Bush Shows His True Colors, A Compassion-Less Conservative

Posted in Health Care, Bad Government Republicans, Had Enough Yet?, Commentary, Around The State, Around The Nation, Uncategorized at 10:40 am by wcnews

In case you haven’t read it yet state Rep. Garnett Coleman wrote an Op-Ed over the weekend, Ideologues seek to cut children’s health plan, about the need for the federal SCHIP bill that president Bush has said he will veto. If we had a compassionate president he would be much more worried about insuring uninsured children than insuring insurance companies profits.

The president vows to veto the bipartisan effort to provide more children with health care.

What’s extraordinary is why he says he’s doing it. He’ll veto the bill and put kids at risk TO PROTECT PRIVATE INSURANCE COMPANIES.

Right, the president’s objections are “ideological.” He believes that a broad expansion of the children’s health program will lead more people to rely on government health care and not purchase health insurance from private companies.

Now most of the parents of the children that would benefit from the bill can’t afford health insurance — that’s why the children are uninsured. So Bush’s fears are unfounded.

But even so, faced with a choice of providing children with health care or protecting the profits of private insurance companies, the president chooses the latter.

Nothing more need be said.

That’s pretty damning stuff about our “divider” president. But let’s go back to Rep. Coleman’s Op-Ed, particularly this part:

It’s tragic that some Texans in Washington are pushing failed policies from Texas. When Bush was governor, he supported even more restrictive eligibility standards, but the Texas Legislature ultimately forced him to sign a bill that covered more children.

At that time, Gov. Bush cynically remarked to one legislator: “You crammed it down our throats.” In 1999 all we did was provide access to health coverage for children whose parents worked but couldn’t afford it. Now it’s time for Washington, D.C., to do the same, and it’s a shame that Congress may have to “cram it down the throats” of leaders who should have learned better by now.

In other words Bush fought giving health care to poor kids even back then but gave in. I’m sure at that time Turd Blossom was whispering in his ear about what would be best for his presidential run. Taking health care away from poor children and children of the working poor wouldn’t have allowed him to cynically run as an oxymoron, a “compassionate conservative”. This shows why what the president is doing now shows his true colors. Without the worry of another election, and the need to trick the voter in the center into believing he’s for something other than corporations, Bush can now do what he believes - fight to protect insurance companies profits.

No matter the case back then, at this time the president, and the minority that will follow him over the cliff, are with the insurance companies and against insuring more uninsured children. This issue has, despite what the president says and lack of media reporting, wide BI-partisan support and is a no-brainer for passage.

This post form Bill Scheer goes through the politics of whats ahead, Are You For Good Government or Bad Government?

And there’s much more at this post form, Please Lend A Hand For Kids In Need, Fire Dog Lake.

Insuring ALL children should be done, period, end of story.


County Shuns Citizens Help With Landfill Petition

Posted in Commissioners Court, Bad Government Republicans, Landfill, Commentary, Williamson County at 12:17 pm by wcnews

The TDP has an article up regarding the Hutto Citizens Group and others joining the Williamson County petition against Waste Management, Inc., as interveners, and the county’s reaction, Locals file to join county’s landfill suit.

“We are trying to side with them [Williamson County] and give more weight to what they are doing and to make sure all the right questions are asked,” said Mahlon Arnett, who is listed with his wife Robbie as an intervener.

Arnett and the Hutto Citizens Group, which he is a member, have long requested the county stop contract negotiations with Waste Management and open up the process to competitive bidding.

Bob Gregory, owner of investment firm TJFA, LP, said in a previous interview that he believed the lack of a bidding process was an unfair playing field for competing companies. Gregory owns Travis County-based company Texas Disposal Systems.

While Arnett’s assistance, as well as that of others, is a welcomed occurrence, it appears the county is saying thanks, but no thanks.

However, Stephen Ackley with the County Attorney’s office said he suspects the county will ask the judge to keep the suit between just Williamson County and Waste Management.

“There are two parties in the contract, so there should really be two parties to the case,” he said.

But the county will ask the judge to allow the Hutto Citizens Group, among the other petitioning parties, to file briefs with the court, Ackley said. The county will not appeal any decision by the judge in the declaratory suit and either put the contract out to bid or stick with the 2003 agreement.

