The Moratorium Doesn’t Affect TTC-35

Posted in Privatization, Road Issues, Around The State at 11:02 pm by wcnews

So says TxDOT Chief Ric Williamson:

“The moratorium doesn’t affect TTC-35,” Williamson said. “I don’t know what else to say.”

State Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, got an assurance read into the House record for SB 792 last month that says no construction of TTC-35 projects, except for Loop 9 around Dallas-Fort Worth, would start over the next two years.

Gov. Rick Perry’s office told her that work couldn’t start within two years anyway because environmental studies won’t be finished.

But today, in a conference call Williamson and other officials held with reporters, Texas Department of Transportation Assistant Director Amadeo Saenz said otherwise.

A big-picture environmental study for TTC-35 could get federal clearance this summer and the first second-phase studies to determine specific alignments could be finished in a year or year and a half, Saenz said.

TxDOT announced two weeks ago that they’re ready to pursue 87 toll projects statewide, including three four-lane TTC-35 tollways — one from I-35 south of San Antonio to I-10 near Seguin, a segment from Austin to Dallas and another from Dallas to Oklahoma.

Williamson said today that a construction contract could be ready within two years for the toll-road from Austin to Dallas.

I hope that clears it up for anyone that still believed it did.

Update On Tomorrow’s Vote

Posted in Privatization, Road Issues, Around The State at 4:56 pm by wcnews

Ben Wear thinks it’s a done deal and the NTTA will get the job:

“Because of the inordinate amount of legislative attention (Texas 121) got, the notion of local planning becomes a dominant strategy in making the decision,” Williamson said today in a briefing with transportation reporters. “I don’t think any of us are immune to a powerful senator calling and saying this is what we should be doing.”

Williamson said because it’s a purchasing decision he couldn’t come out and give a position today, but you get the picture.

Williamson and another commissioner are just happy that this road, that otherwise wouldn’t have been built is being built. No matter the flawed T&R study and the tab the taxpayers will have to pick up someday. But Williamson also sticks it to legislators one more time:

“I’m not so sure that everyone who inserted himself in this process fully understood what he or she was doing at the time,” he said. Upon further reflection, he predicted, “an abundance of elected officials are going to wonder why they interfered in a contracting process that was well on its way to completion.”

And Lt. Gov. Dewhurst writes a letter, Dewhurst Goes Local.

Tomorrow’s TxDOT Vote On SH 121, NTTA Or Cintra

Posted in Privatization, Road Issues, Around The State at 11:33 am by wcnews

Tomorrow’s vote by TxDOT’s five commissioners on whether or not to give it’s blessing to the RTC’s recommendation for SH 121 - NTTA (local control) or Cintra (corporate control) - is getting more interesting by the day. Today’s MDN article on the upcoming vote, State may defy local leaders on 121 toll plan, is leaving the door wide open for TxDOT to go against the RTC and award the contract to Cintra.

The Texas Transportation Commission has made a habit of honoring local leaders’ decisions.


Commissioners have never overruled a decision by the regional council, but with so much money and politics at stake, Highway 121 could set a precedent.

“As far as saying, ‘Thank you all very much for your comments, and now we’re going to vote the other way,’ they haven’t done that in the past,” said RTC chairman Oscar Trevino. “But all we are is a recommending body. I can see them not agreeing with us.”

Ah yes, being precedent setters. That would be great. The RTC went through all this trouble. The legislature passed a “moratorium”, trying to send a message to the governor and TxDOT that it would be better to have local control of these decisions. Ric Williamson himself even says that local control is the way to go:

The commission’s chairman, Ric Williamson, declined to comment last week on the upcoming vote on Highway 121. But in late March, days after the RTC invited the tollway authority back into the bidding process for Highway 121, Mr. Williamson all but guaranteed that commissioners would defer to regional leaders.

“We want to administer the award of that construction contract according to the regional leadership,” he said. “We just believe that if you have a strategy that says empower local and regional government, that’s what that means and you stay out of it, other than making sure the law is followed and making sure good engineering practices are used. If you’re going to let go and let people assume a regional perspective, that’s what you have to do.”

