Jason Embry has a great piece of journalism in today’s AAS, How biotech plan turned into political storm, regarding Gov. Rick Perry’s (mis)use of the fund for corporate subsidies for his alma mater. Along with the support of Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and former Speaker Tom Craddick, great conservative Republicans all. A few key excerpts:
Although the fund’s normal procedures were largely followed, a small legislative firestorm has broken out because of several factors: Texas A&M is Perry’s alma mater. The grant was five times as large as any other given from the fund. The money was transferred from another economic development fund with a different purpose. And an advisory board that usually votes on such projects did not in this case.
The controversy recently caused Texas A&M University System Chancellor Mike McKinney, a former legislator, to ask system officials to give him any bad news upfront.
“I put them in a room, closed the door and looked them in the eye,” McKinney told the House Appropriations Committee on Friday. “I said, ‘Did you do anything illegal, immoral, underhanded, backhanded? Did you even get close to the border?’ And the answer was ‘no, no, no and no.’ “
It’s shocking they all denied doing anything wrong. Of course, like Karl Rove, none of them were under oath.
The idea behind the Texas A&M System center is for a number of drugs to be manufactured quickly, sometimes in small doses, to serve multiple biotech companies in the state, even small ones.
McKinney, Giroir and other officials from the Texas A&M System began selling the idea to Perry’s office last October. They then took the pitch to Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, staffers for then-House Speaker Tom Craddick and some of the people on a 17-member board that usually evaluates and recommends Emerging Technology Fund projects.
The Texas A&M System was asking for $50 million. For the first time, the advisory committee — which meets privately, does not keep minutes and does not record how individual members vote — decided not to vote on whether to recommend funding, instead leaving it up to the governor, lieutenant governor and speaker.
“The committee left this one tabled for the leadership to make a decision because of the size, and the concern of the committee was that it may deplete” the Emerging Technology Fund, said its director, Alan Kirchoff.
That should have set off alarm bells.
Once Perry and Dewhurst agreed to support the A&M project, McKinney needed the signature of the House speaker.
But he stepped lightly because the legislative session was about to start and he did not want to take sides in the speaker race.
“I’m not a complete idiot,” McKinney said.
Once it became clear that Rep. Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, would unseat Craddick as speaker, McKinney went to Clyde Alexander, who would become Straus’ chief of staff. Alexander said Craddick, who was still speaker at the time but knew he would not be much longer, should sign off on it. So McKinney went to Craddick.
“He was hesitant because he would not do it without making sure it was OK with Speaker Straus,” McKinney said.
The approval letter is dated Jan. 2, the day that Straus emerged as a speaker candidate.
Perry spokeswoman Allison Castle said that is the date the letter was drafted and that Craddick actually signed sometime later, within the next couple of weeks.
She said Perry was not trying to rush approval of the project before Straus took over.
“Speaker Craddick was speaker at the time,” Castle said. “State government keeps going.”
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, who has been the chief critic of the project, said he does not think the lieutenant governor and speaker have much say in the projects.
“The governor calls, the governor signs the document, and y’all go around and try to get it signed,” Pitts told a couple of Perry staffers at Friday’s committee meeting. The staffers said his understanding was wrong.
As the subtitle infers, Officials say politics should not derail worthy project, they’re now trying to say that the project is to worthwhile to allow Perry’s mismanagement of the situation to derail it. It seems like they went by the old axiom that it’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission.
The Dallas Fed’s latest Regional Economic Update states that Texas’ Recession Persists:
The Texas economy continues to slow. Almost every region and economic sector in the state is weaker than six weeks ago. In large measure, this slowdown is the result of soft consumer demand and frayed financial markets, although ongoing economic weakness in Mexico and low energy prices have also adversely impacted the region.
Texas is still not faring as bad as many other parts of the country but we’re not doing well. Just check out this chart on existing home sales:
Yesterday the state budget cleared the Senate Finance Committee, the first step through the legislative process. It appears to be the ideal GOP budget, higher spending while keeping tax cuts. How do they do it? Here’s Kuff’s take on this DMN article, Senate Finance Committee OKs Texas budget.
