Profit, greed and ideology

Posted in Around The State, Commentary, Privatization, Road Issues, Taxes, Transportation at 11:41 am by wcnews

Just imagine if you were still making the same amount of money you were in 1993. Would you still be able to eat, pay your bills, survive? It’s pretty clear what the answer is. That’s what has happened with transportation funding in Texas. The gas tax is the same now as it was in 1993, and since then the price of everything else has gone up. No one in Texas should be wondering why our transportation infrastructure in Texas is having trouble surviving. Via the Texas Tribune.

Federal and state gas taxes remain the primary revenue source for road construction and maintenance, but they are widely viewed as inadequate for the state’s needs. Texans pay 38.4 cents in federal and state taxes per gallon, a figure that hasn’t changed in nearly 20 years despite inflation, rising construction costs and the improving fuel efficiency of cars. And the state’s 20 cents-per-gallon gas tax is lower than the national average of 29.7 cents per gallon, according to the Legislative Budget Board.

The Texas Legislature, though, is unlikely to approve raising the gas tax for the foreseeable future, lawmakers and political observers say. Past efforts to raise fees or taxes have failed, in part, due to criticism that a large portion of the gas tax is currently diverted to spending on things other than roads, such as funding the Department of Public Safety and public education. But ending the diversions also faces an uphill battle, because those areas of government that rely on some of the gas tax would have to find new funding to replace it.

That should make it crystal clear to everyone why very soon we won’t have any money in Texas to pay for new roads or maintain existing ones. It’s easy, (and I’ve done it), to simply blame neglect. But that’s too easy and it lets the real culprit, or culprits, off the hook. The real culprit is ideology and greed, and our political system taken over by the wealthy and corporations. (See, University of Texas Rootstrikers: Why I Joined the Movement).

It’s hard to understand why more people don’t have a problem with the corporate takeover of our government. We’ve gone so far from where we once were, using a pay as we go system, to pay for our needs. And we understood that prices rise and things cost more over time.

But that’s no longer how we operate, especially in Texas. It’s been chronicled here and elsewhere over the last 8 years how a minor increase in the gas tax, then indexed to inflation, could have prevented this crisis in Texas. Instead our leaders have tried what amount to the “to good to be true” schemes our parents warned us about as children.

Many of us have realized it, but our leaders have not. It’s painfully obvious that, no matter what happens in three weeks, that’s all were likely to get in the near future. Here are a few snippets from the business lobby’s recent Op-Ed on the subject, More public-private deals can help with Texas road needs.

Texas is facing a transportation crisis.

By this time next year, the state will have exhausted its funds for new roads, with only enough to maintain the highways we have, and we’ll soon run short of money to do even that.

Major funding sources for highway development — the gas tax and vehicle registration fees — can no longer keep pace with our transportation needs.


Highway funding has been covered primarily by the gas tax. However, this tax doesn’t go as far as it once did, even if it weren’t diverted to other priorities, which has been the case for years in Texas. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that the gas tax buys only about half the construction materials it did 20 years ago.

To keep pace with population growth and upgrade existing highways, Texas must explore creative ways of funding its roads.


In recent years, the Legislature has authorized the Texas Department of Transportation to partner with the private sector to meet the state’s most pressing infrastructure needs. Thanks to those public-private agreements, Texas has become a model state for infrastructure finance. Public-private partnerships offer the opportunity to create real, innovative and sustainable transportation infrastructure solutions, without raising taxes.

Several privately-funded transportation projects in Texas are on track to unclog some of the most heavily congested stretches of roadway in the state, while employing more than 400 Texas firms during construction.

These partnerships are part of the solution to getting us where we need to be — further down the road toward effective solutions to today’s transportation challenges. They also can jump-start economic growth, not only by creating jobs, but by delivering faster, more efficient transportation systems to connect Texans and build our communities.

The state also is considering turning to public-private partnerships to handle routine repair and maintenance work on various roadways. These are projects Texas sorely needs and could not afford through tax revenues alone.


At the same time, we will call on legislators to pass a modest increase of $50 in the vehicle registration fee. While no one likes new fees, the cost of doing nothing is far higher.

The major points are:

  • We have a funding crisis.
  • The gas tax can’t buy what it used to because it hasn’t been raised in almost 20 years.
  • Because of this crisis we must get creative(?) and, essentially, privatize TxDOT.
  • It’s implied that because of privatization there were 400 jobs created that wouldn’t have been created if we’d used tax money to build roads (WRONG!).
  • And oh, by the way, were going to raise fees - but remember it’s not a tax (wink, wink, nudge, nudge).

