Florida and Virginia — that rejected federal stimulus dollars connected with reforming unemployment insurance. Thirty-six states qualify for the federal money, including more than two dozen that adopted reforms this year, and the rest are still debating the issue.
States have until 2011 to make the changes and apply for the money.
Months ago, Gov. Rick Perry was quick to denounce the stimulus offer and criticize Washington’s “bailout mentality.” He said the feds were trying to dictate state policy by forcing changes that would hurt employers and job growth.
The reforms would expand coverage by making more people (primarily low-wage earners) eligible for benefits. It would add about 2.5 percent to the state’s annual payout for unemployment benefits, so there’s no threat of Texas becoming a welfare haven.
The state already ranks dead last in participation rate, with just 24 percent of unemployed workers getting benefits, compared with a national average of 41 percent.
In February, when the trust fund still had a billion-dollar balance, the projected deficit was half the size. Texas’ economy was still holding up well, and its unemployment rate was 6.5 percent. On Friday, the state reported a seasonally adjusted jobless rate of 7.5 percent for June, with unemployment claims rising 45 percent in the week ended July 4.
The trends show how the downturn has accelerated in Texas, but some lawmakers have been sounding the alarm about unemployment funding for months. The state Senate approved a bill to enact reforms in the recent Legislature, but it died in the House.
On Friday, Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, and Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, sent a letter to Perry, urging him to call a special session to enact the unemployment reforms that would let Texas draw the federal dollars.
They said that 250,000 jobs had been lost since the beginning of the year, that sales tax collections had plummeted and that the comptroller had tripled her prediction for job losses in the state in 2009.
“Reality has demonstrated that refusing half a billion dollars in federal stimulus money was not the right policy for Texas,” the letter said.
Reforming unemployment insurance would help struggling families in Texas and reduce the impact on small businesses, they said.
The money would also stimulate the state economy. Unemployment benefits are generally spent quickly, and they have a 2-to-1 multiplier effect. By contrast, tax cuts are often saved or used to pay down debt.
All eligible Texans will continue to get unemployment benefits, regardless of the state’s stance on the stimulus. But an estimated 45,000 residents would have been added if new rules were adopted.
The local economy would get a boost, too.
That’s a lot to give up, at a time when Texas needs the help.
While a special session to help working Texans, city and county economies, and Texas businesses seems like a valid emergency, and reason for a special session to many. It’s not likely to be an emergency to Gov. Perry and his reelection campaign. Jason Embry has this on the political implications for the governor, Unemployment insurance a two-sided political issue for Perry.
Gov. Rick Perry’s opposition to federal stimulus dollars for unemployment benefits earlier this year boosted his standing among many Republicans. But other issues surrounding the state’s unemployment program could create political headaches for Perry in the next year and a half.
With unemployment rising, the state will have to borrow more than $643 million from the federal government in the coming months to keep paying benefits, even though that money will come interest-free for 18 months. And the Texas Workforce Commission is planning to ask employers to pay more in taxes to repay that money and keep the unemployment trust fund healthy.
“That deficit, and future taxes on Texas employers, would have been lower if Gov. Perry hadn’t rejected $555 million in federal unemployment stimulus funds earlier this year,” said Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tom Schieffer.
Perry’s UI decision isn’t likely to hurt him much, if at all, in the GOP Primary. Since it hurts the most needy the most, and Hutchison isn’t likely to say much in their defense. It would be much better to see a full throated shaming of Perry by the lifelong Democrat Tom Schieffer when he talks to the press, on this issue in particular, that’s for sure. Something more like this, Sen. Watson explains Gov. Perry’s huge mistake.
And of course the irony of ironies, Secessionist Gov. Rick Perry now seeking federal stimulus funds. Kuff has more on the latest unemployment games being played by Perry and former Texas GOP chair turned head of the Texas Workforce Commission Tom Pauken.
When anyone says Perry turned down the stimulus the correct response is that not he didn’t. He turned down a very tiny portion of it and gladly took almost of it, all but 1/34th of it. And the portion he did turn down will hurt the neediest of Texans the most. And if he says he’s against a bailout mentality, let him know that he only has his party to blame for that. If Texas is to be rid of Gov. Perry, those running against him must point these things out, early and often.