So, thanks to stimulus funding, we can keep those irresponsible property tax cuts and not only not dip into the Rainy Day Fund, but also put aside enough money to pay for a further continuation of those cuts in the next session, when the piper was fixing to hand us a sizable bill for his services. My head is spinning.
Instead of using the the Rainy Day Fund (RDF), they use the federal stimulus, and save the RDF to pay for the tax cuts next biennium – from the DMN linked above.
A key goal of Senate budget writers was to protect the state’s “rainy day fund,” so that 2 ½ -year old school property tax cuts won’t vanish after 2011. The committee left untouched some $9.1 billion expected in the rainy day fund by September 2011.
The reserve is expected to be used next session, when lawmakers will confront a yawning gap between the 2006 property tax cuts and offsetting new revenues from a revamped business tax and higher taxes on cigarettes and private transfers of used cars.
To keep our state and national economic situation in perspective, and how long it will likely take to turn things around, it’s highly recommend to read this, Partying like it’s 1931, and this, No Return to Normal.
[UPDATE]: If your a visual learner Calculated Risk has this, March Economic Summary in Graphs. It ain’t a pretty picture.
Yesterday Rep. Betty Brown (R-Terrell) attempted to sneak Voter ID, as an amendment, onto a bill related to the voting of overseas military personnel (HB 71). The amendment had the potential to cause serious problems in Texas House again this session.
Especially when we hear cooler heads may be prevailing in the House on Voter ID. With a two day airing of the Voter ID bill (SB 362) that passed the Senate coming in the House Elections Committee next week, along with a more conciliatory tone, and even talk of compromise. Yesterday’s move would have likely blown all of that up, and caused even bigger problems.
In a surprise move, Brown had filed her ID proposal as an amendment to legislation by Rep. Frank Corte, R-San Antonio, related to providing a ballot by e-mail to voters in the military and living overseas. (Her proposal had more than 55 sponsors as of mid-afternoon.)
Brown told me that House Parliamentarian Denise Davis advised today that her amendment wasn’t germane to Corte’s proposal, though Brown said it also was clear an ultimate ruling would have been up to Straus. He would have been in the spotlight if Brown pressed ahead; Democrats were poised to raise a point of order challenging germaneness.
The Speaker ruling against the Parliamentarian would have gotten us right back to where we were at the end of last session. That’s why Davis quit last session and how we wound up with Terry Keel as the Parliamentarian. This time it was the far right GOP members of the House that were ready to put members on the spot on this issue. Speaker Straus, for all his faults thus far, protected the members from such a divisive vote. Something Craddick wouldn’t have done.
As Burka pointed out it held nothing but political land mines for everyone except for the extreme right wing GOP members of the Texas House.
This is a very clever move. The most likely result is that Straus will uphold a Democratic point of order that the amendment is not germane. But this result provides Republicans with an opportunity to appeal the ruling of the chair. This would force conservative Democrats (and perhaps some sympathetic Republicans) who aren’t eager to vote on the issue to go on the record. This is a no-lose proposition for Republicans; at the very least they will get a record vote on the appeal. If the appeal loses, so what? They still have a shot at passing the Senate bill, which is awaiting action in the Elections committee. And they will have put the heat on Straus and the WD-40s.
Maybe Calendars should not have been so eager to send this bill to the floor. Straus and his allies are not going to be successful this session if they can’t see a couple of moves ahead. The Republicans are going to play pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey on any election bill this session.
It’s just another sign of the right wing GOP’s waning power in Texas, and one benefit of a new Speaker, and hopefully his team will learn from this. It’s extremely likely this amendment would have gone forward if Craddick still held the gavel. It was an early test and it would have been interesting to see it play out. But disagree with Burka, it will get easier to shoot down this kind of amendments each time, if these “wing nuts” want to play this silly gambit on every bill relating to elections this session. It’ll become more inane, and transparent each time – there they go again.