But this one’s special because…

Other commissioners, however, have raised concerns that the volatile and unorthodox bidding process for Highway 121 may prompt Cintra to sue the state.

And Transportation Department officials have circulated letters suggesting that yanking the project from Cintra could cost the state federal funds. A state engineer even wrote a memo suggesting that the NTTA could go bankrupt if it’s awarded the project. James Bass, the department’s chief financial officer, has since called the memo “moot.”

The department’s two representatives on the regional council voted for Cintra’s proposal. And Mr. Bass said earlier this month that if commissioners ask for a staff recommendation on Thursday, the department’s review team will recommend Cintra.

How much weight the commission would give a staff assessment is unclear. While commissioners emphasize local control, they also have embraced private companies – Cintra, for example – as a key solution to the state’s transportation problems.

(The memo referenced above can be found here). So while TxDOT and Ric Williamson say they want local control they may act in a different manner because of a potential lawsuit and a “moot” memo. No big shocker, since he’s Rep. Mike Krusee’s super hero, who is all things to everyone and can do whatever he wants whenever he wants.

Mr. Williamson, 55, is one of the most influential men in Texas. He has the ear of the governor, with whom he speaks almost daily. He is the architect behind the state’s road plan for the next 25 years. He is smart, studious, self-made. And critics, who seem as endless as a West Texas highway, say he is arrogant and unswerving.

“He’s an amazing guy,” said House Transportation Committee chairman Mike Krusee, R-Round Rock.

Is he a Democrat; is he a Republican? Is he a strategist; is he extremely pragmatic? Is he Nitro or is he the nicest guy you’d ever want to meet? Is he rigid and unthinking or is he absolutely pliable to any situation that comes before him? Is he visionary or a policy wonk who knows every detail?

“He’s both. He’s all those things,” said Mr. Krusee, who oftentimes was Mr. Williamson’s sole defender in the House last session.

So there you have it citizens of North Texas. Your local leaders have covered themselves, it would seem, on this issue even if TxDOT goes against their recommendation and chooses Cintra. At this point if Cintra gets the contract - and today’s DMN article makes that seem very likely - the local officials can just blame it on the state and Mr. Everything to Everyone. If that happens the only thing that will have been achieved through this rebidding process, will be that local elected officials have gained some political cover on this corporate toll road project. That’s convenient.

This will be a precedent setting ruling regarding how the current commissioners will rule on local control of toll projects. Either TxDOT becomes a rubber stamp, basically, for local entities and their road plans or Mr. Everything to Everyone and his band of commissioners step up and say, “We still own the ball and nobody plays unless we say they can”. Mr. Everything to Everyone, as Rep. Krusse can attest, probably doesn’t want to be seen as being a rubber stamp for anything or anyone, much less a local entity. Tomorrow will be interesting and will tell us what the future holds for local control of road projects in Texas.


Harvey Kronberg’s Post Session Analysis - GOP/Speaker Edition

Posted in Commentary, Around The State, The Lege at 12:12 pm by wcnews

Tom Craddick won the battle but did he lose the war? HK, by the title of this commentary, Craddick still has 15 months left in power, seems to be saying that Craddick’s reign will end in January 2009. He makes the case that, like DeLay and redistricting, Craddick may have achieved his short-term goal but in the process may have gone too far and caused himself long-term problems.

But politics is a funny thing. Sometimes when you win, you lose. It’s just that you don’t know it right away.


Similarly, Craddick won the battle and held on to the speakership. But it is unclear how the story unfolds from here. The state Republican Party is said to be considering a break with long-time tradition by attacking anti-Craddick Republicans in the next primary. The big money guys and the handful of lobbyists that have done very well under Craddick are already rumored to be organizing the attack on anti-Craddick Republicans in the next election cycle.

I would never count Craddick out. He is tenacious and one of the most durable political figures I have ever seen in Texas politics.