The only difference between a fee and a tax, for Republicans, is that no one has signed a pledge to Grover Norquist not to raise fees. But the truly tragic part is that essentially privatizing TxDOT will only cost us all more money, in the long run, while driving down the quality and level of service, as it always does. It’s also likely force all the workers who currently are employed by the state into jobs working for corporations that pay less and offer less, or no benefits. Call it the “Wal-Mart-ization”, if you will, of transportation in Texas.

It’s really sad that few, if any politicians, talk about this. We used to take pride in our highways in Texas, they were some of the best in the nation. Now they’ve been sacrificed to profit, greed and ideology.


Wow!! Big GOP tax increases coming locally

Posted in Central Texas, Commentary, Road Issues, Transportation at 10:46 am by wcnews

Since we will not raise the gas tax wherever there are toll roads, this will become the norm, Toll rates going up on three area roads.

Toll rates on three Central Texas tollways will go up 25 percent to 50 percent in January, the Texas Transportation Commission decided Thursday, and drivers will no longer be able to use cash to pay for tolls.

Also Thursday, the commission authorized free tolls for disabled veterans on all of its toll roads, including those in Central Texas. Last month, the American-Statesman reported that despite a 2009 law allowing discount programs for disabled vets, the Texas Department of Transportation and other toll authorities in the state had declined to implement free tolls for vets. Free tolls for veterans will be available on Texas 130, Texas 45 North, Texas 45 Southeast and Loop 1, as well as toll roads in Tyler and near Laredo.

The toll increases and the waiver for disabled vets and Purple Heart and Medal of Honor recipients go into effect Jan. 1. The increases on Texas 130, Texas 45 North and Loop 1 Tollway come two years earlier than projected when TxDOT in 2002 borrowed $2.2 billion to build the three roads. Projections shared with investors showed that tolls on the three roads would remain at their original levels until 2015.

For a driver who travels the entire 3.5 miles of Loop 1 Tollway, the cost using an electronic toll tag will increase from the current 68 cents to $1.02, a 50 percent increase and about 29 cents a mile. On Texas 45 North, which is 13.3 miles long, the toll tag cost would go from $1.36 to $2.04, also a 50 percent increase and about 15.3 cents a mile.

On Texas 130’s 49 miles, the total toll would jump from $5.40 to $6.75, a 25 percent rise and about 13.8 cents a mile.

The unelected Perry appointees are raising taxes on Central Texans considerably.


Forgotten Mission: Texas’ trickle-down transportation policy

Posted in Around The State, Bad Government Republicans, Road Issues, Transportation at 12:25 pm by wcnews

We’ve got major transportation funding problems in Texas. So much so that multiple elected member of the Texas GOP are saying stuff like this, Official stresses importance of finding additional revenue for state highways.

Besides the need for new road construction, [Larry Phillips (R-Sherman)] also cited the amount of existing roadway components that need to be maintained. This includes the state’s current 194,000 lane miles
and the 51,808 miles of bridges.

“All of this will eventually cost the average Texas household about $9,500 a year in fuel, car maintenance, depreciation, tires and auto insurance,” he said. “The credit-card system will eventually no longer be available. We need some additional long-term funding solutions.”

Phillips concluded his remarks by urging everyone in the room to call their local state representatives and officials and discuss with them ideas for alternative revenue streams. [Emphasis added]

We all know what dirty phrase “alternative revenue streams” is in GOP circles, it’s like saying tax increase! Read what GOP state Rep. Drew Darby recently said on the same subject. The TxDOT leadership is going to be a problem moving forward. TxDOT Executive Director Phil Wilson’s answer to this question shows why, Phil Wilson: The TT Interview.

TT: [With gas tax revenue failing to keep pace with the state’s transportation needs, toll roads have become a common method to fund major highway projects. Some lawmakers say Texans are getting “toll road fatigue.”] Is that a concern TxDOT has as well?

Wilson: Our objective is to be a people agency that facilitates economic development, and our product is transportation. Our charge by the legislature is to go out and find the ways we can to build infrastructure, mobility, to address congestion and safety. And so we look at all methods of financing, and I think that tolling and this kind of growth allows us to jump-start projects by three to four times faster. It’s the nature of what we have to do. … I think you have to look at tolls as one method of financing. [Emphasis added]

It’s not surprising that this is Wilson’s focus given the corporate shills he came up under - Phil Gramm and Rick Perry. But it shows where his focus is, or isn’t, as the case may be. While the needed transportation infrastructure improvements in Texas will improve economic development, they should not be the main “objective”. Notice that TxDOT’s mission statement never even mentions economic development.