Here’s what the Legislative Study Group had to say about the amendment:
The pre-filed amendment calendar notes that Representative Betty Brown has filed an amendment that would institute a photo Voter ID requirement for all Texas voters. This amendment is unfavorable, and it is regrettable that a bill that bolsters the voting rights of our service members overseas would be used as a vehicle to effectively dilute the voting rights of all Texas citizens
Very regrettable. Apparently many saw it that way as well. Straus and anyone who would have voted for sustaining the point of order could have easily pointed to the shenanigans of this bill, especially when there is a much more legitimate bill already well into the legislative process.
As the issue of Voter ID moves to the Texas House we have to be aware that the facts haven’t changed only the game has changed. This post from the Brennan Center for Justice, Voter ID & The Divide, puts this issue in proper perspective.
Countless pundits have suggested that the last two months have derailed President Obama’s plans to lead the country into a post-partisan era, but whether or not bipartisanship ever comes to Washington, D.C., one thing’s for certain: when it comes to the state legislatures, don’t hold your breath waiting for the demise of partisan politics—especially when it comes to election issues the parties think they can exploit to political advantage. That lesson’s been proved again and again over the last few weeks as state legislators across the country have debated strict voter identification laws.
Across the country, the parties are following this script closely, with Republican lawmakers pulling out all the stops to enact strict voter ID rules, and Democrats digging in to prevent disenfranchisement of poor, elderly and minority voters.
If state lawmakers want to address the real problems with our elections systems, they should concentrate on modernizing our outdated system of voter registration, not spending precious legislative resources debating voter ID policies that disenfranchise vulnerable citizens—and do nothing to stop fraud.
The only reason lawmakers can have for fighting about voter ID when real problems are costing millions of Americans the right to vote is because they like having voter ID around as a politically divisive “ wedge issue” they can exploit to partisan advantage.
That’s no justification at all.
As the rightfully point out most of the problems with voting fraud, is registration, and who is kept on the voter rolls. That responsibility lies with the county elections offices in Texas. But often times those county offices are vastly understaffed, and overworked. There are also laws for how, exactly, a person can be removed from a voter roll.
But, no matter where the problem actually lies, the GOP led lege appears to be ready to move ahead with their Voter ID legislation. As Kuff points out there is a compromise proposal affoot, The Heflin plan for voter ID, which brings up many interesting points about the “single most important issue facing Texas today.
The “phase-in” idea, which was also floated by David Dewhurst leads one to wonder just how much some of the Republicans believe their own rhetoric if they go for this. I mean, if you truly believe that elections are being stolen left and right because of swarms of voter impersonators, would you find a waiting period before implementing the solution you claim will stamp it out to be acceptable? Either this is the single most important issue facing Texas today or it isn’t. Phillip, who notes that by Rep. Todd Smith’s own admission, voter ID is really about creating a wedge issue, asks the same question.
Exempting voters over the age of 65 sounds nice, and would solve some of the problems of disenfranchisement. It’s just that by enacting such an exemption, you’re stipulating to the disenfranchisement problem, which the Republicans have adamantly denied. And given that one reason why some people have a hard time getting state-issued ID is that they don’t have their original birth certificates (some folks, who were born at home, never had them), how are we going to ensure that those who are eligible for the exemption, and only those who are eligible, receive it?
Putting photos on voter registration cards is a nice idea, and might have avoided this whole stupid issue had we been doing that all along. But how exactly are we going to do that? Will everyone have to go to their county’s voter registrar office to get a photo taken? If we just use existing driver’s license or state ID photos for voter reg cards, what about the folks who don’t have them? That’s what Democrats have been complaining about all along. And how much would this cost?
Speaking of which, does anyone really believe that the party that doesn’t want to fully fund the unemployment insurance trust (among many other things) is going to want to put up an appropriate amount of coinage to pay for ID cards and expanded voter education and registration efforts? Remember, officially SB362 has no fiscal note, meaning that “no significant fiscal implication to the State is anticipated”. Even if we managed to create some pool of money for this, we have a pretty lousy track record of late in ensuring that the funds collected go to the purpose for which they were intended. I see this as a huge trap.