“At least this way we’ll have a definitive answer,” he said.

From the time this petition was filed EOW speculated that the county may be doing this as an attempt to get a court to side with them in their attempt not to send this contract out for competitive bid. In other words the county doesn’t want, much less need any help, if they want the contract negotiations to continue with WMI without competitive bidding. We’ll just have to wait and see how vigorously the county fights to for the citizens right to allow bids on this contract.

Mr. Ackley and the County Attorney’s office trying to exclude other’s from joining as interverners is a troublesome issue for a couple of reasons. Keeping the county as the sole plaintiff will exclude the interverners from pursuing discovery in this case. It also will exclude a major item from the scope of the case, namely, has Waste Management already defaulted on the 2003 contract by putting its own name on the landfill permit expansion application in an attempt to hijack the permit?

Trying to exclude citizen interveners is not a good move for the county. The county, it appears, is trying to do the right thing and the citizens want to help. To shun that support will just create more angst between the county and it’s citizens. The county is again trying to block the citizens from participating in this process, which could lead to suspicion that the county is trying to hide something. With the success the citizens have had thus far in the process, it’s baffling why the county would continue working against them. If the county’s motion not to allow the citizens to join the lawsuit is successful it will, most likely, be challenged.

Much of what has transpired with this landfill deal so far is inside baseball kind of stuff. This deal that was supposed to be done already and those who wanted this deal done are getting more frustrated every day. It’s being watched by the political insiders, locally and around the state, to see how and/or if this deal gets done. There’s much at stake in this deal for those county officials that may have aspirations for higher office or whose family members may have similar aspirations. This is politics and not about what’s right for the citizens of Hutto and Williamson County.


Duty Drops Her Request With Attorney General

Posted in Commissioners Court, Bad Government Republicans, Landfill, Election 2008, Williamson County at 10:35 pm by wcnews

Now that the landfill contract has been indefinitely postponed by the commissioners court County Attorney Jana Duty has decided to withdraw her request for opinion from the Attorney General (AAS). With the county now filing a petition to see if they can put the landfill contract out to bid, and WMI being put in a bind, Duty has decided to throw in the towel on her feud with the commissioners court. Cutting her loses.

Williamson County Attorney Jana Duty withdrew her request for an opinion from the Texas attorney general on whether county commissioners can hire outside legal counsel without her permission.

Previously, Duty said she felt so strongly about the issue that she would take it to court if the attorney general did not rule in her favor.

All the way to the supreme court she had previously said. From the AAS article on August 24th Duty had said this.

“I don’t want to battle with the court,” Duty said Thursday. But “this is the one battle I feel like I have to fight because I feel like it has to do with the (Texas) Constitution (and) the separation of powers of county government.”


Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott is scheduled to rule in January, Duty said. If he rules against her, she will make it an issue for the Texas Supreme Court to decide.

“I would have to sue,” she said. “I don’t want to go that route.”

So why in the world would she go from such a principled constitutional stand (before the landfill vote), to dropping her request altogether (after the landfill vote)? Word on the street is her side lost (WMI/VE) and maybe after that she didn’t see much reason to fight for the constitution or principle anymore. Especially once that petition was filed and the outside counsel was brought in again.

Duty said Wednesday that the withdrawal was not a change in opinion and that the problem needs to be fixed in the Legislature.

Commissioners voted Tuesday to hire one of the law firms again to help with a suit that Williamson County brought against Waste Management last week to clarify whether the county’s no-bid contracts with the company over the past 20 years were approved illegally.

Bringing the suit was the advice of Austin law firm Potts & Reilly LLP, one of the firms commissioners hired, said Stephen Ackley, the county’s chief civil litigator, so the county will work with the firm on the suit.

County Judge Dan A. Gattis has said that he disagreed with Duty and that hiring outside counsel was the right of the commissioners court.

Gattis declined to comment Wednesday through an assistant.

Duty said she is reviewing her options but said she’d prefer not to elaborate.

“I really am just trying to make peace with the court right now,” she said.

Duty is up for reelection in 2008 and she looks ripe for the picking.