Last week the GOP was running around like Chicken Little trying to make it appear that President Obama had said he was going to fix the economy by the Summer. Well that just wasn’t’ the case. Obama made it clear, even before he was sworn in, Obama Says Economic Recovery Will Take Time.
President-elect Barack Obama, who takes office in just over a week, warned Americans not to expect any quick solutions to their economic woes.
In a television interview on Sunday, Mr. Obama sought to dampen public expectations that his $775 billion stimulus plan, with its emphasis on infrastructure, alternative energy, health care and education, would jolt the economy out of recession.
Of course the $787 billion stimulus passed all the while we kept hearing about how it would take a while for the money to get into the system. We all learned the term “shovel ready”. And as this points out, If the stimulus hasn’t worked, then doesn’t that mean the GOP tax cuts are to blame?
Krugman likened the tax cuts in the stimulus as fat, in that it would provide little genuine nutrition to the American economy. Correct me if I am wrong: the vast majority of the spending measures in the stimulus have yet to occur, whereas the tax cut effects were immediate. Right? So when the Republicans are saying the stimulus has failed aren’t they really saying the tax cuts have failed? I feel like I am missing something because no one has really pointed that out.
Economists like Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz, believed a bigger stimulus was needed. Krugman also knew the projects would take time to get going, and wanted some targeted tax cuts included in the stimulus for immediate impact. Here’s what Krugman had to say in his latest column about the ecnonomy, Boiling the Frog.
Start with economics: last winter the economy was in acute crisis, with a replay of the Great Depression seeming all too possible. And there was a fairly strong policy response in the form of the Obama stimulus plan, even if that plan wasn’t as strong as some of us thought it should have been.
At this point, however, the acute crisis has given way to a much more insidious threat. Most economic forecasters now expect gross domestic product to start growing soon, if it hasn’t already. But all the signs point to a “jobless recovery”: on average, forecasters surveyed by The Wall Street Journal believe that the unemployment rate will keep rising into next year, and that it will be as high at the end of 2010 as it is now.
Now, it’s bad enough to be jobless for a few weeks; it’s much worse being unemployed for months or years. Yet that’s exactly what will happen to millions of Americans if the average forecast is right — which means that many of the unemployed will lose their savings, their homes and more.
To head off this outcome — and remember, this isn’t what economic Cassandras are saying; it’s the forecasting consensus — we’d need to get another round of fiscal stimulus under way very soon. But neither Congress nor, alas, the Obama administration is showing any inclination to act. Now that the free fall is over, all sense of urgency seems to have vanished.
This will probably change once the reality of the jobless recovery becomes all too apparent. But by then it will be too late to avoid a slow-motion human and social disaster.
This is all a precursor so that everyone knows that what the stimulus that was passed did was make it so the economy wouldn’t go into free fall – it stopped the hemorrhaging. But it won’t stop the bleeding forever and fix the economy overall. That will take much more, including health insurance reform.
This all leads to what Harvey Kronberg wrote in his New 8 Commentary about Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s antics regarding the stimulus this past session. Could DC dollars slow Texas economic crash?
It’s true we are faring better than some other states but that is little consolation to the growing numbers of Texans who’ve lost their homes and jobs. We have already lost more than twice as many jobs as the comptroller predicted for the year and more are coming.
For politicians, this is a mixed bag. Gov. Rick Perry claims anti-Washington purity because he rejected less than half a percent of the $16 billion in stimulus dollars available to Texas government and schools.
Yet, the Obama stimulus filled a big hole in our state budget and prevented wholesale layoffs of state and public school employees. Austin is a company town with government as a major employer. Imagine what our unemployment and sales tax numbers would look like without the stimulus.
But, I doubt the governor will be sending any thank you notes to D.C. this year.
Perry enjoyed some good poll numbers in the last couple of weeks, but if the accelerating downward trajectory of our state economy continues for many more months, voters may start telling pollsters the state is heading in the wrong direction. That’s always bad news for incumbents.
But wait, we have more stimulus dollars heading to Texas for infrastructure later this year. It is debatable whether there are enough dollars to actually jump start our economy, but the new dollars will at least help mitigate the pain.
Don’t get me wrong. The growing federal debt is likely to give us heartburn in a few years, but so far it seems that Perry is the big winner with Washington spending. He gets to rail against Washington at the same time D.C. dollars are at least slowing the Texas economic crash.