Other than all that, of course, I think this is a reasonable idea. Again, I don’t blame Rep. Heflin for trying. I just don’t see how he can succeed, at least on the terms of the debate as they have been advanced so far.
Yes, it would seem odd for the GOP to agree to phase in a law, for such an important issue. But maybe they think they can still get by without in in 2010, but by 2014 they’ll need it to stay in power?
One of EOW’s main contentions all along has been that this bill would do nothing to stop impersonation fraud on election day if it existed. And it wouldn’t force anyone to show a picture ID. tate Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, explains that in his letter printed in the AAS.
The legislation allows voters who do not have a photo ID to instead present two forms of nonphoto identification such as a utility bill or government correspondence.
While some Democrats are cautiously optimistic about a compromise, there is one thing that would be worthwhile, if as Kuffner says, we “try to mitigate the inevitable damage” a Voter ID bill could do. That would be same-day Voter Registration all the way up through Election Day. Along with some help for local elections offices to keep their voter rolls current. Not only should we be concerned with making sure the right person is voting, but we should also be working to make it easier for everyone who’s eligible to vote to register and get to the polls on election day.
[UPDATE]: The GOP shows just how far their willing to go to get this issue through with a sneak attack, via QR.
Betty Brown files voter ID amendment to HB71, Corte’s overseas military vote bill
Rep. Betty Brown (R-Terrell) has filed her voter ID bill as an amendment [.pdf] to Frank Corte’s (R-San Antonio) HB71. The caption for HB71 reads,”Relating to the establishment of a program to provide a ballot by electronic mail to military personnel serving overseas and their spouses and dependents residing overseas.”
On its face, the amendment does not appear germane to the caption but it will one of the first test of Speaker Joe Straus’ management of contentious issues.
Who would have guessed Republicans would try and sneak Voter ID onto a bill regarding ballots for military personnel? They’re shameless.
I believe the Texas Freedom Network makes an excellent point about the creationists and their bashing of people of faith who believe in science, Hypocrisy and Faith-Bashing.
Perhaps the anti-evolution pressure groups that led the attack on honest science in Texas think that no one was paying attention to their repulsive tactics. Well, we were.
Over the past two months, creationist pressure groups have bombarded pro-science board members with e-mails and calls demanding that they dumb down the science curriculum on evolution. Ms. Miller noted that many had attacked her religious faith, and she was rightfully upset.
TFN supports the right of families and congregations to educate their children in the tenets of their faith. Public schools have no business interfering by deciding whose religious beliefs also should be taught in science classrooms. Science classes are for science. Efforts to poison the debate by bashing the faith of those who disagree are as shameful as attacking the faith of those who reject evolution simply because of their religious beliefs.
That’s been the point all along. Who do parents want teaching their children about the religious tenet of creation. A public school science teacher that believes in evolution, or their Sunday school teacher that believes in creation? That was the discussion in the comments to last week’s post on this subject. We should leave the teaching of science to the science teachers, and the teaching of religion to the religion teachers. This debate is causing elected officials to look into de-politicizing the SBOE – if that’s possible.
I much rather the SBOE spend this kind of time making our schools better than rehashing an age-old argument that was settled long ago.
It’s Monday, and that means it is time for another edition of the Texas Progressive Alliance’s Weekly Blog Round Up.
Phillip Martin of Burnt Orange Report is feeling proud to have a Democrat in the Oval Office in his post, President Barack Obama: How He Won & Early Successes.
McBlogger’s Harry Balczak has some great news about a new movie coming out.
Off the Kuff examines the economic claims made by the gambling industry, and also prints a response from the racetracks.