It’s clear fro this that the main mission of those now running our state is not on the needs of Texas taxpayers. It’s on those who finance their campaigns. And we now have a trickle-down transportation policy, to go with the trickle-down economic policy. They will authorize the building of toll roads that “facilitate economic development” and the traffic de-congestion will magically trickle-down (NOT!). Mission Accomplished, as they say.


Transportation Problem - overpaid executives and borrowed money running out

Posted in Around The State, Bad Government Republicans, Cronyism, Road Issues, Transportation at 4:35 pm by wcnews

Their hubris is amazing, Top officials at TxDOT see sharp jump in pay.

Rash of executive hiring, higher pay necessary, TxDOT officials say, as agency moves increasingly to tollway model

Executive pay at the Texas Department of Transportation has spiked over the past year as the agency’s new chief, tasked to overhaul the department after several years of legislative and internal scrutiny, brought in more than a dozen upper echelon employees and sharply increased the salaries of some top managers already on hand.

The average salary of TxDOT’s 10 highest paid workers topped $200,000 as of April 1 — 21.4 percent above that average a year earlier. The top three salaries, at an average of almost $251,000, were 42.5 percent higher than the top three salaries’ average a year earlier. The salary figures were obtained by the American-Statesman through the Texas Open Records Act.

Some of those executives and Texas Transportation Commission board members say the pay boost is necessary to lure talent from the private sector to help TxDOT negotiate complex, high-dollar, public-private partnerships largely for toll road projects.


Executive Director Phil Wilson, hired in October by the commission and paid more than 50 percent more than his predecessor, also has given raises of between 16 and 30 percent to the agency’s chief engineer, chief financial officer, general counsel and government and public affairs director. The management portfolio of those four executives, all of them at TxDOT before Wilson’s hiring, has remained roughly the same or, in one case, has been reduced.

Meanwhile, the average salary of the agency’s 11,500 workers, in April about $48,000 a year, increased 3.7 percent over the same period. TxDOT’s overall payroll, including overtime and other bonus payments, was about $560 million a year as of April 1.

Commission Chairman Ted Houghton, who owns an El Paso financial services firm, said the elevated pay and rash of high-level hiring are justified by the growing sophistication of TxDOT business practices as the agency works with private sector engineering firms and financiers on billion-dollar projects.

“It’s a huge paradigm shift,” Houghton said. “We have to go get the best and the brightest to play in those circles of financing major projects. It’s a different business model than just having engineers run the show.”

Wilson said that the Legislature, recognizing the need for a new kind of leadership that must be lured from the higher-paying private sector, in the 2012-13 budget passed last year authorized him to pay up to five TxDOT executives as much as $292,500 a year. And Wilson, who makes $292,500 a year, pointed to a January 2011 report from the TxDOT Restructure Council, a three-member body appointed by the Transportation Commission in the wake of several studies critical of the agency, that recommended raising executive pay.

“They all realized we need this kind of talent to run a complex agency,” Wilson told the American-Statesman. Wilson, a longtime aide to former Republican Sen. Phil Gramm and Gov. Rick Perry, was Texas secretary of state for about a year (under an appointment by Perry) and then a utility lobbyist and manager before taking the TxDOT position. A move by the commission to pay him even more — $381,000 a year — was shelved after public criticism, and so far it has not been revived.

We’re supposed to believe that the only people smart enough to negotiate with the private sector are those who used to work in the private sector. What a bunch of crap. If recent economic history has taught us anything about the private sector it’s that most at the top are either over paid, corrupt, or both. Certainly if they can’t work for a mere $200,000/year we could find someone who is qualified to do the work for that amount.

The truth is that TxDOT Executive Director, and former Texas Secretary of State, Phil Wilson’s political connections have more to do with him getting the job then any of his private sector experience does. This has more to do with the revolving door between the public and private sector, crony capitalism, then his private sector experience.

There’s a long story about why this is happening but here’s the short version. About 20, or so years ago, it became politically unfeasible to raise taxes to pay for anything in Texas. We used to believe that public education and transportation infrastructure, (just to name two, there are more), were items in the public interest worth paying for with taxes - not anymore. It was called pay-as-you-go, or “paygo”.

Instead, we’re now told, there are these brilliant ways to pay for things. They’re called public private partnerships (PPPs). And instead of taxing the public to pay for roads, we give massive deals to corporations. The deals cost taxpayers more because the corporations have to make a profit, unlike with paygo. But for these deals to be negotiated properly, we’re supposed to believe, the only people smart enough are these super important over paid private sector people, and we have to pay them more than other state employees to implement these privatization schemes.