In essence Perry used the stimulus for what would benefit his political campaign and the parts that wouldn’t he turned down. It had nothing to do with what was best for Texas, Texas businesses, or Texans. As we can see by this recent news item, Employers’ unemployment insurance taxes likely to rise, workforce commission chairman says.
Most Texas employers should plan for their unemployment insurance taxes to increase significantly next year, Texas Workforce Commission Chairman Tom Pauken of Dallas said Tuesday.
While tax rates won’t be set until December, Pauken said that mounting layoffs are close to exhausting a state trust fund, forcing him and two fellow commissioners recently to authorize what they expect to be $2 billion of interest-free borrowing from the federal government.
That’s just so the commission can pay Texans’ unemployment benefits into next year, when Pauken said he anticipates issuing $2 billion of bonds to repay the feds.
Of course Congressman John Carter has been a fair weather supporter of the stimulus too, Right back at it again.
So tell me: how do you (a) support a spending freeze and (b) vote against the stimulus bill that contains this funding, but then (c) turn around and claim that you supported this funding???
Apparently, it’s all in a day’s work for Rep. Carter.
It’s no surprise that the stimulus is being used by Republicans to talk out of both sides of their mouths. Most economists agree that the stimulus that was passed earlier in the year helped, but much more is needed. But no one should be fooled as to the fact that it’s going to take a while to get the economy humming again, and Obama made that clear before he took the oath of office.
In a Sunday Op-Ed in the FWST state Rep. Todd Smith (R-Euless) gives Perry his due for his veto of HB 3148, Gov. Perry’s veto of “teen lovers” bill was a missed opportunity to help Texas youth.
Gov. Rick Perry vetoed one of the most morally compelling bills I have ever filed in the Texas House.
Perry apparently believes that every teenager who has a consensual relationship with someone more than three years, but less than four years younger should be labeled for life as a sex offender.
The purpose of sex offender registration is to protect children from child molesters. The monitoring and supervision of nonthreatening people wastes law enforcement resources and detracts law enforcement from closer scrutiny of the sex offender for whom registration was intended — those who are dangerous to children.
HB 3148 was passed by a vote of 131-12 in the House and unanimously in the Senate. Sixteen witnesses testified in committee in favor of the bill. There was no opposition.
In his veto statement, Perry said that “sex offenders would be eligible to petition a court for an exemption from sex offender registration, regardless of the age of the victim.” That is simply not true.
The bill expressly stated that the victim must be at least 14 years old with the perpetrator less than four years older. He said he feared this bill would not protect young victims, but it only would allow a judge to grant an exemption when it is in the best interest of the victim. Some of these “victims” are now married to the “perpetrators.”
The bill wouldn’t change the criminality of the offense of statutory rape, which is a punishable crime. It only gave certain teens in consensual relationships an opportunity to ask a judge for an exemption from lifetime registration as a sex offender.
Every step was taken to ensure that no dangerous predator would be eligible to petition for exemption. Even if an offender met all the requirements set forth, (i.e., consensual relationship, victim at least 14, less than a four-year age difference) a judge would still have discretion — if circumstances warranted — to keep the offender on the list.
I believe teens involved in these relationships have committed a sin, but I don’t believe — in most cases — that that sin should put them on a list that will literally ruin the rest of their lives.
Perry has made it clear he wishes to protect the youth of Texas. He has missed a golden opportunity to do so. I will continue to fight for this important legislation that, simply put, delivers people who are of no threat to anyone from a living hell.
It’s hard not to agree with the conclusion that Perry didn’t know what the bill was about.
Perry said in his veto statement that he couldn’t sign the bill because “sex offenders would be eligible to petition a court for an exemption from sex offender registration, regardless of the age of the victim.” However, Smith’s bill only applied to cases where an offender was convicted of having consensual sex with someone who was at least 14 and not more than four years younger than the defendant.
“Perry apparently believes that every teenager who has a consensual relationship with someone more than three years, but less than four years younger should be labeled for life as a sex offender,” Smith wrote.
You can read EOW’s previous reporting on this bill, (A good bill passed the house yesterday and Perry’s vetoes and HB 3148). Rep. Smith deserves much credit for getting the bill passed and keeping the issue alive. For those living with this unwarranted punishment relief cannot come soon enough.
In his News 8 commentary Harvey Kronberg dissects GOP Lt. Gov. David Dewhursts performance, Lt. Gov. Dewhurst controversy. Here’s some of what he said.