BossKitty at TruthHugger recognizes the pattern of disaster cycles, why is everyone surprised when their world is turned upside down? America must pull its pants up and be ready for the unexpected, because it should be expected … So Many Red Rivers – What Have We Learned Speaking about learning, What Else Can We Cut Besides Cost …
The GOP declares doomsday if Obama’s budget is enacted. Let’s hope they don’t pre-emptively invade the White House to try to stop it, as if a Democratic federal budget were equivalent to Saddam’s WMD. PDiddie at Brains and Eggs reminds us that the Republicans tend to hyperventilate when they exaggerate.
Neil at Texas Liberal writes about Houston City Council candidate Noel Freeman and is hopeful that Mr. Freeman will address some questions of how the Democratic Party regards some if its’ most loyal voters.
At Texas Kaos, Libby Shaw keeps an eye on the best gov’t that political contributions can buy-TRCC edition in Fat Cat The Business Owner Sticks It to Joe the Consumer.
nytexan at BlueBloggin is not surprised by the GOP’s latest stunt; The Party of NO: GOP Budget Has No Numbers And No Plan. The GOP leadership offered “The Republican Road To Recovery,” a 19 page joke which took them 27 days to write. It actually sounds like a book title for Alcoholic Anonymous. The best part of the GOP budget is there are “no” numbers in it. Page numbers don’t count.
Justin at AAA-Fund Blog urges readers to call State Rep. Angie Chen Button to condemn State Rep. Leo Berman’s conductLeo Berman.
The Texas Cloverleaf explains why it is going into hibernation.
Also on Burnt Orange Report, Todd Hill had an interview with Tom Schieffer, potential Democratic candidate for Governor, about his vision for Texas, his friendship with George W. Bush, and why he thinks he can win in the general election.
WCNews at Eye On Williamson posts on President Obama’s first budget – A primer.
CouldBeTrue of South Texas Chisme is glad that the cowboy Bush administration is no longer in charge of diplomacy.
Bills to abolish Bob Perry’s Builder Commssion will be heard on Tuesday in a Business and Industry Subcommittee at 10:00am.
Vince at Capitol Annex reminds readers that a controversial campus carry bill that would allow Texas students to carry guns on college campuses gets a hearing before a House Committee on Monday.
Texas TURF, a non-profit organization whose mission is to educate the public about controversial toll road financing, put out a press release regarding SB 220 which passed the Texas Senate on Thursday. While being touted by it’s author, Sen. Robert Nichols, as a bill that we keep existing highways from being converted to toll roads, it actually does the exact opposite. Excerpts from the press release below, Senate bill opens NEW loophole to toll existing highways.
SB 220 authored by Senator Robert Nichols actually opens a NEW loophole that would allow existing highway lanes to be tolled and the free lanes to be subsequently downgraded to access roads. This bill would legalize the conversions of at least three highways: 281 N and 1604 in Bexar County and 290 E in Travis County. SB 220 passed the Senate 31-0 despite citizen concerns, TURF testimony, and our action alert notifying EVERY single senator of this problem.
“It’s an outrage that the author of this bill, Senator Nichols, is out there touting that he’s ended the tolling of existing highways, and he knows his bill does just the opposite! He’s an ex-Transportation Commissioner who not only was involved in writing the first bill to address tolls on existing highways that had the original loopholes back in 2005 (SB 2702), but also he was present when Governor Perry signed the contract with Cintra for the Trans Texas Corridor, and he has plenty of ties to and funding from the highway lobby. He knows exactly what he’s doing. The leopard is showing his spots,” explains Terri Hall TURF Founder.
The wording of this bill leaves a number of loopholes for TxDOT to leap through.
They go on to point out how TxDOT ignored the legislative intent of the so-called toll moratorium that was past last session. Which should remind every Texan that unless the legislature specifically states this cannot be done, not loopholes, TxDOT will do whatever they wish if given the chance. Anyone who lives around or drives on Highway 79, Highway 29 in Williamson County needs to read this.
Hank Gilbert, on the Board of TURF, directly questioned TxDOT Executive Director Amadeo Saenz about this at the 2008 TxDOT press conference promising to use existing highways for the footprint on TTC-69, and he failed to give a definitive answer.