And the PPP schemes are becoming even more important to the politicains because the borrowed money is running out, Texas is fast approaching its debt limit for transportation projects.

With billions of dollars worth of road work under way in Texas, it may be hard for drivers to believe that the state is running out of highway money.

But in just a few years, Texas will likely max out its debt limit for transportation projects, and by the end of 2014, it may have barely enough funding to maintain existing roads, officials said Monday.

“People don’t believe there’s a crisis, because there are plenty of orange barrels,” state Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, said during a live broadcast of a House subcommittee hearing on transportation funding. “So how long before the crisis? How long before that borrowed money dissipates and we don’t have any more money to build?”

Elected leaders have authorized the Texas Department of Transportation to issue $17.3 billion in bonds for transportation projects. About $31.1 billion will be needed to repay that money over 25 to 30 years, said James Bass, the agency’s chief financial officer.

The agency’s budget of $10.5 billion for the current fiscal year and $9.3 billion for next year are record highs. But Pickett said those figures don’t paint an accurate picture of the state’s future road funding. Instead, nearly $6.7 billion of that two-year total is proceeds from bonds and other one-time sources that won’t be around later, he said.

What? You didn’t know our “fiscal conservative” Texas Gov. Rick Perry has borrowed billions, instead of raising taxes to build roads? Well, since Perry won’t allow needed taxes to be raised, for things we need, then he borrows money instead. The PPP’s allow elected officials to try and hide the tax/revenue increases from the public., in the form of tolls.

There is no easy, or painless way, to pay for roads. But doing it the way we used to, paygo, with a gas tax is still the best way to do it. And we don’t need high paid private sector cronies to get it done.


Here we go again

Posted in Around The Nation, Around The State, Commentary, Money In Politics, Right Wing Lies, Road Issues, Transportation at 12:32 pm by wcnews

It’s been a while since we’ve posted on transportation funding. Like with so many things what’s lacking, at all levels, is leadership and direction when discussing our transportation infrastructure. Let me explain. What most people see is traffic increasing, roads deteriorating, and little being done about it. Naturally they wonder why, where is my tax money going? What they don’t realize is that the gas tax has not been raised at the state level and the federal level, since 1991 and 1993 respectively. To put that in perspective, think of what you could buy if you were still making the same annual income as you were in 1993.

It’s key to remember that Texas transportation funding was fine, until we started elected politicians that signed pledges never to raise taxes, ever again, no matter what. The gas tax in Texas has not been raised for over 20 years, in that time the price of everything has gone up, and we don’t have any money to build new roads? Go figure!

The reason this has come up, once again, is because the supposed “free market” Reason Foundation (click here to see their funders) have conducted a poll that purportedly finds that Tolls, not higher taxes, should fund new roads. Hashimoto and Ben Wear think it’s belivable enough, and that this national poll may, “..ha[ve] some applications to Texas”.

But it may not. While the political, tea party/OWS, and presidential preferences of those polled lends credence there are a few numbers that hurt it. 32% of those polled don’t work, 30% don’t get stuck in traffic, 38% have the same traffic they did 5 years ago, and 58% don’t have toll roads in their area. Those numbers point to a significant part of the sample that don’t spend much time in traffic on the roads, and that may see toll roads as a “grass is always greener” alternative. But toll roads are a horrible alternative to roads paid for by the gas tax.

It would be nice to see a question like this asked. If it costs much more per mile to drive on a toll road than it does to raise the gas tax, would you still be for toll roads or for toll roads - the more expensive option - to pay for transportation? Terri Hall has much more and does a great job taking apart this poll, Poll claiming preference for tolls over taxes a ruse. But this is the best part of her post, on how are bought politicians are laying over for their funders, the corporations.

Path of least resistance
Politicians will always take the path of least resistance. They have no problem increasing taxes, so long as its a hidden tax or they can pass it off as a ‘fee’ (and that’s true of BOTH political parties). They have polls like this one produced by a clearly biased Reason Foundation to put the fear of God in them never to raise the gas tax, turning politicos toward what they consider to be the lesser of the evils — tolls — as the way to ‘solve’ road funding woes.

Both the Senate and House versions of the new federal highway bill rely heavily on tolling to expand roadway capacity, both include the authority for states to enter into P3s as well as to continue taxpayer subsidies for those privatized toll roads through the TIFIA loan program. The House version even encourages loans of taxpayer money for toll roads (both public and private) through State Infrastructure Banks.

