From the AAS, click on the link to read the full release:
Former Austin Rep. Terry Keel, a Republican who only thought he was leaving the House when his last term ran out in January, plans to stick around as the House parliamentarian, a post he suddenly filled after the previous parliamentarian, Denise Davis, resigned late in the regular legislative session.
Have a nice weekend.
and Capitol Letters.
His assistant parliamentarian will be the smart, perky Kate Huddleston – who we first met working in his media office in 2003.
That means Craddick didn’t hire Ron Wilson, who acted as Mr. Keel’s asst parliamentarian at the end of the session — and, thus, had to put up with accusations on the floor that he was unethical and hadn’t paid fines to the commission, etc.
But don’t read too much into that. Wilson’s an entertainment lawyer in Houston. Who do you think he’d rather represent? Craddick or ZZ Top?
Congressman Carter believes the answer to high gas prices is to keep giving “Big Oil” corporate welfare and to increase oil drilling domestically.
Congress recently passed H.R. 1252, the Federal Price Gouging Act, that claims to protect consumers from price gouging. I voted against this legislation because it does nothing to alleviate increasing gas prices. In fact, both the Department of Energy, as well as the FTC has found no credible evidence that the rising prices of gas are due to market price fixing or any other unlawful behavior among oil companies. Many economists believe that the real result of the Federal Price Gouging Act will be to impose price controls on gasoline that could very possibly result in shortages, gasoline rationing, and 1970â€™s style gas lines.
This misguided legislation comes just months after Speaker Pelosi and the Democratic majority passed legislation repealing tax incentives approved by the previous Congress that would have encouraged oil producers to increase their domestic production and their refining capacities. These incentives would have invested in our energy infrastructure something that would actually help bring down prices and improve reliability.
The “many economists” Rep. Carter is referring to are probably related to the oil company scientists that believe global warming doesn’t exist. Yes it’s hard to believe that someone with the amount of Exxon Mobil stock he has would be promoting policies beneficial to Big Oil corporations.
From the DMN, NTTA gets nod for 121 project. Basically the NTTA is taking the risk on the traffic & revenue (T&R) study:
If Highway 121 traffic exceeds expectations, some of the extra toll receipts NTTA collects will be spent locally to ease congestion. However, should traffic be significantly less than NTTA has projected, the authority might have to raise tolls on Highway 121 or other area toll roads to cover any losses.
The clock in ticking on the NTTA and Cintra will be keeping a close eye on it:
Still, Thursday’s vote didn’t sideline Cintra entirely. The commissioners placed two conditions on NTTA getting the project.
NTTA has 60 days to negotiate a binding and detailed agreement with the Regional Transportation Council. Then, NTTA would have 45 days to pay more than $3.3 billion to the state for use on other North Texas road projects.
If NTTA fails to meet either condition, the contract will go to Cintra, said Mr. Williamson.
“If you can’t get there, the staff will sign the agreement with Cintra,” Mr. Williamson said.
Cintra executives said they remain ready and able to deliver the project should NTTA fail to keep its promises over the next 60 days.
“The NTTA proposal is incomplete and lacks a firm financial commitment,” said Jose Lopez, Cintra’s president of North American operations. “What you get from us is a guarantee and a legally binding contract that is ready to deliver SH 121.”
On your mark, get set, go!
And today’s DMN editorial on this issues places the blame for all of this in the right place, mostly, it’s not just the legislature it’s the governors over the last 15 years as well. Are elected officials neglect of transportation funding over that time period is what has caused the “toll everything” mentality:
There’s a lesson here for every public official who contributed to months of miscommunication, uncertainty, nasty politics and yo-yo decision-making over Highway 121. Solving North Texas’ traffic congestion requires cool heads and clear policy.
There’s also a lesson for lawmakers who have neglected their duty to adequately fund transportation. That’s the root cause of the rumble over Highway 121. It’s past time for legislators to quit kicking the tough money decisions down the road.
While the legislature, the house in particular, must start the ball rolling on upping the gas tax, a governor could definitely help bring them along by leading on this issue. 2010 can’t get here fast enough.
Here’s the AAS story about this from yesterday, Report cites problems with TEA contract, it also include a link to the report.
Associates and former employees of high-ranking officials at the Texas Education Agency have in recent years won pieces of contracts that were not competitively bid, according to a report from the agency’s inspector general.
The report, obtained by the American-Statesman on Wednesday, says that contracts went to education service centers, which serve as regional outposts for the state agency, and that the associates of agency officials received subcontracts.