If you watched the Sunset Commission hearings last July, you saw legislators awaken to the fact that TxDOT was NOT following the legislative intent of its previous attempt to outlaw converting existing freeways into toll roads.
“When TxDOT is going to toll every single mainlane currently open to traffic as a US highway built and paid for with state and federal dollars and leave only frontage roads as the non-toll, the taxpayers have rightly gone nuclear,” says Hall.
Most rural divided highways eventually need stoplights at the crossovers. The stoplights make it no less a highway than before it had stoplights, but it certainly slows the thru traffic. Then, TxDOT usually upgrades to a controlled access highway by building overpasses over the stoplights and adding frontage lanes where needed. So TxDOT has been exploiting this all over the state by turning freeways with stoplights (which are naturally congested by having to stop) into tollways instead of building overpasses and keeping those lanes toll-free. (Emphasis added).
“This is wrong and unacceptable. You’ve also been hearing plenty of protest about using stimulus money to build toll roads in a TRIPLE TAX scheme Texans WILL NOT tolerate. Converting existing freeways into toll roads is the same tax scheme, this time a DOUBLE tax, using a different pot of money,” relates Gilbert who protested the use of stimulus money for toll roads for which a commissioner called him and TURF supporters, “bigots.” Watch it here.
“By leaving this bill as is, it’s legalizing theft, period. If TxDOT can slap a stoplight on a highway as a license to double tax motorists to get to work, then that’s exactly what they’ll do to get easy access to our wallets. This is horrific public policy and it needs to be fixed,” Hall said.
Obviously 79 and 29 could become toll roads if this bill is passed and signed as it passed the Senate on Thursday. There’s still time, it’s not a law yet. Very good stuff information Texas TURF.
It’s a sad story because if there was ever an agency that deserves to be abolished – the reason why the Sunset Advisory commission was created – the Texas Residential Construction Commission is it. Here’s an excellent bit of reporting from the Star-Telegram that explains it very well, When it comes to the Texas Residential Construction Commission, follow the money.
As always, you can follow the money behind efforts to promote the builder-friendly Texas Residential Construction Commission. As always, most of the money leads back to the largest individual donor in recent state history.
But that’s the way it’s always been with the state’s tepid answer to solving home builder-buyer disputes. Bob Perry, owner of Perry Homes in Houston, is still spreading contributions to big players in the Legislature, the same lawmakers now working to decide whether a commission that Perry champions stays open past September, as law currently allows.
In December, Bob Perry donated $25,000 to the campaign committee of state Rep. Linda Harper-Brown, R-Irving, campaign records show. The donation was to help pay her legal costs from lawsuits she fought to ensure her 19-vote victory in her recent re-election race, a spokesman for Bob Perry told me.
That election sealed Republican control of the state House by a 76-74 majority, the narrowest margin in history.
Harper-Brown, a commission supporter, has a strong voice in the argument over the commission’s future. Brown serves on the Sunset Advisory Commission, which evaluates state agencies for their efficiency and recommends whether an agency can operate as usual, change or disappear into the sunset.
Sunset commission staff members — not elected officials — spent six months examining the construction commission last year. Then in a scathing report, the staff called the TRCC “a source of frustration for homeowners” with “no real power.” They recommended its closing.
Lawmakers on the sunset commission and the Business & Industry Committee have accepted donations from Perry, records show.
Usually, such a big elephant would remain unmentioned in a legislative hearing, but on Monday,Rep. Chente Quintanilla, D-El Paso, brought it up — obliquely. He berated the construction commission: “It never became consumer-friendly.” Then, after asking why, he mentioned “some builder who should not be named” and a “report about donations.”
Referring to the lawmakers’ overturning of the sunset staff report, he said: “All of a sudden, it changed overnight. Was the tail wagging the dog? Were they able to control what the commission was supposed to do?”
Nobody answered him then. But I got answers later from spokesmen for Harper-Brown and Perry.
Harper-Brown’s aide Ashley Hodgini said the Irving lawmaker’s work to fix the construction commission “was completely independent of the contribution.”