P3s put that power to tax in the hands of private corporations, leaving politicians the ‘out,’ blaming the private companies for the tax increases, not themselves. P3s, and now many public toll roads, contain non-compete agreements that penalize or prohibit the expansion of free roads surrounding the toll roads, guaranteeing free alternatives remain congested for the life of the contract.

Infrastructure Investor has declared in its Daily Digest today: “There has also been a wholesale movement at the national legislative and regulatory level to support PPP (or P3s) approaches. The rearguard opposition from a few ‘anti-privatization’ legislators, mostly Democrats in the House, has disappeared. Instead Democrats and Republicans, in Congress and in the Administration, compete in declarations of support for innovative privatization approaches to reduce costs and provide the funding needed for US infrastructure.”

This is according to insider John Schmidt whose firm, Mayer Brown, will personally benefit from such deals, who used the song ‘This land is my land’ to describe how totally the special interests ‘own’ our politicians. It also demonstrates how eager they are to eviscerate the private property rights of Americans by exploiting the governmental powers of eminent domain to steal your land in the name of a ‘public use,’ for a road, and then give that land over to a private corporation in a P3 using taxpayer subsidies in deals that guarantee the private entity’s profits for 50-100 years.

Of course all of these vital details are nowhere to be found in the poll questions by Reason Foundation. They make it sound so rosy as if the private entity is doing us and our cash-strapped government a favor by offering to build or expand our public roads with no cost to taxpayers. When in fact, every P3 so far has included massive amounts of taxpayer subsidies as well as non-compete agreements that manipulate free routes to force motorists onto the private toll roads.

Facing tight budgets, most states are turning to tolling to pay for highways regardless of the status of the federal highway bill. In Texas, nearly ALL new lanes (and even some existing lanes) are slated to be tolled with 500 toll projects currently being contemplated. The same trend is taking hold across the country. This new form of runaway taxation in the hands of UNELECTED boards, will not be avoidable.

The most affordable and most accountable way to fund public roads is the gas tax, bar none. It literally takes an act of Congress (or a state legislature) to raise the gas tax, but it only takes the whim of a bureaucrat to raise a toll. Runaway toll taxes in the hands of unelected toll authority boards, or even worse, private corporations in P3s, whom the taxpayers cannot hold accountable, tramples upon the public interest, threatens our freedom to travel, and puts the ability to drive that much further out of reach for the many Americans struggling to make ends meet. [Emphasis added]

A healthy dose of truth of taxation is in order for 2012, and the so-called think tanks who produce such biased polls as Reason Foundation does here, are guilty of contributing to the shroud of deception that’s allowing this piracy of the public’s assets through tolling and P3s, not unveiling it.

Toll roads are undemocratic! If we want an unaccountable, corporate-run, for profit, transportation system in Texas and the United States then tolls are the way to go. If we want to own our roads (state and federal government) and keep them open to everyone, then raising the gas tax is the way to go. But we could certainly use some leadership on this issue, it’s a teachable moment. We have an election coming up and it’s a golden opportunity for candidates, at all levels, to use as a campaign issue.


Vote No on Prop 4 - the latest transportation scheme

Posted in Around The State, Commentary, Had Enough Yet?, Road Issues, Take Action, Transportation at 11:44 am by wcnews

Because there is no will at the state level to raise the money needed to pay for roads, our elected officials want voters to approve raising taxes at the local level instead to pay for them. Schemes like this are the result when the people neglect their civic duty. This isn’t so much about partisan politics as it is about right and wrong. It’s a microcosm of what the “Occupy” movement is in the streets about. It is a pox on both houses movement, but it’s due to the fact that the government doesn’t work for the people anymore. Which circles back to the neglect of civic duty.

Generally speaking a large segment of the populace sees little reason to pay attention to what’s going on with their government, be engaged with it, much less do their civic duty and vote. The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. And it’s easy to see from voter turnout that way too many Americans feel indifferent about their government.

But that indifference leads to what we have now, which is what the Occupy movement is a reaction to - a government controlled by the few for the few. A government that has no accountability to the people. It’s much easier to tear down, then to build up, and that’s what our politics have been about for far too long. It’s obvious by the way our elected leaders govern that they are not afraid of the people, our system is no longer works that way. Our elected leaders are more afraid of their funders then they are of the people.

What we need are politicians that pass laws that help the people, not the powerful. The reason were to a point where the Texas Legislature can’t provide money for basic needs - education, health care, and transportation - is because the needs of the people are secondary, at best, to our elected leaders. They are more fearful of voting to raise taxes for highways, then they are of passing the buck for raising taxes onto the local property and sales tax payers. What we’ve been seeing over the recent past is an expansion of class warfare, Texas-style.