But is this really the argument the Republican Party wants to have with itself and the public in the next election cycle? Is the 2008 primary and general election really going to be a referendum on him?

In the second piece, Speaker shouldn’t have absolute power, he goes after the pro-Craddick, wing-nut, Texas GOP base argument that it was just a bunch of left-leaning, Democratic friendly Republicans that went after poor Tom Craddick:

The silliest, but most repeated charge of all is the insurrection was lead by a handful of moderate and liberal Republicans. Yes, there were a few moderate Republicans involved. But it is disingenuous if not downright dishonest to refer to Republican leaders like Fred Hill, Robert Talton, Mike Krusee, Jim Keffer and Brian McCall as anything but conservative. My recollection is their voting records were nearly identical to Craddick’s before he was speaker.

It’s more like rats leaving a sinking ship and trying to carve out a space for themselves to run or, as in Krusee’s case, somehow try to save their own hide. Either way his wrap-up is great:

Frankly, Craddick is a footnote in the story. It’s what the House does when it adopts rules next session that will determine whether or not citizens can expect full and fair representation from their duly elected officials.

And that’s what it comes down to. At the beginning of next session, unlike the one that just finished, members of the house will have to step up, on the record, and vote against Tom Craddick if they want a different Speaker. If Craddick stays in power they will only have themselves to blame.

Nothing Like Republican Stewardship Of Government

Posted in Corruption, Had Enough Yet?, Around The State at 10:12 am by wcnews

AG urges changes to pension oversight:

At least 82 of 96 government-related pension funds examined by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott face unfunded liabilities that could exceed $23 billion, the state’s chief law-enforcement officer said Monday.

He also said that 17 of the government pension funds are considered “at risk,” and he recommended policy changes that he said could help protect beneficiaries and taxpayers.

“Caution flags are being raised. Our hope was that the improving market would improve the bottom line for pensions [and] while this has proved true for some funds, too many are still underwater,” Abbott said Monday during an address to the Texas Pension Review Board, a state agency charged with overseeing state, local and municipal pensions.

Lottery officials cooperating on kickback inquiry

Texas lottery officials said Monday that they are working with the Travis County district attorney’s office to determine whether there is any validity to an allegation that an employee may have accepted kickbacks for steering winners to a financial planning firm.

Kickbacks, cronies, and ruining state pensions. Anybody with a state pension should be paying very close attention to this. The only question is are they actually incompetent or are they doing this on purpose. Again I ask, how do we expect people that say government is the problem to actually use the government to solve problems?


My Thoughts On Vigil X

Posted in Criminal Justice, T. Don Hutto, Central Texas, Around The Nation, Around The State at 10:34 pm by wcnews

(Guest post by Jose Orta)

To everyone who came to Taylor:

As one of the local organizers, I am so grateful to all who came to the June 23rd vigil, despite the threat of rain… the event exceeded my expectations.

The Free the Children/World Refugee Day T. Don Hutto Vigil X had the largest attendance of all previous vigils combined. Estimates range from 400 (the Austin American Statesman) to 1,000 (Amnesty International). Others claim it may have been as high at 1,500. It was so hard to keep count as we had 3 large buses, a parking lot and the entire street of Welch filled with vehicles and masses of people.

Participants came from all across the State and Nation. I was in awe with the beautiful sight of a ’sea of humanity’ gathering PEACEFULLY to exercise their Constitutional right of Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Assembly. They truly represented the best that is America: Muslims, Christians, Jews and Atheists; Men, women and children; Blacks, Whites and Latinos; Progressives and Conservatives, all for one purpose - to bring attention to imprisonment of innocent children by our government.

There were so many speakers at Saturdays event it was hard to keep track…. Jay Castro, Antoniio Diaz, Rita Garza, Rosa Rosales and Jaime Martinez all got a chance to speak. We even had Elizabeth Kucinich, the wife of Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D - Ohio) and Presidential Candidate speak on the injustice being committed at T. Don Hutto. The most important speakers of the day were of course the individuals who were imprisoned at T. Don Hutto who can bear witness to what it is like in the prison and were able to recount their life behind the wires and bars.

