He’s got a post up on the nuts-and-bolts of a supposed compromise on HB 626.
Phil King has been talking to Democrats about a possible solution to the voter registration bill, which, in its original form, required voters to prove their citizenship in order to register to vote. This onerous requirement would have made it impossible in practice to conduct a voter registration drive, since most folks don’t have certified copies of birth certificates or a passport lying around their houses. King’s floor substitute shifts the burden of verifying citizenship to the Secretary of State’s office. Under a recent federal law that took effect on January 1 of this year, states must cross-check voter registration applications with social security and drivers license records. King’s proposal would add birth certificates and naturalization papers. If the voter’s citizenship still cannot be verified, the secretary of state would contact the appropriate local officials who would get in touch with the prospective voter to see if additional information is available.
There should be not compromise on this issue. This is an issue to draw that nice clear line between Democrats and Republicans. Democrats are for inclusion, Republicans are for exclusion. That aside, I don’t understand what this “compromise” changes from the way things currently are. As previously posted here, the first question asked on a voter registration application is, Are you a US citizen? Doesn’t that mean, or shouldn’t that mean, that someone, somewhere, should already be making sure that the applicant is a US citizen?
It’s like the Voter IDiocy bill. The vast majority of people think it’s a bill mandating “everyone” show a photo ID in order to vote. That’s not the case. If you dont’ have an ID you can show a myriad of items with the correct name and address on them. The point in all of this is that the Republicans are trying to pass these bills, to show their ignorant base – (Again from Burka, “The ease of explaining why these bills are good bills, and the difficulty of explaining why they might not be, is why Republicans think they have some ammo they can use against Democrats at last.”) – that they’re doing something to keep “those” people form voting illegally. When in fact that’s not happening. Even if it was happening these proposed laws they’re attempting to pass wouldn’t stop it. That’s why there should be no compromise on this bill or HB 218.
Here’s the link to the report, An Audit Report on the Department of Transportation’s Reported Funding Gap and Tax Gap Information.
The accuracy of the estimated costs for metropolitan and urban regions cannot be determined because of the lack of supporting documentation.
The methodology the Department used to calculate the amount of the funding gap provides a general assessment of the statewide need for additional mobility funding; however, it may not be reliable for making policy or funding decisions. To calculate the funding gap, the Department collaborated with the eight largest metropolitan planning organizations to obtain cost estimates, and it used those estimates to determine the funding gap for metropolitan regions. The Department provided some guidance to the metropolitan planning organizations. The data the Department used were cost estimates that were self-reported by the metropolitan planning organizations. The cost for urban regions was estimated by the Department based on broad and generalized assumptions. For the estimated costs in rural regions, the Department relied on cost estimates for the Texas Trunk System (a project developed in 1990 to connect the rural regions of the state with a statewide system).
The Department and metropolitan planning organizations also asserted that the main benefit from funding gap estimates was the increased communication and shared responsibility between the entities to address mobility and funding challenges. The Department stated that it plans to update the funding gap estimate every two years and make improvements to the reporting methodology.
Is there a reason TxDOT and MPO’s would want this number to be inflated? That’s a rhetorical question, of course.
Ben Wear has more, Report says that more than $45 billion of the estimate is either in error or undocumented. That’s $45 billioin of an estimated $86, that more than half, for those scoring at home. He’s has this quote from Michael Behrens of TxDOT.
Mike Behrens, the Transportation Department’s executive director, released a statement this morning saying that even if the shortfall is smaller, the state still has a substantial and growing problem in paying for new roads.
Behrens called the audit report “further documentation of a multi-billion dollar funding gap between the transportation system our state deserves and the one we can afford with current resources. No matter what number you choose, Texas has a big problem: more people, in more cars, driving more miles on an already congested highway system.
“The State Auditor’s Office has provided some good suggestions for refining the methodology to draw a clearer picture of the state’s mobility needs and we are incorporating their recommendations into our future assessments.”
Wow, caught inflating numbers and he calls it good news. No, what this means Mr. Behrens is that the “sky is falling we have accept corporate tolls on every road in Texas” policy was sham, that’s what this report means.