As the session becomes but a memory, a few words are in order about the disappointing performance of the Senate’s presiding officer, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst.
His denials notwithstanding, most in the Capitol now believe that Dewhurst conspired with Sen. Tommy Williams to trick the other senators on the first day of the session. Williams surprised his colleagues by proposing a new rule mandating the Senate take up voter ID, a bill that Democrats otherwise had the votes to block.
The Williams play ultimately led to a session-killing filibuster in the House, by a handful of Democrats. But if Dewhurst was blindsided by Williams as he said, why did he reward him with one of the most important chairmanships at his disposal – Senate Administration?
Perhaps it was because of his upcoming wedding in June and the preparations were distracting. But Dewhurst’s erraticism, lack of concentration and inability to keep a schedule were the talk of almost every senator. He was rarely in the chair. By most reports, he was inconsistent and dismissive in his dealings with Speaker Joe Straus. He surprised and blindsided the House by not sending more than 400 bills in those critical final days.
I don’t know what is in Dewhurst’s future, but he is a talented man capable of doing well in politics. But in this five-month Legislature, he did not do right by his state or the Texas Senate.
While Dehurst may be “talented” and “capable” he’s never showed that he can do what it takes to get the job done. His lack of leadership is a key reason the Texas GOP has been unable to govern. I’m sure those in his party are aware of this as Dewhurst ponders what’s in his future.
Kuff has a wrap-up of all the bills Gov. Rick Perry vetoed since session ended. Here’s some of what he wrote, And here are the vetoes.
Here’s the full list, with links to statements about individual bills, here’s his press release, and here’s his budget statement. A few points of interest:
- Perry wimped out and allowed HB770, the Wayne Christian Homestead Bill, to become law without his signature. Way to lead, big guy. I can’t wait to get Jerry Patterson’s press release about this.
- As already noted, he axed SB488, the Safe Passing Bill. Bicyclists are pissed off.
- He vetoed HB3148, which would have allowed some minors who engaged in consensual sex to not have to register as sex offenders, which strikes me as petty and short-sighted. I’ll bet that will annoy Grits.
- Rep. Jerry Madden gets his wish, and SB1440 gets zapped.
- Two bills supported by environmentalists, HB821, which related to recycling TV sets; and SB2169, which would have established a smart growth policy work group and the development of a smart growth policy for Texas, got nixed.
- Perry signed HB4294, the electronic textbooks bill, over the objections of some social conservatives. Credit where it’s due – I thought this was a decent bill.
- He signed SB1410, thus negating West University Place’s ordinance requiring fire sprinklers in some new construction. Local control, schmocal control.
That’s all I’ve got for now. I’m sure there are other gems in there that are not immediately obvious to me, so leave a comment and let me know about them.
There’s many more so go read Kuff’s post. HB 3148 is a particularly bad veto. Especially after the bipartisan support that gathered around that bill. It was a tough vote for some but it was right for this to become law. Even Rep. Dan Gattis (D-Georgetown) came around on this bill and stuck his neck out in support of it.
Here’s what Grits had to say in his post Governor Perry’s 2009 Criminal Justice Vetoes.
No leeway, however modest, on sex offender registration
HB 3148 by Smith/West would have allowed those convicted of indecency with a child for an offense committed when they were under 21 in “Romeo and Juliet” type cases to petition the court to keep them off the state sex offender registry. While acknowledging that this might happen only under “very limited circumstances,” that a judge would still have to sign off, and that “other provisions of the criminal code provide some protections against very young victims being re-victimized,” Perry vetoed the bill anyway, declaring, ” I am not willing to take that gamble with the lives of young Texans.”
Looks like Perry was just pandering to the base again on that one. As Gattis said this bill is, “..the right thing. It’s the moral thing..” to and it lets no one off the hook. It just allows minors who made a mistake to pay their debt and go on with their lives without a being treated like pedophiles for the rest of their lives. This was a shameful veto by Gov. Perry.
It’s a case of the old, “I hate to say I told you so, but..”. Tip to Ben Wear, Toll troubles in Dallas.
But the upshot is toll traffic has slowed considerably up in Dallas, putting the North Texas Tollway Authority in a financial bind as it pays debt service on the massive $3.2 billion it paid TxDOT for the right to build the Texas 121 tollway. You may recall that a private consortium led by Spanish company Cintra was going to build it, and pay the state close to $3 billion in anticipated future profits.