It was a peaceful and powerful testament that if we come together as a people, we can overlook our differences and bring positive change. We must continue to spread the word about what is happening in Taylor. We must continue to challenge those that say that all’s well. And we must continue to confront those that see no wrong, hear no wrong and say absolutely nothing about imprisoning innocent children.

You can see for yourself:





I invite everyone to come to Taylor Tx. for Vigil XI on the 21st of July. Same time 11:00 to 4:00 PM. Same Place 1001 Welch Street, Taylor.

We mean to keep our word to the children, we won”t stop coming until we shut Hutto down and set the children free. Free the Children

Jose T. Orta

LULAC Council 4721 President, Taylor Texas

Dewhurst’s Money

Posted in Election 2008, Commentary, Around The State at 5:08 pm by wcnews

Clay Robison at the HChron has a piece up about how the real business of politics has started now that the ban on fund raising, that goes with a legislative session, has expired, It’s time for real political business. The one thing that this article brought to my attention that I had either forgotten or never know was this:

According to his most recent finance report filed in January, Dewhurst, a multimillionaire, had slightly less than $1 million in his political fund and more than $7 million in outstanding loans, most of which he lent to his campaign or guaranteed.

Despite an easy re-election race last fall against little-known Democratic and Libertarian opponents, Dewhurst borrowed more than $3 million, spent a similar amount on TV advertising and several hundred thousand dollars on slick mailouts to promote himself, apparently to generate enough electoral strength to discourage would-be gubernatorial opponents in 2010.

Dewhurst, in essence, has so much money that he could just blow $3 million plus on a reelection campaign, with no serious opponent, to do nothing more than boost him name ID for a gubernatorial election 4 years down the road. That sure seems like a huge waste of money.

Texas Toll Road News

Posted in Privatization, Road Issues, Around The State at 2:16 pm by wcnews

Texarkana is going to get a feasibility study from TxDOT regarding a possible toll road project, Study will determine feasibility of possible toll road in region.

Local Texas Department of Transportation officials say a feasibility study would be conducted before moving forward with the potential Texarkana-area toll road project. The Texas Transportation Commission recently gave its approval to 80 possible toll roads in Texas. And a corridor around one side of Texarkana was tapped as a candidate project.


Marcus Sandifer, TxDOT’s Atlanta District spokesman, said the loop around one side of Texarkana could get drivers, especially through-traffic, around Texarkana’s high traffic areas and back to rural areas. “The whole idea is to get the traffic out of the commercialized areas and neighborhoods where there’s the heavier traffic. The north part of the route was already determined by the Texas Department of Transportation, the Arkansas Department of Transportation and the Metropolitan Planning Organization, which is made up of both cities, counties and local governments,” Sandifer said.


Sandifer said part of what the feasibility study will consider is whether users would save enough time and avoid enough traffic to use this toll road section. He said what’s been approved by the Texas Transportation Commission so far is simply looking at a toll road and studying it. “If it’s not feasible, it’s not going to pay for itself,” he said.

I would recommend that all those who live near Texarkana to go read the Denver Post series on flawed T&R (Traffic and Revenue) studies and their consequences.

Also the Startlegram says TxDOT’s upcoming vote this week to ratify the RTC’s recommendation of the NTTA to build the SH 121 toll road in North Texas is a no-brainer, The choice is easy, actually.

It’s not the least bit hard to describe the choice that Texas Transportation Commission members will face Thursday at their meeting in Austin: (1) Agree with the overwhelming preference of this region’s elected officials and allow the North Texas Tollway Authority to build the Texas 121 toll road in Denton and Collin counties, or (2) award the lucrative project to the apparent favorite among state toll road devotees, the Spanish company Cintra.

From here, it’s an easy decision: Pick NTTA.

But there is reason to worry that in the boiling pot of Austin politics, the commission may see things differently. Because of its ongoing efforts to build sections of Gov. Rick Perry’s proposed Trans Texas Corridor, Cintra holds special status in state transportation circles.