DMN has this story, Lobby’s revision would aid client. It’s about former Republican representative, turned lobbyist, Arlene Wohlgemuth and current Republican representative and Appropriations chair Warren Chisum (R – Pampa), slipping “..a provision in the budget last month that would all but guarantee a state contract for a company run by a former state official.”
The lawmaker, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Warren Chisum, acted at the request of a former House colleague who is now a lobbyist for the company.
Former Rep. Arlene Wohlgemuth brought him the proposal, and she acknowledged that it would probably steer a technology contract to GHT Development, owned by former Deputy Health and Human Services Commissioner Gregg Phillips.
“I was trying to advantage my client,” said Ms. Wohlgemuth, a Burleson Republican who wielded vast influence on social services policy in the 2003 Legislature and is now a health-care lobbyist.
According to a recent lobbyist-disclosure filing at the Texas Ethics Commission, GHT Development is paying Ms. Wohlgemuth between $10,000 and $25,000 this session. That’s a relatively small fee for a GOP insider such as Ms. Wohlgemuth, who gave up her seat to make an unsuccessful run for Congress three years ago.
The contact between Mr. Chisum, R-Pampa, and Ms. Wohlgemuth broke no lobbying rules or state laws. But it shows the tremendous influence lobbyists can wield, particularly those who are former lawmakers. And it illustrates the extent to which policymakers rely on the lobby for ideas.
That’s not illegal? It should be. This is a text book case, highlighting one of the major problems with our political system, former elected officials lobbying their buddies after leaving elected office. Rep. Chisum says it was just a mix-up.
The mix-up on deleting vendor preferences from Mr. Chisum’s amendment occurred late at night as dozens of seemingly innocuous amendments were approved hastily by voice votes, he and Mr. Gattis said. They had agreed on a revised version, but the original amendment was inadvertently adopted.
“A lot of paper was flying out there,” said Mr. Chisum, who vowed a fix during budget talks with the Senate.
Needless to say if the Appropriations chair can’t keep track of a bunch of paper “flying out there” late at night, maybe he needs to postpone business until the next day of leave it to someone who can.
Last week, from documents (Linked here – part 1 and part 2 [.PDF]) sent to us from Dave Maass of the San Antonio Current, EOW has learned that Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) applied for and was granted an exemption from the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS). It’s interesting that CCA would want to keep DFPS out of its facility. It would seem they’d invite this kind of scrutiny to show that they are running a facility that is above reproach. Also if DFPS had been allowed in, from the start, all the issues with food, hours of education, and threatening children with separation from their parents, may have been found out and corrected, much sooner. Included in the documents linked above is the “Resident Orientation Handbook” for the facility. It’s a tiny window into a depressing life, where these asylum-seekers who’ve done nothing wrong, must live once they get to the “land of the free”.
Last week we also found out that a UN Inspector will be coming to T. Don Hutto in the near future. He wants to see, first hand, the conditions at the family lock-up.
Finally, on Saturday civil rights groups held a hearing in the Capitol Extension on HCR 64, authored by Rep. Eddie Rodriguez. It’s the resolution asking Homeland Security to consider options other than putting children in this lock-up. The bill is stuck in the House State Affairs Committee, and chair Rep. David Swinford won’t allow a hearing on the resolution. Therefore these citizens took matters into their own hands and held a hearing anyway, Civil-rights groups blast Hutto facility.
On Saturday representatives from civil-rights groups, such as the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, Mothers Against Discriminatory Racism in Education and Society and the League of United Latin American Citizens, gathered at the Capitol for a hearing concerning House Concurrent Resolution 64, which officially condemns Hutto on behalf of Texas lawmakers. The resolution will also offer alternatives for detaining immigrants.
“Putting children in jail is a disproportionate response to the issue of immigration,” said Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, who put forward the resolution, in a written statement. “As a society we should uphold core values which reject policies that punish children for the acts of their parents.”
Here’s an article from Counterpunch on T. Don Hutto, The Horrors of Hutto. In the coming elections we need to holdthe Williamson County elected officials that are responsible for continuing the in our county accountable for imprisoning children and families for profit.
Here’s a few stories on what’s issues to watch for the rest of the legislative session.
AAS, MAY DAYS: Raising alerts to matters of important business still before the Texas Legislature:
With a month left in the 80th legislative session, most of the important work to this point is still in various stages of the process.