The Latest On The Landfill - County Files Lawsuit

Posted in Commissioners Court, Bad Government Republicans, Landfill, Williamson County at 12:45 pm by wcnews

The Hutto Citizens Group (HCG) is reporting on two things concerning the landfill. The first is that the county has filed a lawsuit for “declaratory judgment” in order to get a ruling, once and for all, whether the new landfill contract can be put out for bid/request for proposal (RFP). It’s long past due on that one. Also keep in mind, no matter what the courts say, it still may be worthwhile for the county to bid the contract and pay damages, depending on how much another entity would pay for the new contract. Not to mention just using the threat of an RFP process as a bargaining tool. Unfortunately the county is probably expecting a ruling in WMI’s favor and will use that ruling to bolster their capitulation to WMI and this “Limmer Lemon”.

The second sticking point is that despite the court’s 5 - 0 vote last week on what appeared to be a clear cut motion to have Waste Management, Inc. (WMI) taken off all permits - past, present and proposed. It appears something was lost in the translation from what was actually said in the meeting to what was printed in the official minutes.

Note that the Motion, as described in the Minutes, does not instruct Mr. Dietz to remove Waste Management’s name from the three permit documents (1995 permit, 2003 permit application, and the proposed draft permit. Now note the highlighted portions of the transcript underlying the Motion, showing that the Minutes do not accurately reflect the intent of the Motion. The Minutes do not call for the REMOVAL of Waste Management’s name from the 1995 permit, the 2003 permit application, and the pending draft permit. Conversely, that’s what the MOTION calls for in the context of the agreed discussion.)

Click here [.PDF] to read much more about the discrepancy. It’s hard to imagine any non-nefarious reason that Judge Gattis and outside counsel continue to play games and keep WMI’s name on the permits. When the court spells it out, and unanimously votes to have their name taken off the permit and it still remains this can no longer be seen as an oversight or a slip up, it’s hard to imagine that this isn’t being done on purpose. At this point what should be done is WMI’s name should be taken off all permits. If they have a problem with it make them fight to get their name on the permits, at the least make them negotiate to get their name back on the contract.

Be sure to read the HCG’s latest release for more on both of these issues.


Landfill Vote Tomorrow - New HCG Newsletter

Posted in Commissioners Court, Bad Government Republicans, Landfill, Privatization, Williamson County at 3:45 pm by wcnews

Tomorrow the Williamson County Commissioners Court is scheduled to vote on the new landfill contract with Waste Management, Inc. (WMI). The agenda is here [.PDF], the landfill is #27 for those scoring at home. An interesting aside, #28 is a presentation by NASCO.

There are several interesting points in the new Hutto Citizens Group newsletter, Will Tuesday be a day of disaster for Williamson County? [.PDF].

Click “Read the rest..” for full story.

Read the rest of this entry »


Cities, County At Odds Over Accountability At Animal Shelter

Posted in Commissioners Court, Bad Government Republicans, Animal Shelter, Williamson County at 12:26 pm by wcnews

A letter sent to the county by Round Rock mayor Nyle Maxwell, and similar ones by the three other cities (Hutto, Cedar Park, and Leander), “are calling for more oversight and review of the facility”. AAS has the story, Cities urge county to take action on animal shelter, and a link to the letter [.PDF] from Mayor Maxwell.

The four cities partnering with Williamson County on the struggling regional animal shelter are calling for more oversight and review of the facility.

The city councils of Round Rock, Cedar Park, Leander and Hutto recently approved letters outlining a number of desired actions. Some of the letters were sent to county officials Friday.

It’s definitely understandable how the cities can be a little skittish about a shelter run by the county with their money. Especially since the county has been so unable to admit to and take responsibility for the problems at the shelter this far. Not sure yet whether this is the solution. The cities and the county would do themselves a great favor if they’d put some citizens, or non-interested third parties on this executive committee they propose. just a another committee, filled with insiders from the same old groups, won’t do much to change things.

There is an animal shelter board made up of representatives from all entities, and some cities’ officials say that the board should be making most of the shelter decisions, not the county.

“There is no clear accountability of who has the control and who doesn’t,” Rye said. “Under the current agreement, the county is responsible for hiring the executive director, but the board is responsible for reviewing performance. An ideal contract would specify who does the hiring and who does the firing.”

But some city leaders said the bigger problem is that the county is not listening to their concerns and recommendations.