McClendon asked her to join in authorship of the bill. “Having served on the Sunset Advisory Commission, she graciously accepted, and it had nothing to do with campaign contributions whatsoever,” Hodgini said.
Bob Perry’s spokesman Anthony Holm told me, “No, he is not donating money to save the TRCC at all. No, absolutely not. That’s very clear. Mr. Perry supports legislators who are fixing schools here in Texas and creating jobs.
“Our opinion is the same — that the consumers and home buyers of Texas need some type of protection from the very few bad apples in the industry — whether that’s with the TRCC or any other entity.”
Testimony by Joey Longley, executive director of the Sunset Advisory Commission, was particularly awkward at this week’s hearing.
Longley told lawmakers that his staff recommended the closing because “y’all had twice tried to make it work” — referring to the original 2003 law and a 2007 attempted fix.
Asked whether Rep. McClendon’s bill was a proper solution, he didn’t say yes or no (he works for McClendon on the sunset panel). He answered, “Other options that I’m sure you’re thinking about can get you there.”
What? He wouldn’t say.
It’s the age old story, money buys influence. And in this case the donor gets the kind of “shadow regulation” any big money donor would love.
You can read EOW’s earlier reporting here and here.
[UPDATE]: Bay Area Houston has much more on the TRCC (tip to McBlogger). Including an upcoming subcommittee hearing chaired by Williamson County’s own Rep. Dan Gattis.
Kuff has a great wrap up post with the links to live blogs and plenty of analysis. Most important teaching the “strengths and weaknesses” of evolution will not longer be part of the curriculum. But much more happened:
That’s [removing "strengths and weaknesses] very good news, as it avoids Texas becoming a national laughingstock for the time being. This sort of thing never truly goes away, of course, so we can never let up. Unelecting some of the troglodtyes on the Board would make the job a lot easier. One such possible target is Democrat Rick Agosto of San Antonio, who is at best wishy-washy on a lot of science issues, and who might be easier to take out in a primary than any of the Republicans in a general election. Keep an eye on him.
The bad news is that some other petty little odious amendments did make it through. I haven’t followed this closely enough to tell you about it, but there are plenty of others who have, so for more information than you could possibly need, here’s where to go:
TFN‘s exhaustive liveblogs – one, two, three, four.
Vince’s liveblog from today.
Thoughts from Kansas, another busy liveblogger. Too many posts to recount – try their creationism archives for an overview.
Martha on Twitter – you might also search for the #txsboe hashtag. Martha also testified before the committee.
On balance, I’d call it a good week for science, though between this and the stem cell skulduggery, I wouldn’t say it was good by that much.
Final vote today. Hopefully they can remove the bad parts that were inserted later in the day. TFN is liveblogging again.
Two weeks ago EOW posted on the upcoming series of “Open Houses” planned by the county commissioners seeking input on their 25 year transportation plan. Please see the current information on the county web site as the dates have changed.
- Precinct 1 – Monday, March 30, at the Rattan Creek Community Center, 7617 Elkhorn Mountain Trail, in Austin.
- Precinct 4 – Tuesday, March 31, in the Taylor Public Library Meeting Room, 801 Vance Street, in Taylor.
- Precinct 2 – Monday, April 6, at Pat Bryson Hall, 201 N. Brushy Street, in Leander.
- Precinct 3 – Tuesday, April 7, at the Central Maintenance Facility, 3151 S. E. Inner Loop, in Georgetown.
- County-wide open house – Thursday, April 16, from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m., in the Commissioners Courtroom in the Williamson County Courthouse, 710 S. Main Street, in Georgetown.
It is in the best interest for the future of Williamson County if we all show up to at least one of these meetings. That said, this is Williamson County, and we must be extremely skeptical of any plan that is being put forward by our one-party government that takes so much money from those that profit from transportation and development in this county.
A couple of interesting recent developments regarding transportation in the county came up this week. First, as reported by Philip Jankowski in the Taylor Daily Press (TDP) the upcoming plan will not come cheap, Report: $1.8 billion for transportation by 2035.