But that changed during the 2007 legislative session when people sympathetic to the NTTA said that the authority, which already operated two existing tollways in the Dallas area, had not been given a proper chance to compete for the work. So, after the fact, the NTTA beat the Cintra bid and got the job. The $3.2 billion, now in TxDOT’s hands, is to be used on transportation projects in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
Now, as Lindenberger’s story discusses, the sagging economy has led to sagging usage of Texas 121 (and other toll roads up there) and sagging revenue, and an emerging financial bind. Everyone is not happy.
Here’s the link to the DMN article Wear points to in his post, North Texas Tollway Authority to discuss toll rate increase today.
Drivers, pull out your wallets.
Toll roads in North Texas are about to get much more expensive if North Texas Tollway Authority board members accept a plan to be discussed at a meeting today.
By Sept. 1, toll rates would jump 32 percent, as the NTTA scrambles to find new revenue in the face of badly slumping traffic figures.
“Traffic on our system is projected to be down about 9.8 percent” this year, Davis said. “I think what the market looks for is decisive action to fix the problem. They realize we are not going to recover the losses by a toll increase within one year. They are looking more for action by the board that shows it is willing to do what is necessary to keep our system solvent.”
But the same steps taken to respond to declining traffic could make the NTTA’s problem worse, according to some drivers who said Monday that higher rates will cause them to avoid toll roads.
“If they raise rates, I will keep my Toll Tag, but I probably won’t use it as often,” said Plano resident Bethany Anderson, who said she spends about $30 a month on tolls by using toll roads when traffic is bad. “Every little bit helps when you look to see what you can cut, especially as gas prices ratchet back up. … I’m gonna need to see the NTTA’s plan for a teleporter before I want to pay more in tolls.”
Davis said staff has considered the potential for further traffic declines as a result of the rate increases. “But we think the additional revenue brought in will be sufficient” to compensate, she said.
The problem for the NTTA, said Davis, is that with traffic down so far so soon into the 52-year contract, there is little chance to ever catch back up, even with higher toll rates.
“When you have to retreat from your base year, then you are starting from a lower base. So while your growth may recover, you never recover what you have given up to that lower base line. It does become a significant number as you extend it out into the future.”
Wow! That’s tremendously bad news. I doubt state employees are hoping state Sen. Steve Ogden will no longer push a plan for investing Texas pension funds…in big road projects. And all Texas taxpayers hope the plan for a “transportation bank” that passed the Senate in last session, will be scrapped as well. What more will it take for everyone to understand that toll road schemes are a bad idea?
Ben Wear on Monday wrote his column about the huge taxpayer money for developers scheme that Williamson County taxpayers have been funding since 2000. It stems form the now infamous [.pdf] 2000 road bond election in Williamson county, (see Amos “Pete” Peters III). Here’s the article, At least for now, Reagan Boulevard heading nowhere. A couple of quick notes. First, the irony of the title of the article in unmistakable. And second, the fact that a road named by the WCGOP Williamson County government, after what they believe to be the greatest president ever, is just a taxpayer give-away to developers, speaks for itself. Now here’s what Wear had to say about the road.
Williamson County, using bond money approved by voters in 2000 for the $89 million project, started building it in 2003. The most northerly section, completed last year, dead-ends at RM 2338. There’s a neighborhood of trailer homes on large lots off to the north of the intersection, but not much else.
In fact, for the whole 17-mile run there is little but pretty countryside. The first stretch, from RM 1431 to RM 2243, has a couple of subdivisions, and there’s an RV dealership, but that’s about it. There aren’t even that many real estate signs.
Is it possible that given rising environmental concerns and the distance from downtown Austin — 45 miles from RM 2338 to the Capitol — someone has finally built a Highway to Who-Cares that will stay that way? No, say developers. In fact, they say the problem is not gas prices or consumer demand, but political resistance to getting them the water and sewer connections (at reasonable cost) they need to develop.
“It won’t be the Road to Nowhere for long,” said Bill Pohl, a developer who owns 700 acres along the road and whose sales signs dot the landscape north of Texas 29. “It’ll get figured out.”
