Smile, You’re On Toll Road Camera

Posted in Road Issues at 11:11 am by wcnews

I saw this report on KXAN last night about the cameras on the new toll roads in Austin. KXAN seems to have picked up on what Sal Costello started on Monday, Austin Tollers Secretly Tracking The Public. Sal has an exhaustive report on this.

But what most people think is a system for tracking toll violators is actually taking a picture of everyone who drives the road, right now, for free:

Citizens have been offered to “try out” the new toll roads “for free”, but they’ve not been informed that they are being tracked. We don’t know how long the data will be archived, if the information is shared with other government agencies, or if the database is being sold to the highest bidder.[…]

IMPORTANT NOTE: The government has yet to establish any laws, guidelines or privacy policies on collection of this type of data.

This is without the TxTag and I’m sure if you buy that you agree (PDF, #13) to be tracked and have you information sold. But my point in bringing this up is not conspiracy stuff – we’re being tracked without knowing. I believe if the government or a corporation wants to target/market you they can find out all about you in a heartbeat already. Why I bring this up is the blatant BS that Gabriela Garcia was spewing on KXAN last night (transcript).

First here’s what the image review clerk said about what’s being done with the images:

We found one of the people who was hired to do this work. He didn’t want his identity revealed. He told us his quota was 4,000 license plates entered into the database everyday. It seemed high so he asked his supervisor.

“She said, ‘Well no, we’re not doing violations right now. We’re basically entering in all the data from everybody traveling the new toll roads.” Which sort of threw me back because at that point I thought I was going to be handling violations,” the image review clerk said.

Well of course there not doing violations, the roads a FREE at this time. Then why is this being done? Here’s where Ms. Garcia comes in.

To get to the bottom of it, we went right to the source and talked to Gabriela Garcia at the Toll Road Authority. She says because the tolls are not being collected yet, the equipment is simply being tested. The photographs will be used to enforce people who blow through the toll booths without paying.

“There could be some of that going on now. I’m not sure how much of that’s happening on which roads and how many of the vehicles are actually being photographed. It’s not being sold to anybody or anybody else for any other purpose other than toll enforcement purposes only,” Garcia said.

Garcia told KXAN in a second interview that any photographs taken and information gathered on people that are not violating the tolls will be deleted, and no records will be kept.

That – cameras taking pictures of drivers – could be happening? She doesn’t know how many vehicles are actually being photographed? She doesn’t know for sure if this is happening, even though an employee just said it was? She doesn’t know any of that but she damn sure knows that the information isn’t being sold and calls back to say it will all be deleted. Huh? What’s the point of hiring 57 people to enter 4,000 license plate images a day into a database if you’re just going to throw it all away? It’s not the tracking it’s the lying about it that I have a problem with.

The Legislative Study Group

Posted in 80th Legislature at 9:41 am by wcnews

I didn’t even know the Legislative Study Group existed until yesterday. But they do good work and they need our help. They do their best to bring about good public policy for all Texans. It’s chaired by one of our best Democratic Representatives, Garnet Coleman. He had one of my favorite quotes from the Summer of ’05 special session debacles about the GOP tax/school finance attempts at that time, “These bills are bad public policy, it’s hard to get an agreement on bad public policy, it’s easy to get an agreement on good public policy.” Good public policy is what the Legislative Stiudy Group Is all about.

With your help, the LSG can evaluate and recommend public policy proposals that will benefit all Texas families, with an emphasis on health care, public education, the state budget, and consumer, worker and environmental protection.

This from the Chair Coleman:

“Our goal is to ensure that state government develops mainstream solutions to the real problems facing our state, by fostering sound public policy that serves the best interest of all Texans.”

The need our help financially to be able to do there work in the 80th session. They need the donations by December 9th. If you can, click here, on on there ad on the right, to help them out.

Texas Lege Has To “Bust-A-Cap” In The State Budget

Posted in The Budget, The Lege at 9:07 am by wcnews

This CPPP policy page tells us why the spending cap must be increased this session: To pay for the tax cuts passed in the last special session. It also says it’s a one time fix. If the plan was passed this is another one of those unintended consequences that goes along with it. Here’s the HChron on this with a quote from Sen. Steve Ogden (R-Bryan):

Paying for promised cuts in local school property tax rates over the next two years would put lawmakers at least $4 billion over a constitutional cap on state spending, and that’s before they fund growth in any other programs.