This would be a no-brainer if the current corporate toll happy TxDOT commissioners weren’t the ones voting. It appears what TxDOT would be saying, if they went against the RTC and chose Cintra, is that if we don’t let corporations build our roads then corporations won’t want to build roads anymore in Texas. Worries that Cintra might not want to participate anymore in Texas road building, if that’s what they’re trying to say, would not be a bad thing. It only makes sense that not having to pay guranteed profits to corporations would make these roads cheaper, which is why the RTC chose NTTA.

*Not to worry both proposals, Cintra and the NTTA, are based on consultant studies, that more times than not, are wrong. So, no matter which one of these entities gets to build this road, when the drivers don’t show up it’s the taxpayers that will pay.

TTB Interviews WCDP Chair Richard Torres

Posted in Williamson County at 9:43 am by wcnews

Here’s the link and an excerpt:

What would you say are the primary issues concerning Williamson County?

There are several issues in Williamson County. The toll roads and Trans-Texas Corridor are big issues over here. The roads will impose on 55,000 acres of territory, and the issue of eminent domain is pressing. Another issue for our area, and all of Texas, is education. Education is an issue now and for the future. We are also concerned with voting issues which include the use of corrupt voting machines. This is a GOTV problem for the area as well.

Check it out.

Special Session Coming?

Posted in 80th Legislature, Around The State, The Lege at 9:40 am by wcnews

Kuff says no:

I don’t quite understand why anyone thinks Governor 39% will give lawmakers a second chance to pass legislation he’s already vetoed. I’m hard pressed to think of anything that’s less defining of Perry’s style than that. He may yet call a special (God, I hope not), but if he does, it’ll be on things he wants, like voter ID. Maybe if the Lege makes short work of his agenda in such a situation, he’d start lobbing them a few bones. But let’s keep in mind what the order of operations would be.

I agree with the point that 39% won’t call a special to give lawmakers second chances at items he vetoed.

But this Startelgram article, Perry lashes out at legislators, makes it look like Perry may be thinking about a special session for other reasons.

In a recent fundraising letter to supporters, Perry lashed out at his colleagues in the Texas House and Senate, saying they left loads of “unfinished business” when the legislative session ended last month.


In the letter, distributed by Texans for Rick Perry, the governor highlighted several accomplishments of the session, including a sweeping water bill, incentive funding for higher education and a constitutional amendment that will allow the state to issue $3 billion in bonds for cancer research if voters approve it in November.

Yet Perry expressed frustration at not seeing property tax appraisals reduced or passage of a tighter state spending cap. He also denounced various “gimmicks” that lawmakers used to pad the state budget which, he said, “left a bad taste in a lot of Texans’ mouths.”

Perry didn’t name names, but the biggest targets are apparently his fellow Republican leaders, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Tom Craddick.


Texas Democratic Party spokeswoman Amber Moon said the letter is Perry’s way of passing the buck.

“This is an attempt by Rick Perry to cover up his failed leadership of the last legislative session,” Moon said. She added that the letter highlights how fractures within the Republican Party have rendered the state’s leadership ineffective.

Loads of unfinished business, means there’s still much business to conduct. So look out. No matter what Perry says about which issues he would call a special session over, if he doesn’t mention Voter IDiocy then he’s flat-out lying. That will, no doubt, be front-and-center, and a sure to get a second chance. In the article Harvey Kronberg goes on to speculate that this could also be Perry trying to burnish his “conservative” credentials for his future political aspirations, which could include a 2010 run for governor.

Kronberg said that Republicans are expected to fare badly in 2008 but do better in 2012. With calls for fiscal discipline, Perry may be trying to appeal to conservatives within the state and around the country, he said. “I think he would be foolish to not have at least half an eye on 2012, and that would require remaining in the governor’s office for another term,” Kronberg said.

It’s hard to see how 39% could pull it out of the gutter at this point not to mention keep KBH from running again. There’s always her Senate seat.

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