No surprise in any of this. The county doesn’t listen to much of anyone. It would make sense, that if they create this board for performance reviews, they should also have the ability to hire and fire. The county does have one city official on their side.

Leander Mayor John Cowman praised the county’s recent efforts.

“We’re encouraged by the steps that have already been taken,” he said. “I think the judge has indicated his willingness to tackle the situation. It’s a regional effort, and we’re going to continue to . . . work through it.”

The saga continues.


File And Abuse

Posted in Bad Government Republicans, Had Enough Yet?, Around The State, The Lege at 11:01 pm by wcnews

Tip to Chisme, for the link to this HChron article. It’s about Allstate going to the courts, and around a Texas Department of Insurance (TDI) ruling earlier in the week, to get a restraining order to stop the TDI from doing it’s job - regulating the insurance industry.

Allstate has persuaded a judge to temporarily block efforts by state regulators to keep the company from immediately increasing homeowners’ insurance rates statewide.

Allstate filed for its rate increase on Monday, making it effective immediately. Texas Insurance Commissioner Mike Geeslin issued an order halting the rate increase.

But Allstate won a temporary restraining order against Geeslin on Thursday from state District Judge John Dietz on the grounds that state law requires the insurance commissioner to give a company 20 days’ notice before blocking or lowering a rate that already is in effect.

This was all made possible by a bill passed during the 78th Legislature in 2003.

Texas in 2003 adopted a “file and use” insurance rate system that allows companies to file a rate and then use it pending review by the state insurance commissioner.

The bill that put in “file and use” in 2003 was SB 14 authored by Sen. Mike Jackson (R - Up For Reelection in 2008) - if you’re in Senate District 11 check out Joe Jaworski. From what I can tell this bill changed to burden of proof for insurance rate changes. Instead of an insurance company having to submit a rate change, and then wait for the TDI to approve or deny it, “file and use” allows them to change the rate and start charging it without approval from the TDI. The TDI can deny that rate, but only after it’s been submitted and already been imposed on customers. If denied, the insurance company has to pay rebates to the customers they overcharged. All the while having that money in the bank, drawing interest.

File and use was a disaster in Florida, so much so that they changed the law. Here are some more commentary on “file and use”.

Bob Detlefsen, vice president for public policy at the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies, said it is unusual for an insurance company to make a new rate take effect immediately.

He said the system is supposed to create greater flexibility in the market.

“The theory behind file and use was to make it easier for insurers to change their rates faster — both up and down,” Detlefsen said.

Detlefsen said both Texas and Florida are known to be aggressive regulatory states in holding the line on rate increases.

“Maybe Allstate is trying to call the insurance commissioner’s bluff,” Detlefsen said.

State Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, was a major player in creating the current regulatory scheme in Texas. He said the state law should give Geeslin enough power to block unnecessary rate increases.

“Senate Bill 14 very clearly gave the insurance department the ability to reject a rate they think is not warranted,” Fraser said.

First, somebody raise their hand if the “market” has ever lowered your rate. That’s what I thought. Second, the TDI did reject a rate it thought was unwarranted and the court won’t let them. Third, Allstate isn’t calling the commissioner’s bluff, they’re saying we own the politicians that appointed you Mr. Commissioner, so do what we tell you.

I was taught very early on that insurance companies are a necessary evil. My Father taught me that most of our elected officials, one way or another, are tied to the insurance industry, thus a law like this. It’s no surprise that in 2003, once the Republicans finally gained control of all branches of government, they wrote a bill that hands the insurance corporations the ability to regulate their own rate increases - let’s call it file and abuse.


The Texas Trasnsportation Follies Continue

Posted in Bad Government Republicans, Privatization, Road Issues, Around The State, Uncategorized at 12:27 pm by wcnews

When, a couple of months back, the The North Texas Toll Authority (NTTA) got the go-ahead on the SH 121 deal there was much emphasis put on the fact that the NTTA had 45 days to get a done done or it would go to Cintra. What a difference 45 days makes. Via the DMN (Deadline for 121 deal gets extended), we find out that yesterday TxDOT voted unanimously to scrap that provision.

Once facing a looming deadline, the North Texas Tollway Authority has been given more time to reach an agreement with the state to build State Highway 121.