The report does not explicitly state whether competitive bids should have been taken. Even when competitive bids are issued, agency staff members do not follow the agency’s contract policies, the report says.
Education Commissioner Shirley Neeley, who ordered the report after an agency employee raised questions in February, has turned it over to State Auditor John Keel, who is investigating further, agency spokeswoman Debbie Ratcliffe said.
Neeley who commissioned the report is being replaced by her second in command, and Perry Crony, Robert Scott who was “frequently cited” in the report. From today’s HChron, Perry stands by choice for TEA fill-in. Why wouldn’t he?Â That is, after all, what crony’s do for one another.
Gov. Rick Perry has no concerns about putting deputy commissioner Robert Scott temporarily in charge of the Texas Education Agency, the governor’s spokesman said Thursday, despite questions raised in an inspector general’s report detailing no-bid contracts that went to Scott’s friends.
“None. The governor has complete confidence that he will do his job with the utmost integrity and professionalism, just as he always has,” Perry spokesman Robert Black said.
Scott will lead the agency, which oversees public education for 4.5 million children attending Texas public schools, until Perry picks a permanent successor to Shirley Neeley, who left her job as commissioner this week after the governor decided not to reappoint her.
A former Perry aide, Scott previously led the agency between Neeley’s appointment and the departure of her predecessor, Felipe Alanis.
The inspector general’s report released Wednesday chronicled instances when contracts that were not competitively bid landed with Austin attorney Emily Miller, described in the report as a friend of Scott’s, or with his former executive assistant, Cory Rountree.
The report said it was often unclear how Scott’s friends got the work.
“Key participants in the contracting process do not agree as to how the subcontractors were chosen,” according to the report.
The inspector general’s report said the education agency failed to follow state contracting policy in awarding millions of dollars in competitive grants. It highlighted ambiguities in awarding grants from a $261 million partnership between the state and several private foundations for high school improvement.
Neeley commissions the report, that fingers the governor’s buddy and shortly before it’s release she’s “forced out” of her job.
TxDOT voted 4 – 1 to give NTTA the contract. It’s all contingent on them getting a project agreement done with the RTC in 60 days and having the project funded, financial closing, within 45 days of the agreement being delivered.
If the deal doesn’t get done in this time frame then Cintra gets the deal. As Ric Williamson said, “Either way the deal is done today”.
[UPDATE]: Burka says anything more than 45 days is a good sign for the NTTA.
[UPDATE]: DMN has it’s story up. Commissioner Ted Houghton was the lone “no” vote:
Today, commissioners gave their conditional approval to the NTTAâ€™s Highway 121 proposal, which includes $3.3 billion in cash payments. But the commissionâ€™s vote is contingent upon working out the finalized business terms over the next 60 days.
The NTTA proposal would be terminated if the project does not close within 45 days after reaching that agreement. If that were to happen, commissioners said, they would accept the Cintra deal.
Commissioner Ted Houghton, who has frequently tangled with the NTTA during the Highway 121 bidding process, cast the sole dissenting vote.
[UPDATE]: (Last one). Pete Driscoll over at Move It! has his take, Dallas agency wins toll road. His post reminded me of the fact that Ric Williamson was adamant about keeping TxDOT staff out of the project agreement process. His reasoning was that he doesn’t want TxDOT getting blamed if a deal didn’t get done in time, protecting his staff. He also mentioned several times that he doesn’t like it when his staff gets maligned in the media by reporters using anonymous sources. Either way it was a point that hadn’t been mentioned yet and keeping TxDOT out of the room is what ultimately kept Mr. Houghton from voting for this:
But board member Ted Hougton didn’t cast the dissenting vote because he was opposed to letting the North Texas Tollway Authority finance and operate Texas 121.
He’s not happy because the order as written excludes the Texas Department of Transportation from helping the Dallas-Fort Worth Regional Transportation Council negotiate a contract with NTTA.
“This is part of the state highway system and I don’t think we can abdicate our responsibility,” Houghton said. “We have a role in that negotiation.”
Williamson said TxDOT’s reputation has been dragged through the mud enough over the issue in the past couple of years. State officials can watch negotiations, he said, and steer locals away from illegal rabbit holes, but that’s it.
“There is absolutely no benefit to our inserting our staff in this process to be once again blamed,” he said. “If we are in the negotiations it will inevitably fail.”
Williamson and Houghton did agree on something, and that was grousing about having to go through another dog and pony show over who develops Texas 121. Williamson said this is the third time around, and a contract with Cintra has been sitting for months ready to be signed.
Here are the two articles:
Complex forces at work in 121 contract fight.