The main piece of business, the state budget, is in a conference committee and members are hammering out the details of how billions of dollars will be spent over the next two years. Several of Gov. Rick Perry’s high-profile items â€” privatizing the state lottery and requiring that sixth-grade girls be vaccinated for the human papillomavirus â€” are in tatters.
Most other important legislative items are in the Capitol pipeline, either stalled, working through amendments or moving toward resolution. Among them are items this page has commented on in previous weeks, sometimes in support, other times in opposition.
Two from the Startlegram, On the watch list.
The all-important final month of the legislative session has begun. The lawmaking is limited to 140 days, and the last day for this year’s get-together in Austin will be May 28. As usual, much of the action is still to come.
And, Lawmakers have a busy month ahead.
As the 2007 legislative session heads into its final four weeks, lawmakers have yet to adopt a budget for the upcoming two-year spending cycle, and they’re still hammering out the details on how to fix the scandal-plagued Texas Youth Commission.
Does that mean that lawmakers have been dithering away their time for the past 130 days or so, and that the state’s crucial needs will go unaddressed?
A lot of legislation is queued up in the Capitol’s pipeline, and lawmakers and their staffs are gearing up for the monthlong stretch when the majority of the most pressing initiatives will emerge from committee and go to the floors of both chambers for a vote.
Here are some key questions about what lawmakers have done, and which measures are likely to advance and which ones might die before the session ends May 28:
That’s what we’ll find out in the next couple of weeks. He’s a governor who was reelected with 39% of the vote, with very little, if any, Independent or Democratic support. With most of his support caming from the religious right and the far-right, wing-nuts of the Republican party. Apparently they saw no better alternative in the other 4 choices for governor and are now having to live with an ineffective Perry. Should be an interesting primary next in 2010 on the GOP side for governor, Dewhurst v. Texas Rush.
After reelection, Mr. Perry then, as his first order of business, tried to play to the middle of the political spectrum, that not only doesn’t like him, but doesn’t trust him, by putting for the HPV vaccination order and the scheme to sell the lottery. In the process he ignored those that elected him, the religious and right-wing of his party, virtually nullifying any support he had left, in an attempt to regain any shred of credibility as a governing force.
Soon we will find out if the governor has become irrelevant. It would be surprising if he doesn’t veto one of the two bills that he’s said he’s against that are headed to his desk. These two bills, that are, heading his way, we’re passed with enough votes to override vetoes, HPV and the toll road moratorium. On toll roads the Feds have gotten involved to help pressure legislators on that. He can either choose between caving in on these two issues, and allow them to become law, or veto them and see if the Lege will follow through on these two issues and actually override the veto of them. If a veto was overridden, not once, but twice – it would be the first time since 1979 a veto was overridden, by the way – Perry would become irrelevant at this point.
His major scheme, laid out in his State of the State speech, the privatization of the state lottery is in the trash, Lottery sale looks to be a scratch.
Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, chairman of the House Committee on Appropriations, said Perry faltered on the lottery idea because he surprised lawmakers who were already primed to reconsider his vision of privately financed toll roads.
Perry also sacrificed momentum by presenting it “like it was a done deal,” Chisum said. “He did it like, ‘I found a buyer for this big state agency.’
“Never been done before, the executive branch of government selling off government assets. It doesn’t look good.”
And Perry’s has very little public support right now, therefore the Lege does not fear openly opposing his policy initiatives. And in Texas, as far getting things done as governor, if the Lege doesn’t take a veto seriously than the governor’s well on his way to becoming irrelevant.
The Bush Administration doesn’t like the toll moratorium legislation winding its way through our legislature.
Recently, reports surfaced about a warning Federal Highway Administration acting administrator James D. Ray gave to the Texas Department of Transportation about the possibility that the Department might lose federal funds if the proposed toll moratorium is enacted. “In at least some of the bills,” Ray said in the letter, “there are a number of provisions that concern us from both a legal and transportation policy perspective. If signed into law, some of these proposals could affect the State’s eligibility for receiving Federal-aid highway funds.”
The referenced legislation, HB 1892, HB 2772, SB 1267 and SB 1929, bear one common trait: a two-year moratorium on new public private partnerships (PPPs) to raise funds to build toll roads in most of the state. The highway system’s biggest users, truckers will tell you that the Bush Administration is counting on PPPs to make up for drastic reductions in federal highway spending.