They told the commission they could not sign an agreement with NTTA until the federal government completes its review of the Highway 121 project. NTTA officials said Thursday they expect the clearance by September.

In extending the deadline, the commission also voted unanimously to cancel its original agreement with Spanish builder Cintra, the firm that had initially been selected to build Highway 121.

This is no surprise, surely Cintra knew their goose was cooked during the session when this thing went under the microscope. They probably wouldn’t take the deal now even if it was offered to them. It was definitely humorous to read about TxDOT head Ric Williamson’s new found concern toll payers.

But that extra money – sought after by local governments already sorting through proposals for spending it – comes with a price for North Texas drivers, Mr. Williamson said. If NTTA has overestimated the traffic the road will get, it could find that it has overpaid. If so, it’s possible that it would have to raise the toll rates above the limits outlined in Cintra’s proposal.

“It deeply concerns me that the toll payers in North Texas could be overpaying,” Mr. Williamson said.

An overestimated traffic & revenue (T&R) study, that never happens.

Also despite what Sen Kay Bailey Hutchison said a few weeks ago, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) is again threatening to take away federal funding from Texas because of this deal. This time because of “..federal law violations in regards to the procurement process for SH 121’s comprehensive development agreement”. Full story via the McKinney Courier-Gazette, Feds threaten to pull future SH 121 funding.

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison said the day before the August Regional Transportation Council meeting in Arlington, U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Mary Peters personally assured her they would not ask the state to return any federal highway funding for State Highway 121.


“If TxDOT does not remedy the violations, FHWA will enforce the compliance measures outlined in this letter such as those relating to future federal-aid funding and credit assistance,” the letter read. “While the North Texas Tollway Authority (NTTA) may not have any current plans to utilize federal funding for the development of the 121 project, it should be noted that the project will no longer be eligible to receive such funds unless TxDOT takes immediate action to comply with federal law.”

According to documents obtained by the McKinney Courier-Gazette, the FHWA claims the SH 121 procurement process implemented by Texas Senate Bill 792 violates federal laws that require a fair, open and competitive process, and prohibit bidding between public and private entities.

Back to work Senator, especially is she’s running for governor. There’s much more from the letter in the full story. This is idiotic stuff. If our elected representatives would just raise and index the gas tax and this would end.

Power Struggle In Williamson County?

Posted in Commissioners Court, Bad Government Republicans, Landfill, Williamson County at 11:24 am by wcnews

A few weeks back it became known that Williamson County Attorney Jana Duty had filed a brief with the Attorney General. Essentially Duty is asking the AG’s opinion on whether the commissioners court can hire “outside counsel” without the permission of the county attorney. Seems simple enough, but like most things in Williamson County government these days, nothing is simple. It also revolves around one of the most contentious issues facing the county right now, the negotiation of the new landfill contract.

It’s hard to tell what exactly caused this rift between our county’s elected officials but from today’s AAS article, Fight over power in Williamson County heats up, there may be some clues.

Read the rest of this entry »


TxDOT To Put The Squeeze On Road Construction Money Even More

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

TxDOT made public it’s latest scheme to force toll roads on Texans. It’s a plan to take almost $2 billion dollars out of road building money over the next 5 years. Via QR:

TxDOT assistant executive director Amadeo Saenz said at today’s meeting of the Texas Transportation Commission that the proposed shift of funds (about $1.8 billion) would be taken from mobility funds other than the Texas Mobility Fund, district discretionary money and some other strategic priorities. In addition, a portion of the money would come through reallocation of maintenance funds from districts with a high proportion of roads in good shape to districts with a lower proportion.

Saenz said transfers from the mobility funds to maintenance programs would lower what’s available for transportation projects four and five years ahead. The agency will ask districts to continue to develop needed projects but that many projects won’t be able to move forward.

Transportation Commission Chairman Ric Williamson said that he anticipated some severe financial and political repercussions as the transportation department starts identifying winners and losers in the process. “I don’t think it will be a fun time over the next few months,” he said.

That’s abhorrent and it’s no wonder most Texans don’t like Ric Williamson. There they go again, dividing Texans and making them fight each other over transportation money. As McBlogger said today, enough already and get on with the modest proposal!!

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