With projections that Williamson County’s population will top one million by 2035, a report by transportation consultants to the county projected more than $1.8 billion in transportation spending over the next 25 years.
The report indicates no matter what commissioners do in regards to road infrastructure, traffic will continue to get worse. The transportation plan recommends the construction of 116 miles of new roadways and 354 miles of roadway lane expansion to mitigate congestion.
Even if all those projects are pursued, the amount of “highly congested roadways” will grow from its current level of 17 percent to 32 percent according to the report. If none are pursued, 59 percent of roads in the county would become highly congested during rush hour.
The sky is falling, the sky is falling. Please, please commissioners, act quick, on this 25-year plan and save us.
Commissioners will consider approving the plan in early May. After which, the county will submit the plan to the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, the Austin-area regional transportation organization, which is also currently creating a 25-year plan.
Is it just me, or does it seem ludicrous to anyone else that the WCCC wants to decide on the fate of transportation in Williamson County over the next 25 years in a little over two months? You may also be wondering how they plan on getting that $1.8 billion. Well hold on to your hat, or wallet, all you conservative GOP voters out there, County backs car fee, and increasing the local gas tax too.
Williamson County Commissioners showed their support Tuesday for pending state legislation that would allow the county to pay for bonds with a gas tax or automobile registration fees.
The Local Option Transportation Act was authored by State Sen. John Carona (R-Dallas) and is currently being reviewed by the Transportation and Homeland Security Committee.
Commissioners voted unanimously to be included as an eligible local government entity, should the legislation be passed.
If the bill passes, Williamson County Commissioners have the power to call public elections to create new taxes or fees to fund transportation projects. Any new tax or fee would have to be voter approved. Possible funding sources could be a 10 cent gas tax, an additional annual vehicle registration fee for the county or one-time fees to new residents to the county.
“It gives local governments and local counties additional ways to get money by going to the voters. Everything has to be voter approved in a very transparent process,” Steven Polunsky, a spokesman for Carona’s office, said.
The bulk of commissioner’s discussion involved a vehicle registration fee in addition to the state registration fee. Commissioners could levy an annual fee between $10 and $60 on each of the 400,000 cars registered in Williamson County. Such a fee would garner between $4 million and $24 million of annual revenue to finance transportation bonds.
Here’s EOW’s take on the Carona’s plan, Enough of the half-measures and tinkering. In essence what the WCCC is doing is allowing a consultant to come up with this grandiose 25 year plan for transportation, and attempting to use fear and scare tactics, to trick county residents into voting for tax and fee, same as taxes, increases to pay for it. And the beauty, for the politicians, is that they put the burden for approving the money on the taxpayer. That’s what they wanted to do but it appears state Sen. Steve Ogden (R-Bryan) has, at least for now, blocked that option, Transportation bill clears first hurdle; opposition still lurks.
Williamson County, near Austin, would be excluded from the bill under another amendment adopted on behalf of Senate Finance Chairman Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, who is cool to the legislation and whose district includes the county.
In a vacuum, if you discount the last 17 or so years, there’s nothing inherently wrong with this so-called “local option” plan that’s being put forward. But we must remember that this huge hole we now have in our transportation funding infrastructure, in Texas and Williamson County, is because it has been neglected for the last 17 or so years. We’ve been sold a bill of goods over that time that we can have everything if we just lower taxes, and use toll roads instead. But as the cliche says, if something seems to good to be true it usually is, Forget Toll Roads Let’s Raise The Gas Tax – It’ll Save You Money.
Of course no one’s seen the plan yet, and we will likely get to see very little of it, and even less influence over it, before it’s approval in early May. I would advise everyone, but especially thos who own land in Williamson County, to show up at least one of these meetings and seriously scrutinize what your elected officials, and those who fund their campaigns, are proposing to do in your county over the next 25 years. As anyone in Liberty Hill can tell you our county elected officials don’t have a good recent tract record.
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