In 2006, one of the recent tax schemes in Texas, statewide property taxes were lowered only to have property taxes increased at the local level. This brought lower property taxes in wealthy school districts, but forced higher tax rates in poor school districts. It also created a structural deficit in the state budget , because the so-called “margins tax”, that was supposed to make up for the money lost by cutting the statewide property tax, never delivered as promised. Which brought on cuts to education, health care, and no new money for transportation - which hurt poor, working and middle class Texans the most.

Because of this we find ourselves facing another tax scheme in a low turnout, off-year, constitutional amendment election. If elected officials like state Sen. Steve Ogden (R-Bryan) had their way this is how all our funding issues would be solved.

Ogden and the GOP majority in the legislature will attempt to use this ploy as a backhanded way to get the people to approve of their privatizations schemes for state government. Ogden knows, as do most political watchers in Texas, that very few items on a post session, low turnout, amendment election ever fail. It’s a way to pass the responsibility for a bad or controversial idea onto the people, and provides cover to the politicians.

And Prop 4 on November’s ballot is just that kind of scheme, a tax shift from the state government to local governments. Via Texas Turf, VOTE ‘NO’ on Prop 4! Say NO to property tax & sales tax hikes. Here’s the bullet points of what’s wrong with this proposition.

Prop 4 would give counties the authority to:
- Increase property tax (through higher property valuations) to pay for STATE transportation projects
- To use and/or increase sales tax (in the zone) for transportation projects without coming to voters
- To use property taxes to build TOLL roads (a DOUBLE tax) or ANY transportation project (transit, light rail)
- Enter into bond debt without coming to the voters
- Grant tax breaks to their buddies (special interests) in the zone (causing residential taxpayers to pay more)
- Use TRZ surpluses as unaccountable slush funds
If we DEFEAT Prop 4, these changes WILL NOT take effect!

Of course the easiest way to fund our needs in Texas would be to create a fair and equitable tax structure where everyone, including the wealthy and corporations, pay their fair share of taxes. If that was the case there would be no need for responsibility shirking tax shift schemes to be on the November ballot for voter approval. But change like that can’t come from politicians or their funders. Only people, doing their civic duty, can bring about that kind of change.


Crony in, crony out at TxDOT

Posted in Around The State, Bad Government Republicans, Road Issues, Transportation at 12:15 pm by wcnews

Not even two weeks ago energy company lobbyist and former aide to Gov. Rick Perry was chosen as the new Executive Director of the Texas Transportation Commission, Tolls, tolls, tolls - former Perry aide/lobbyist appointed to head Texas Transportation Commission. With a Perry crony now on the commission, it created an opportunity for the crony currently chairing the commission to resign. Late last week we learned that Deirdre Delisi, was resigning as chair of the commission to go to work of the Governor’s presidential campaign.

Delisi is being replaced by Ted Houghton who is currently a member of the commission.

“I’d like to thank Governor Perry for his trust in me to continue TxDOT down a path of responsiveness, change and modernization. I look forward to leading the department as it becomes a better TxDOT, living up to the expectations of the Governor, the Legislature and our stakeholders.

“Texas is a national leader in infrastructure and transportation system development, and I intend to reaffirm our place among the best, strongest and most innovative states as TxDOT delivers the projects the Legislature, our local partners and Texas motorists expect.”

Houghton was first appointed to the Texas Transportation Commission in 2003 by Governor Rick Perry, and was reappointed in 2009. A native of El Paso, Houghton is self-employed in the financial services industry. He is the first resident of El Paso to serve on the Commission.

I’m sure his “unique” experience in the financial services industry will come in handy building roads. Terri Hall has more, Houghton will continue Williamson era at TxDOT.

News coverage of Houghton’s appointment affirms that he sees his primary mission as handing Texas public roads over to private toll operators in sweetheart P3 contracts, despite the years of public opposition […]. Status quo for sure, a thumb in the public’s eye most certainly, and it affirms Perry’s determination to continue the Williamson era of division, controversy, and strife in the midst of his struggling presidential campaign with charges of crony capitalism flying. Makes one shake one’s head in stunned amazement.

Nothing will change regarding transportation in Texas, until we change our state government.


Tolls, tolls, tolls - former Perry aide/lobbyist appointed to head Texas Transportation Commission

Posted in Around The State, Bad Government Republicans, Money In Politics, Road Issues, Transportation at 12:39 pm by wcnews

Via Ben Wear at the AAS, Former Perry aide to lead TxDOT.