Some say private firms may shy from Texas if Cintra loses 121 project.
Basically what it comes down to is whether TxDOT wants to piss off a corporation (Cintra) or many lawmakers, Rep. Mike Krusee excluded, and the people of Texas.
You can watch the hearing here. The SH 121 vote is #6 on the agenda (.PDF).
So says TxDOT Chief Ric Williamson:
“The moratorium doesn’t affect TTC-35,” Williamson said. “I don’t know what else to say.”
State Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, got an assurance read into the House record for SB 792 last month that says no construction of TTC-35 projects, except for Loop 9 around Dallas-Fort Worth, would start over the next two years.
Gov. Rick Perry’s office told her that work couldn’t start within two years anyway because environmental studies won’t be finished.
But today, in a conference call Williamson and other officials held with reporters, Texas Department of Transportation Assistant Director Amadeo Saenz said otherwise.
A big-picture environmental study for TTC-35 could get federal clearance this summer and the first second-phase studies to determine specific alignments could be finished in a year or year and a half, Saenz said.
TxDOT announced two weeks ago that they’re ready to pursue 87 toll projects statewide, including three four-lane TTC-35 tollways â€” one from I-35 south of San Antonio to I-10 near Seguin, a segment from Austin to Dallas and another from Dallas to Oklahoma.
Williamson said today that a construction contract could be ready within two years for the toll-road from Austin to Dallas.
I hope that clears it up for anyone that still believed it did.
Ben Wear thinks it’s a done deal and the NTTA will get the job:
â€œBecause of the inordinate amount of legislative attention (Texas 121) got, the notion of local planning becomes a dominant strategy in making the decision,â€ Williamson said today in a briefing with transportation reporters. â€œI donâ€™t think any of us are immune to a powerful senator calling and saying this is what we should be doing.â€
Williamson said because itâ€™s a purchasing decision he couldnâ€™t come out and give a position today, but you get the picture.
Williamson and another commissioner are just happy that this road, that otherwise wouldn’t have been built is being built. No matter the flawed T&R study and the tab the taxpayers will have to pick up someday. But Williamson also sticks it to legislators one more time:
â€œIâ€™m not so sure that everyone who inserted himself in this process fully understood what he or she was doing at the time,â€ he said. Upon further reflection, he predicted, â€œan abundance of elected officials are going to wonder why they interfered in a contracting process that was well on its way to completion.â€
And Lt. Gov. Dewhurst writes a letter, Dewhurst Goes Local.
Tomorrow’s vote by TxDOT’s five commissioners on whether or not to give it’s blessing to the RTC’s recommendation for SH 121 – NTTA (local control) or Cintra (corporate control) – is getting more interesting by the day. Today’s MDN article on the upcoming vote, State may defy local leaders on 121 toll plan, is leaving the door wide open for TxDOT to go against the RTC and award the contract to Cintra.
The Texas Transportation Commission has made a habit of honoring local leaders’ decisions.
Commissioners have never overruled a decision by the regional council, but with so much money and politics at stake, Highway 121 could set a precedent.
“As far as saying, ‘Thank you all very much for your comments, and now we’re going to vote the other way,’ they haven’t done that in the past,” said RTC chairman Oscar Trevino. “But all we are is a recommending body. I can see them not agreeing with us.”
Ah yes, being precedent setters. That would be great. The RTC went through all this trouble. The legislature passed a “moratorium”, trying to send a message to the governor and TxDOT that it would be better to have local control of these decisions. Ric Williamson himself even says that local control is the way to go:
The commission’s chairman, Ric Williamson, declined to comment last week on the upcoming vote on Highway 121. But in late March, days after the RTC invited the tollway authority back into the bidding process for Highway 121, Mr. Williamson all but guaranteed that commissioners would defer to regional leaders.
“We want to administer the award of that construction contract according to the regional leadership,” he said. “We just believe that if you have a strategy that says empower local and regional government, that’s what that means and you stay out of it, other than making sure the law is followed and making sure good engineering practices are used. If you’re going to let go and let people assume a regional perspective, that’s what you have to do.”
But this one’s special because…
Other commissioners, however, have raised concerns that the volatile and unorthodox bidding process for Highway 121 may prompt Cintra to sue the state.
And Transportation Department officials have circulated letters suggesting that yanking the project from Cintra could cost the state federal funds. A state engineer even wrote a memo suggesting that the NTTA could go bankrupt if it’s awarded the project. James Bass, the department’s chief financial officer, has since called the memo “moot.”