So, leaders are thinking about tying a legislative vote to exceed the cap directly to the tax-relief measure. That could make a cap-busting vote more palatable to the GOP-majority Legislature.

“You offer a bill that reduces property taxes and you tell everybody that the amount of money involved exceeds the spending cap, and let’s vote,” said Sen. Steve Ogden, a Bryan Republican who heads the Senate Finance Committee. “We’re exceeding the spending cap so we can cut your property taxes. I think everybody’ll vote for that.”

It looks likes there’s enough cover for enough Republicans to vote for busting the spending cap. I don’t this everyone’ll vote for this Steve, I doubt Texas Rush will vote for it. It’ll be fun to hear what he has to say about this.


The TTC – Worst Public Policy Fiasco Of A Lifetime

Posted in Around The State, Road Issues at 11:32 am by wcnews

Paul Burka’s “Behind The Lines” column in the December 2006 issue of Texas Monthly, entitled “His Way or The Highway”, is a must-read. Burka takes on Gov. Perry, the TTC, TxDOT, and “comprehensive development agreements” (CDAs). The only issue I have with it is that it should have been written before the election.

He tells a great story of how our state government has ceded control of our transportation future to corporations, foreign and domestic. He quotes Sen. John Carona (R – Dallas), Chair of the Senate Committee on Transportation & Homeland Security, as saying this about CDA’s, “Within thrity years’ time, under existing comprehensive development agreements, we’ll bring free roads in this state to a condition of ruin.” Burka explains brilliantly here:

The private companies that will build and operate the toll roads are in business to make a profit. In order to ensure that profit, they must have people who want to drive on their roads. And – here’s the rub – in order to be sure that people will want to drive on their roads, the CDAs with TxDOT will contain non-compete clauses that prohibit TxDOT from building new roads or upgrading existing highways. Any improvement to an existing highway that is not already planned at the time TxDOT enters into the contract is prohibited. That billion-dollar concession limits TxDOT’s ability to improve nearby secondary roads. How about adding extra lanes? Sorry, prohibited by the CDA. An HOV express lane? Not a chance. This is why Carona says that free roads will be reduced to ruin. TxDOT will no longer be able to respond to the transportation needs of the state, other than to say: If you don’t like the traffic, use the toll road.

This is horrendous! They could essentially argue that building any road is competition. We are not just allowing corporations to porfit off our infrastructure we are giving them control, allowing them to dictate to us, the planning of our infrastructure. Needless to say what benefits their bottom line will take precedence over what will be best for Texans.

Burka finishes by saying that if this is not changed, “we are headed for the worst public policy fiasco of my lifetime.” He’s right about that. I believe it’s time to start a push to repeal HB 3588.

Forget Toll Roads Let’s Raise The Gas Tax – It’ll Save You Money

Posted in Around The State, Road Issues at 9:59 am by wcnews

No matter how high of a gas tax increase TxDOT predicts, when trying to scare the public into accepting toll roads, that gas tax increase is still much cheaper than toll roads. Read that again because it takes a while to sink in and it’s such a shot to the heart of the pro-toll argument that it just can’t possibly be true. The best explanation I’ve seen of this yet comes form McBlogger:

Now remember, TXDoT says to do away with tolls in Central Texas we’d have to have a gas tax of 17 cents a gallon. Assuming your car gets 20 miles a gallon and your daily commute on the tollway will be 20 miles (not, by any means inconceivable) you’d spend only an extra 17 cents per day driving to and from work. That’s the non-toll road math. So how much will it cost you with the tolls.

No one knows yet what the toll will be. 25 cents per mile? 50 cents per mile? Let’s go with 25 cents per mile… using the same assumptions as above, you’d pay $5.00 per day in tolls. Using Republican math, that’s cheaper than 17 cents, don’t you know. Yeah, I can totally see how 17 cents is more than $5.00. Is this the same kind of math Bush has been using to ‘balance’ the federal budget?