An energy company lobbyist and former top aide to Gov. Rick Perry was chosen Thursday to lead the 12,000-employee Texas Department of Transportation and will be paid at least $100,000 more annually than the career engineer he succeeds.

The Texas Transportation Commission, after a short, closed-door session, approved the appointment of Phil Wilson as the agency’s executive director on a 4-0 vote. Commissioner Ned Holmes of Houston, out of the country traveling on business, missed the vote.

The commission authorized paying Wilson, 43 , at least $292,500. TxDOT’s just-retired executive director, Amadeo Saenz, was paid $192,000.

The commission also voted to petition the Legislative Budget Board and the governor’s office to exceed that statutory maximum salary. Commission Chairwoman Deirdre Delisi said moments after the closed-door meeting that she didn’t know how much the commission will ask for in additional salary.


Wilson is registered with the Texas Ethics Commission as a lobbyist with Luminant and its parent company, Energy Future Holdings Corp . The filing shows expected 2011 compensation of less than $10,000 from Energy Future Holdings and $50,000 to $99,000 from Luminant.


After more than a decade as an aide to Republican U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm, Wilson held various jobs in Perry’s office, beginning in 2002 as director of communications. He was later deputy chief of staff under former Chief of Staff Mike Toomey and Delisi. In addition, Wilson was Perry’s designee to the Texas Enterprise Fund and Emerging Technology Fund, gubernatorial grant programs designed to bring new businesses to Texas. He also led the governor’s Office of Economic Development and Tourism.

And as TollRoadNews points a person with Wilson’s “experience” makes sense, Texas Gov Perry headed for more PPPs with close associate Phil Wilson new head of TxDOT.

Gov Rick Perry seems to be laying the ground for stepping up tollroad concessioning or PPPs in Texas. Today the state’s Transportation Commission - a body which generally does the Governor’s bidding - announced selection of a longtime Perry political confidante and associate Phil Wilson as the new executive director of the Texas Department of Transportation. That position has normally been filled by a transportation professional.

Wilson, aged 44, comes immediately from head of public affairs at a large electric generation company Luminant.


Wilson himself is quoted: “I am honored to be selected as the next executive director of TxDOT. This is an agency with a rich history in successfully building for our future with dedicated employees. I look forward to working with the agency, Commission, Legislature and local communities on the most efficient and effective ways to build infrastructure for Texas.”

That last sentence looks like a proposal to enlist investors and private enterprise more heavily in transportation in the state - to do more tollroads with public-private partnerships or concessions (‘comprehensive development agreements’ (CDAs) is the favored Texas term.) [Emphasis added]

Just more of the same for this crew. Privatizing government services just winds up costing us all more in the long run. There’s a much simpler, cheap, and easy way to fund transportation.

Further Reading:
More on the record of Perry’s former aides, “Two top Perry aides gave false testimony under oath in campaign case”.


Little noticed news - toll roads are going bust

Posted in Around The Nation, Around The State, Road Issues, Transportation at 12:12 pm by wcnews

It should come as no surprise that as our economy is suffering because of lack of demand for goods and services, caused by the lack of good jobs, it is hurting other parts of the economy. Toll roads are not turning out to be the “cash cow” alternative to raising the gas tax that politicians made them out to be, Credit Ratings Agency Warns of Tolling Troubles.

Toll roads at one point appeared to be unstoppable. Steady growth in traffic yielded rapidly rising profits, especially for pioneers in the field such as Australia’s Macquarie Bank where executives became so rich from deals that included the leasing of US roads that it was dubbed the “millionaires’ factory.” That all changed when the recession took hold and motorists scaled back on the mileage driven each year. Losses began to mount, and as a report released last week by Fitch Ratings argues, the dynamics for tolling may not improve in the near future.

“Fitch tracks data on toll roads, bridges, and tunnels across its ratings portfolio,” Fitch analysts wrote in the report, Downshifting: US Transportation Reacts as GDP Growth Flattens. “Traffic declined year over year as much as 10 percent during the Great Recession. Sustained positive growth in traffic commenced in February 2010. The most recent Fitch data indicates that growth in traffic volumes began slowly declining on tolled facilities, heading to zero growth in second-quarter 2011.”

The US Bureau of Transportation Statistics reported a similar decline in commercial transportation services for both goods and passengers. Despite some recovery, the index remains below pre-recession levels. These transportation statistics mirror figures for consumer spending which began recovering early last year only to falter this March. Growth in consumer spending for the second quarter of 2011 was under 0.1 percent.