The department’s two representatives on the regional council voted for Cintra’s proposal. And Mr. Bass said earlier this month that if commissioners ask for a staff recommendation on Thursday, the department’s review team will recommend Cintra.
How much weight the commission would give a staff assessment is unclear. While commissioners emphasize local control, they also have embraced private companies â€“ Cintra, for example â€“ as a key solution to the state’s transportation problems.
(The memo referenced above can be found here). So while TxDOT and Ric Williamson say they want local control they may act in a different manner because of a potential lawsuit and a “moot” memo. No big shocker, since he’s Rep. Mike Krusee’s super hero, who is all things to everyone and can do whatever he wants whenever he wants.
Mr. Williamson, 55, is one of the most influential men in Texas. He has the ear of the governor, with whom he speaks almost daily. He is the architect behind the state’s road plan for the next 25 years. He is smart, studious, self-made. And critics, who seem as endless as a West Texas highway, say he is arrogant and unswerving.
“He’s an amazing guy,” said House Transportation Committee chairman Mike Krusee, R-Round Rock.
Is he a Democrat; is he a Republican? Is he a strategist; is he extremely pragmatic? Is he Nitro or is he the nicest guy you’d ever want to meet? Is he rigid and unthinking or is he absolutely pliable to any situation that comes before him? Is he visionary or a policy wonk who knows every detail?
“He’s both. He’s all those things,” said Mr. Krusee, who oftentimes was Mr. Williamson’s sole defender in the House last session.
So there you have it citizens of North Texas. Your local leaders have covered themselves, it would seem, on this issue even if TxDOT goes against their recommendation and chooses Cintra. At this point if Cintra gets the contract – and today’s DMN article makes that seem very likely – the local officials can just blame it on the state and Mr. Everything to Everyone. If that happens the only thing that will have been achieved through this rebidding process, will be that local elected officials have gained some political cover on this corporate toll road project. That’s convenient.
This will be a precedent setting ruling regarding how the current commissioners will rule on local control of toll projects. Either TxDOT becomes a rubber stamp, basically, for local entities and their road plans or Mr. Everything to Everyone and his band of commissioners step up and say, “We still own the ball and nobody plays unless we say they can”. Mr. Everything to Everyone, as Rep. Krusse can attest, probably doesn’t want to be seen as being a rubber stamp for anything or anyone, much less a local entity. Tomorrow will be interesting and will tell us what the future holds for local control of road projects in Texas.
Tom Craddick won the battle but did he lose the war? HK, by the title of this commentary, Craddick still has 15 months left in power, seems to be saying that Craddick’s reign will end in January 2009. He makes the case that, like DeLay and redistricting, Craddick may have achieved his short-term goal but in the process may have gone too far and caused himself long-term problems.
But politics is a funny thing. Sometimes when you win, you lose. It’s just that you don’t know it right away.
Similarly, Craddick won the battle and held on to the speakership. But it is unclear how the story unfolds from here. The state Republican Party is said to be considering a break with long-time tradition by attacking anti-Craddick Republicans in the next primary. The big money guys and the handful of lobbyists that have done very well under Craddick are already rumored to be organizing the attack on anti-Craddick Republicans in the next election cycle.
I would never count Craddick out. He is tenacious and one of the most durable political figures I have ever seen in Texas politics.
But is this really the argument the Republican Party wants to have with itself and the public in the next election cycle? Is the 2008 primary and general election really going to be a referendum on him?
In the second piece, Speaker shouldn’t have absolute power, he goes after the pro-Craddick, wing-nut, Texas GOP base argument that it was just a bunch of left-leaning, Democratic friendly Republicans that went after poor Tom Craddick:
The silliest, but most repeated charge of all is the insurrection was lead by a handful of moderate and liberal Republicans. Yes, there were a few moderate Republicans involved. But it is disingenuous if not downright dishonest to refer to Republican leaders like Fred Hill, Robert Talton, Mike Krusee, Jim Keffer and Brian McCall as anything but conservative. My recollection is their voting records were nearly identical to Craddick’s before he was speaker.
It’s more like rats leaving a sinking ship and trying to carve out a space for themselves to run or, as in Krusee’s case, somehow try to save their own hide. Either way his wrap-up is great:
Frankly, Craddick is a footnote in the story. It’s what the House does when it adopts rules next session that will determine whether or not citizens can expect full and fair representation from their duly elected officials.
And that’s what it comes down to. At the beginning of next session, unlike the one that just finished, members of the house will have to step up, on the record, and vote against Tom Craddick if they want a different Speaker. If Craddick stays in power they will only have themselves to blame.
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