That estimate should be cut in half ($2.50) because the starting tolls, and they will go up, on the new toll roads around Austin are 12.5 cents/mile. That’s 17 cents v. $2.50 on your daily commute to pay for the new road. I bring all of this up because of this article from the SAEN today about the scare tactics TxDOT is using in San Antonio, Toll-road rejection may spark big gas-tax jump.

If the idea of paying tolls to drive on future highway lanes in San Antonio turns your stomach, perhaps you could swallow a higher gas tax instead.

How about adding 38.2 cents a gallon, or as much as $1.09, on top of the 38.4-cent tax that motorists pay now.

That’s what Texas Department of Transportation officials came up with recently when they estimated how high the gas tax would have to go in Bexar County to widen 70 miles of highways without tolling the new lanes.

The difference is whether motorists everywhere in the county pay a new gas tax of 1 to 2 cents a mile, depending on vehicle miles per gallon, or if only drivers using the new lanes pay a toll of 15 to 20 cents a mile.

Neither is all that palatable.

These gas taxes of which TxDOT speaks – 17 cents in Austin and 38.4 cents to $1.09 in San Antonio – are local taxes. Also from the excerpt above the tolls in San Antonio will be 15 to 20 cents per mile, that means between $3.00 to $4.00 for a daily commute. As Kuffner points out if we just raised the state gas tax 10 cents, that’s 1/2 cent per mile for all Texans using the 20 MPG model, then toll roads could be out of the discussion.

Dammit, the reason that gas taxes are “drying up” is because they haven’t been raised in 14 years. Texas’ gas tax rate of $0.20 per gallon is 36th highest among the 50 states, which just doesn’t make sense. Raising it by a dime, which would still leave us with a lower tax than other high-population states, would generate over a billion dollars a year for transportation (and over a quarter billion for education, as 25% of your state gas taxes go to education funding), without being an excessive burden to the vast majority of people.

And if we pay for our roads with the gas tax then we own them and we don’t have to worry about foreign corporations raising our tolls in the future so their guaranteed profits come in.

In simplest terms if we raised the gas tax by $2.00/gallon locally it would still be cheaper than toll roads. From what I’ve seen in media accounts the gas tax is treated like a non-starter and is presented as, and presumed to be, unpalatable by the public. Let’s look at the facts, like above, and have a rational discussion on raising the gas tax v. tolls and I think most people will decide to raise the gas tax. It will save taxpayers money.

P.S. The other part of this gas tax v. toll discussion that was mentioned in the article in the SAEN today but many times is left out is the discussion of mass transit. Which could help reduce driving and some of the need for new roads.


The Democratic Dynamic

Posted in 80th Legislature, Commentary at 12:39 pm by wcnews

Two excerpts from a couple of recent articles.

The first from an R.G. Ratcliffe article that ran over the weekend, Republicans will limp into next session.

But Republican voter disgruntlement combined with a Democratic surge in this year’s elections has changed the landscape for the Legislature that convenes in January.

“If you’re a Republican, you have to be sensitive to the Democratic dynamic. They’ve had a very good year,” said Bill Miller, a GOP consultant with close ties to Perry and Craddick. “It’s a fact of life, and if you ignore it, you do so at your own peril.”

And yesterday’s Commentary from Harvey Kronberg at News 8, Prepare for power shift for 80th Legislative session.

Unfortunately, there was no exit polling in Texas, so we have to take a few clues from the national scene. The exit polls tell us Republicans didn’t get thumped because of dispirited conservatives staying home, but because political moderates who had been voting Republican for a decade simply couldn’t take it anymore.


It is probably fair to say that Perry’s 39 percent does reflect the ideologically conservative base vote in Texas.

But the point is, 39 percent is not a governing majority. While the House remains in Republican hands, hard right conservatives no longer have a governing majority. And most senators understand that were it not for the centering influence of the two-thirds rule, they too would see some substantial power shifts down the road.

The “Bible beating” Rush Limbaugh of the Texas Senate is for repealing the two-thirds rule. But what Kronberg says goes to show that the two-thirds rule isn’t there just to protect the minority party in the Senate. It’s also there to protect the majority form it’s fringe elements.