The credit ratings agency argues activity in the economy at large and the in the transportation sector are directly linked. When someone gets a job, he generally gets in his car to drive to work. When stores sell goods, the supplies, raw materials and final product are usually transported by truck. When unemployment is high and sales are low, such transportation activity drops. [Emphasis added]

That last paragraph sums up our bad economic situation “to a T”. Until our government gets to work, making sure everyone that wants to work can find a job, then our economy will stay as it is. Until the unemployed are put back to work, demand in our country will not go up. And until demand rises businesses have no reason to hire more workers.

Of course toll roads were no bargain before the economic slowdown. Even in Central Texas, where the economy is said to be in better shape, we learned in July that the toll roads are not delivering as promised.

Further Reading:
Fitch: Downshift in U.S. Transportation Activity Reflects the Slowing Economy.


Central Texas toll roads not delivering as promised

Posted in Central Texas, Road Issues, Transportation at 4:59 pm by wcnews

Ben Wear reported today on the Central Texas toll roads inability to live up to the Traffic & Revenue (T&R) estimates that consultants came up with in 2002, Central Texas toll roads need more state subsidies than expected.

Tolls and other revenue have fallen more than $100 million short of covering debt and operating costs of the state’s three-road Central Texas Turnpike System since the highways opened about four years ago. Texas Department of Transportation subsidies almost 70 percent more than originally predicted have made up the difference.

Those subsidies, covered primarily by state gasoline taxes that otherwise would be available for other road spending, should average about $38 million a year over the next decade and total about $750 million by 2042 , according to TxDOT documents. The system’s first profitable year is not estimated to occur until 2030 , with some years in the red even after that because of major road rehabilitation expenses. [Emphasis added]

Of course one TxDOT commissioner has a great idea to fix this problem.

At least one member of the Texas Transportation Commission, which governs TxDOT, said it is time for the agency to consider ceasing management of toll roads, instead leasing out even existing state toll roads to the private sector.

“Any dollar that we support that system with is a dollar that is taken out of the state of Texas to build and support other roads,” said Commissioner Ted Houghton of El Paso, who has served on the commission since 2003 and has long advocated such agreements with toll road companies. “We need to get out of that business. Find someone who knows how to market those roads, to operate them and collect the tolls. We do it as a sort of side business.” [Emphasis added]

That’s right. I mean what who would expect a “transportation agency” to know anything about running toll roads? And certainly we all remember, back in the day, Mike Krusee and Ric Williamson telling us about the “side bidness” they wanted TxDOT to start running.

All kidding aside, anyone paying attention knew this day was coming, it was just a matter of time. Although TxDOT is still drinking the Kool-Aid - they really have no choice at this ponit.

“Moving forward, I think that the economy is picking up, and I see development such as the Formula One track and ancillary development around the track helping that,” said Mark Tomlinson , TxDOT’s turnpike director.

The F1 track, expected to open next June, will be about a mile east of where Texas 130 crosses FM 812 southeast of Austin. Several large residential and mixed-use projects are also planned for the Texas 130 corridor, but they won’t be complete for 10 to 20 years.

Beyond that, Tomlinson said, the 2012 opening of the southern 40 miles of Texas 130, connecting the Austin area to Interstate 10 east of San Antonio, is likely to boost traffic and revenue. A private consortium headed by a Spanish toll road company is footing the $1.2 billion bill to construct that extension under a long-term lease with TxDOT.

“The picture’s going to be pretty good for the future,” Tomlinson said.


Expenses, meanwhile, have been almost double — about $50 million a year — projections outlined in the 2002 bond prospectus. That includes about $30 million a year to collect the tolls, process billings and pursue collections from late payers.

TxDOT has been working to lower those costs, Tomlinson said. The agency, he said, has shortened hours at the customer service center alongside Loop 1, installed equipment that scans photographs of license plates used to bill customers who don’t pay with cash or have an electronic toll tag, reduced mailing costs and renegotiated its contract with a collections company.

And the agency has taken bids for a new contract for toll operations to be awarded this summer. Review of those bids, Tomlinson said, indicates that lower costs are on the way there as well.

“All toll operations have a ramp-up period,” Tomlinson said. “And they’ll all tell you that their costs are a lot higher in the early years.”

That may be true, but that certainly should have been part of any T&R estimate worth it’s salt. This is really just par for the course. A consultant sells politicians on future growth, drivers as far as the eye can see, and a tollway paved in gold. But reality is much different, and the taxpayers are left holding the bag, again.

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