The Bush Administration’s $67 billion funding request for transportation in the 2007-08 budget disappointed the trucking industry. Immediately after the President’s budget was released in February, trade magazine Land Lines saw the paltry $40.3 billon in highway funding and reported “Not everyone was surprised when the president’s announced transportation budget funding request fell short of funding needs.”
But, the shortfall didn’t catch OOIDA (Owner Operator Independent Drivers Association) by surprise. Mike Joyce of the Association’s Washington, DC, office went on the record with “Land Line Now” on Friday, Feb. 2, saying that not only a budget shortfall was anticipated, but the now-public shortfall is more than likely kicking the door wide open for public-private partnerships.
The U.S. Department of Transportation has had public-private partnerships on its agenda for quite some time, even recently providing model legislation for states seeking to privatize their highways and toll roads.
The recent veto-proof toll moratoriums run in direct opposition to USDOT’s “model legislation.” No one should be surprised, then, that the Federal Highway Administration reacted sharply to this challenge:
Texas is considered the nation’s leader in developing new transportation facilities through public private partnerships (PPPs). These partnerships create opportunities for innovation not typically available for government only projects. The use of PPPs allows the State to leverage the limited state and Federal resources to better serve the people of Texas.”
Public sentiment has officially swung from curiosity to anxiety. Once hailed as free money by cash-starved governments, the Texas Legislature’s rebuke of PPPs is a sign that voters find these schemes too good to be true. BusinessWeek reporter Emily Thornton’s cover story, “Roads to Riches,” explores the booming PPP trend nationally:
With state and local leaders scrambling for cash to solve short-term fiscal problems, the conditions are ripe for an unprecedented burst of buying and selling. All told, some $100 billion worth of public property could change hands in the next two years, up from less than $7 billion over the past two years….
The governements’ poor financial condition is rooted in most politicians’ two-pronged reelection strategy: oppose raising revenues through taxation, and earn media attention cutting ribbons on new infrastructure projects. PPPs keep ineffectual leaders in office at a price that won’t be fully accounted in our lifetimes.
Corridors of the Future Program
CorridorWatch.org co-founder David Stall helped bring Ray’s letter to light and said that it came at State Rep. Mike Krusee’s request. A measure of how far Krusee’s stature has fallen in the Texas House of Representatives was the lopsided defeats with which members dispatched his numerous amendments to the House moratorium bills.
WorldNet Daily reporter Jerome R. Corsi said of Krusee “He was re-elected with barely 50 percent of the vote in a campaign in which his TTC support was contested.”
After Krusee’s narrow re-election and subsequent loss of clout in Austin, he has apparently been working his Washington DC contacts and burnishing his lobbyist resume. Last year, Krusee shepherded Wilbur Smith Associates’ application for a cross-country toll road along Interstate Highway 10′s right of way through the United States Department of Transportation’s “Corridors of the Future” Program (CFP).
The CFP is the corporate plum at the heart of Bush’s transportation policy. The official announcement of the program in the Federal Register spells out pretty clearly the PPP mandate (emphasis added):
The goal of the CFP is to accelerate the development of multi-State transportation Corridors of the Future for one or more transportation modes, by selecting up to 5 major transportation corridors in need of investment for the purpose of reducing congestion…. States are encouraged to work together and with private sector partners to develop multi-State corridor proposals to advance project development and seek alternative financial opportunities.
Krusee and Wilbur Smith and Associates heard the clarion call and submitted an application to line I-10 from Florida to California with toll booths. The relationship between Wilbur Smith and Krusee certainly extends back as far as CAMPO meetings in which the Florida engineering firm was awarded contracts for Central Texas Turnpike Authority projects TX-45 and TX-130. Should the I-10 proposal be enacted, Wilbur Smith would certainly be awarded sizeable contracts.
On February 1, Secretary of Transportation Mary E. Peters annnounced that the I-10 proposal was among the eight semi-finalists. This summer, the Administration will announce its five finalists, projects the federal government aims to drive to completion.