But back to the “Democratic Dynamic”. Perry cares about because he’ll need it if he wants to get something worthwhile – his legacy – done before his reign on Texas is over. Craddick may care more than he has in previous sessions because with more losses in two years he won’t be Speaker anymore. Dewhurst, well let’s just say he has aspirations, so he cares.

That’s why it will be so much fun to watch the next GOP primary for governor and the next two sessions. Of course we all know there’s no “Democratic Dynamic” in the GOP primary, just divine intervention, shall we say.

I would assume there will be some working with the Democrats this session, but as we go to next session (81st), especially if the Democrats don’t make more gains or lose ground, there will be a right turn by the candidates looking to be the next GOP nominee for governor as the 2010 primary approaches. An early indication will be to see if Cornyn’s rhetoric shifts for his ’08 reelection bid. It’s a mixed bag if this is any indication, Elections a reminder of who works for whom in society. (Earmarks, FOIA, overspending on entitlements, Social Security reform, corruption, and Iraq).

It also depends A LOT on whether or not the Democrats in Texas can take the momentum they’ve gained and use it to keep the “Democratic Dynamic” alive.

Simply Amazing!

Posted in Corruption, Uncategorized at 9:32 am by wcnews

If the Republicans in Texas don’t remember that corruption was a big reason the Republicans were voted out of office nationally,then let’s hope they let this ruling stand.

Officials don’t need to detail cash gifts:

A Texas official who receives any sum of cash as a gift can satisfy state disclosure laws by reporting the money simply as “currency,” without specifying the amount, the Texas Ethics Commission reiterated Monday.

The 5-3 decision outraged watchdog groups and some officials who unabashedly accused the commission of failing to enforce state campaign finance laws.

“What the Ethics Commission has done is legalize bribery in the state of Texas. We call on the commission to resign en masse,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith, who heads Texas Citizen, an Austin-based group that advocates for campaign finance reform.

Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle, a Democrat, said the “currency” interpretation would render it “perfectly legal to report the gift of ‘a wheelbarrow’ without reporting that the wheelbarrow was filled with cash.”

In a letter to the commissioners dated Monday, Earle called such an analysis “absurd and out of step with both the law and current public attitudes and concerns about corruption in government.”

Shame, shame, everybody knows your name!


The Progressive States Agenda – Take The Pledge

Posted in Around The Nation, Around The State, The Lege at 7:42 pm by wcnews

From the Progressive States Network. Texas’ own Garnet Coleman is a member.

David Sirota has a good post on it here.  In it he makes the point that this kind of agenda has led to gains throughout the country, even the South, like Texas, in state legislatures.
Here’s the agenda:

  • Wage Standards and Workplace Freedom
  • A Real Balance Between Work and Family
  • Health Care for All
  • Clean Jobs and Smart Growth
  • Tax and Budget Reform
  • Clean and Fair Elections

Looks like a great agenda. You can see the whole agenda here HTML and PDF.

Sign the petition and take the pledge here.

A Couple Of Questions

Posted in Education, The Lege at 2:04 pm by wcnews

Is the TAKS test is on the chopping block in the 80th? Schools still big issue at Capitol. Note to the Lege: Schools will always be a big issue until you fix them
Did the GOP lose ground in the Texas House because they were too far to the right or not far enough to the right? GOP faces major test. That all depends on how far to the right the person is that the question to is.

The “No-Brainer” Democratic Agenda

Posted in Around The Nation, Commentary at 11:24 am by wcnews

From Molly Ivins early last year.

The majority of the American people think the war in Iraq is a mistake and we should get out.

The majority (65 percent) of the American people want single-payer health care and are willing to pay more taxes to get it.

The majority (86 percent) favor raising the minimum wage.

The majority (60 percent) favor repealing Bush’s tax cuts, or at least those that go only to the rich.

The majority (66 percent) want to reduce the deficit not by cutting domestic spending, but by reducing Pentagon spending or raising taxes.

The majority (77 percent) think we should do “whatever it takes” to protect the environment.

The majority (87 percent) think big oil companies are gouging consumers and would support a windfall profits tax.

I doubt any of these numbers have gotten lower over the last year.

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