The county plan has the road connecting to Interstate 35 in the next few years, making it 28 miles long in then end, which I guess would make it officially a road to something. But until then, and perhaps for a long-time after, Reagan Boulevard’s best use may be as a place to teach your 15-year-old how to drive.
It’s the classic sprawl-creating, developer friendly road.
ACRE Texas has the latest on eminent domain and More between-session news–eminent domain; Perry signs non-existent document.
Terri Hall, founder of Texas TURF, has a blog at the San Antonio Express News, be sure and check it out.
And “wishy-washy” Sen. John Carona had this to say about his fomerly all important local option tax in the, somewhere in the future, special session.
Later Tuesday, the director for a key state committee weighed in, adding that Carona had no such plans to pursue the controversial measure.
“Chairman Carona believes any special session at this point should just cover consensus items,” said Steven Polunsky, committee director for the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security.
That would include “a 2-year extension for the Sunset agencies and the issuance of general obligation bonds for transportation. He does not currently plan on pursuing local option taxes in the special.”
Still, members are submitting requests in the case the call is expanded, especially in light of the chubbing at the end of the session that killed several measures.
While it’s extremely unlikely Perry would let it be added to the call, it’s would seem that Carona’s statement would be a little more in line with the passion he showed toward the end of the regular session.
Paul Burka and Patricia Kilday Hart’s The Best and Worst Legislators 2009.
Some questions from Somervell County Salon regarding the AAS’s weekend article on Sen. Steve Ogden (R-Bryan), These are time of desperation. Like this one:
If Ogden and others work in the best interests of Texas, as they continue to claim, why are the urgent issues still paramount without resolution?
There are several more questions asked in the post.
On first term Speaker Joe Straus
Pretty good article about Speaker Joe Straus’ transition from regular member to Speaker, The making of a House speaker. The phrase that encapsulates Straus’ first session is he’s a “pass the budget and get-out-of-here-guy”. From the article it seems that once the budget was passed Straus had little left in his tank.
He was ready for the session to end.
“I wish we had four days instead of 40. I really am a pass-the-budget-and get-out-of-here guy,” Straus said. “Guns on campus, guns somewhere else? Are we really fixing problems or do we just think we do? And voter ID?”
Straus took the speaker’s job with little legislative experience and no expectations on what it would be like.
“It’s just unfolding, and I’m dealing with it,” he said in early May.
“All I knew is that someone needed to take the edge off and try to bring people together and get our work done in a way where people could disagree. But you could try to work things out and when you don’t, you come back in two years and try again,” Straus said.
“I didn’t know how to do it. I just knew that it needed to be done. And outside the session (during the interim and campaign season), there was just as much concern, in my mind, about the scorched earth politics and that spills over for both parties,” said Straus.
He has promised not to campaign against incumbent members of either party. Craddick had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars from his campaign account against Democrats – and even against some out-of-favor fellow Republicans in GOP primaries.
“I’m very tired,” Straus acknowledged as the session headed into the final two weeks – and with the Voter ID drama yet to play out.
And also this article which seems kind of inane, Take away ‘voter ID’ and new speaker might have smooth sailing. Take away what the Texas GOP called the single most important issue facing Texas today, from the session and Straus has a great session, that’s a little too generous since it can’t be done. It also gives Straus a convenient excuse for anything that didn’t get done because of the chubbing.
In reality Straus probably did as good as could be expected, taking into consideration how late he was chosen, and that it was his first session as Speaker. If he’s the Speaker in the 82nd legislative session, he’ll likely lead in a different manner. Meaning he’ll have an agenda, and be more organized and efficient from the beginning of the session.
Via AcreTexas, Ag Commish calls for eminent domain in special session.
Officials in North Texas are meeting to discuss what to do post-session, and after the “local option gas tax” failed, RTC to meet Thursday, assess damage from Legislature.
Here is Ben Wear’s analysis, Probing the legislative pileup for transportation news.
It’s really hard to believe that after several sessions and interim studies, and everything that’s been written about transportation in this state we’re right back to where we were in 2001. We need more money to build and maintain new highways in the State of Texas. The question STILL remains how do we want to pay for that. With pennies added on to a each gallon of gas that will build those roads to ease traffic congestion or with expensive tolls for new tollways that do little to ease traffic congestion?
Oh, and TxDOT is still a complete disaster, and now it’s in limbo for two years. Yes we desperately need leadership in this state.
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