More evidence of Krusee’s matriculation into the DC movers and shakers set came on March 19, when Secretary Peters appointed him to the National Surface Transportation Infrastructure Financing Commission, a “blue ribbon” committee that will write a report about how PPPs will bring a future filled with “free” infrastructure.
Still further evidence of Krusee’s ever-increasing favor with the Bush administration came two months ago when he was invited to speak at the White House:
The Administration continued its efforts to communicate its message at a high-level, invitation-only “White House Transportation Legislative Leadership Summit” on February 9. Held in the ornate Indian Treaty Room of the Old Executive Offices Building, the conference featured a group of distinguished speakers testifying about creative new approaches adopted in their jurisdictions to solve fiscal and congestion problems. Invited to the Summit were chairmen and ranking members of all state legislative transportation committees. A total of 52 state lawmakers attended the Summit, including chairmen and ranking members of house and senate committees from 28 states.
Conference speakers included … Mike Krusee, chairman of the House Transportation Committee in the Texas legislature and author of the landmark legislation that made toll revenues and public-private partnerships the foundation of the state’s transportation financing policy….
The Administration’s intent behind this initiative is clear. Facing the end of its term of office in less than two years, it wishes to leave behind a permanent legacy of the concepts, ideas and new strategies which it believes offer promising solutions to the transportation problems facing the nation.
The permanent legacy of the Bush Administration: a bankrupt treasury and taxes replaced by tolls, fines, fees and tuition payable to a private corporation completely unbeholden to the electorate.
CorridorWatch.org, of course, had the agenda:
From 11:50 a.m.-12:50 a.m. the topic of public-private partnerships will be discussed by Texas State Rep. Mike Krusee; James Smith, managing director at Merrill Lynch; Murray Bleach, Macquarie Infrastructure Group; and HNTB Senior Vice President Jack Finn.
Krusee is determined to steamroll the Trans Texas Corridor forward, over the veto-proof majority of our electeds who are quite aware of its unpopularity with the voters. If the allegation that he has called in a favor in Washington, inviting federal interference into what is strictly a state matter, turns out to be true; there is no doubt he will lose in a landslide, assuming he will even attempt a re-election campaign or even obtain his own party’s nomination.
His movements and actions since November 2006 give the impression that he has his eyes set toward a different kind of public private partnership — that of a lobbyist.
That appears to be the case if what World Net Daily, I know, is reporting is true, Feds threaten Texas over superhighway funds plan.
(David Stall, co-founder of the website CorridorWatch.org) told WND that Ray’s letter was prompted by a request from Texas Rep. Mike Krusee, Williamson County, who sent a note to the FHWA asking for an opinion specifically on HB1892, the House version of the moratorium.
Krusee, a Republican, is a long-time supporter of the TTC toll-road project. In November 2006, he was re-elected with barely 50 percent of the vote in a campaign in which his TTC support was contested.
This “If you know what’s good for you” letter (.PDF) was sent by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to Michael Behrens, Executive Drector of TxDOT, because of a request form Rep. Mike Krusee (R – Corporate Toller).
If your bloods not boiling enough after reading that, then check out his doozy from Business Week (Tip to Sal), Roads To Riches.
In the past year, banks and private investment firms have fallen in love with public infrastructure. They’re smitten by the rich cash flows that roads, bridges, airports, parking garages, and shipping ports generateâ€”and the monopolistic advantages that keep those cash flows as steady as a beating heart. Firms are so enamored, in fact, that they’re beginning to consider infrastructure a brand new asset class in itself.
With state and local leaders scrambling for cash to solve short-term fiscal problems, the conditions are ripe for an unprecedented burst of buying and selling. All told, some $100 billion worth of public property could change hands in the next two years, up from less than $7 billion over the past two years; a lease for the Pennsylvania Turnpike could go for more than $30 billion all by itself. “There’s a lot of value trapped in these assets,” says Mark Florian, head of North American infrastructure banking at Goldman, Sachs & Co (GS ).
There are some advantages to private control of roads, utilities, lotteries, parking garages, water systems, airports, and other properties. To pay for upkeep, private firms can raise rates at the tollbooth without fear of being penalized in the voting booth. Privateers are also freer to experiment with ideas like peak pricing, a market-based approach to relieving traffic jams. And governments are making use of the cash they’re pulling inâ€”balancing budgets, retiring debt, investing in social programs, and on and on.
But are investors getting an even better deal? It’s a question with major policy implications as governments relinquish control of major public assets for years to come. The aggressive toll hikes embedded in deals all but guarantee pain for lower-income citizensâ€”and enormous profits for the buyers. For example, the investors in the $3.8 billion deal for the Indiana Toll Road, struck in 2006, could break even in year 15 of the 75-year lease, on the way to reaping as much as $21 billion in profits, estimates Merrill Lynch & Co. (MER ) What’s more, some public interest groups complain that the revenue from the higher tolls inflicted on all citizens will benefit only a handful of private investors, not the commonweal (see BusinessWeek.com, 4/27/07, “A Golden Gate for Investors”).
There’s also reason to worry about the quality of service on deals that can span 100 years. The newly private toll roads are being managed well now, but owners could sell them to other parties that might not operate them as capably in the future. Already, the experience outside of toll roads has been mixed: The Atlanta city water system, for example, was so poorly managed by private owners that the government reclaimed it.
Don’t we know that here in Texas. Can you say Accenture?
Toll Road pileup kills 8.
A stretch of the Indiana Toll Road where at least 12 people had died since August 2005 claimed eight more lives Thursday after a tractor-trailer rig barreled through stopped traffic, crushing several vehicles in a chain-reaction crash.
Keep this in mind as the toll road corporations use their logic to maximize shareholder wealth in Texas.
It’s sad really. On March 1st Sen. John Carona (R – Dallas) held a hearing on transportation in Texas. He found out that day that he had the will of a vast majority of Texans behind him and, soon after that, a veto proof majority in both chambers to enact a two year moratorium on CDA’s, aka toll roads for corporate profit, in Texas. The moratorium would allow time for the people of Texas and lawmakers to come up with a reasoned, fair, and equitable plan to pay for and build improvements to our transportation infrastructure in Texas.
Since then he decided to compromise, when there was no need to – in much less than two years time – and came up with a watered down approach to fixing the problems created over the last two sessions. From today’s SAEN article on SB 1929 passing out of committee, Senate panel backs changes in toll road rules.
A Senate transportation committee voted Thursday for sweeping legislation that addresses many of the concerns pushing a moratorium on privately built toll roads.But Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, who is a former Texas Department of Transportation commissioner and architect of the proposed two-year moratorium, opposed Senate Bill 1929. He declined to explain his opposition.
“My suspicion is that he believes the best approach is to study the issue for the next two years and then develop a comprehensive plan. What we need is less study and more action right now, otherwise we continue to go further in the hole,” said Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Chair John Carona, R-Dallas, who is author of Senate Bill 1929.
As you can see Sen. Nichols is now the leader on this issue and Sen. Carona is just along for the ride. When he says “action now” it’s like he’s saying we need to do something, no matter how bad it is in the long run. More here:
His plan would shorten the contracts for private company toll roads to 40 years instead of 50-70 years as currently structured. The measure also would allow the state to buy back toll roads for a price determined by a company’s return on investment instead of future revenue considerations that would be more costly. And the bill also eliminates non-compete provisions.
“The state can build a roadway anywhere it chooses where a public-private (toll) highway might be located,” Carona said. “But if we do so within a 4-mile range of the (toll) roadway, then we have to take into consideration economics and could owe some amount of money back to the private partner.”
His bill also addresses some objections to the Trans Texas Corridor by requiring public disclosure and local participation in planning.
What Sen. Carona seems to have forgotten, and the rest of these pro-corporate tollers don’t seem to understand, is that these are bad deals, period. It doesn’t matter if they’re for 10 years, 20 years, 40 years, of 50 years. Adding state buy backs for profit, and if the state has to reimburse a corporation when it wants to build a new road that too close to the corporate toll way, are still unacceptable. And tweaking the TTC ain’t gonna make those rural folks happy.
Yes, Sen. Carona we need a two year moratorium on these horrible deals in order to make sure we get this issue right. What is eventually decided on this issue Texans will have to live with, and pay for, for generations. The people of Texas deserve these two years and during those two years, hopefully, a reasoned discussion on Texas’ transportation future will follow. Sen. Carona your original approach was much better, and, no matter how hard you try, you can’t put lipstick on this pig.
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