As Republicans Play Games With Eminent Domain, Citizens Pay

Posted in 80th Legislature, Road Issues, Commentary, Around The State at 4:11 pm by wcnews

A bill that had been in the works for 2-plus years and was sailing through the legislature gets vetoed. How does this happen? The bill in question, HB 2006, was supposed to clear up any lingering issues of eminent domain left over from the US Supreme Court ruling of 2005, known as Kelo v. City of New London.

Well our great Texas leadership got hold of itg and the bill that was a “no-brainer” to protect Texas landowners wound up getting vetoed. The issue with Kelo was that that the land was being taken for the “public use” of creating more tax revenue, aka economic development. The premise being that if the land was developed, as opposed to leaving it as a residence, it would create more tax revenue for “public use”. Most state’s, Texas included, have been trying to pass their own laws to make sure this can’t happen in their state. This has become more and more important in Texas as Gov. Perry’s land-grab transportation schemes continue to move forward.

I don’t believe, at this time, that there was any sinister plot by the governor to keep this bill from becoming law. From media accounts it appears that Rep. Beverly Woolley, (R-Houston), with an assist from Sen. Glenn Hegar Jr., (R-Katy), added a last minute amendment that brought the veto to this bill:

Now some are questioning the motives of at least one key legislator: bill author Rep. Beverly Woolley, R-Houston, who could stand to personally benefit from the Hegar amendment if the bill becomes law.

Woolley owns a business, Houston Armature Works Inc. on Houston’s Harrisburg Boulevard, where Houston Metro is planning to construct a four-mile rapid transit extension. It’s “a huge project” expected to take three years to complete, said agency spokeswoman Sandra Salazar.

Access to businesses along Harrisburg Boulevard is sure to be an issue during construction and the Hegar amendment specifically addresses issues of access during road projects.

It would allow property owners to sue for “diminished access” to their property because of new roads or road construction. Current law requires property owners to show “material or substantial damages” before seeking compensation for it in the courts.

Woolley insists she carried the Hegar amendment not because she was philosophically wedded to it but because she feared she did not have sufficient time, in the last days of the session, to get a compromise in committee.

She vehemently denied she had her own interests in mind when she pushed through HB 2006. “This is a statewide bill that affects every property owner,” she said. Asked whether she could benefit from the Hegar amendment, she said: “Maybe, maybe not.”

Of course Rep. Mike Krusee being with the governor, opposing this bill, isn’t going to help the Perry’s position any.

Rep. Mike Krusee, R-Round Rock, who heads the House Transportation Committee, said he voted against an otherwise good bill because the amendment could have easily consumed half the state’s transportation budget. “It could have stopped most road building in Texas,” he said.

He said the repercussions would be enormous. Every time the state built a road median, every property owner along that road could sue because access to their land was “diminished,” Krusee said. Same for the installation of a traffic light or a new intersection or new-road construction.

The Texas Farm Bureau doesn’t like that this happened and rightfully so.

The property owners of Texas are dumbfounded that a governor from Paint Creek, Texas could veto the most important property rights legislation in more than a decade. When the Texas Farm Bureau Board of directors met with him earlier in the session, the governor agreed that eminent domain needed to be fixed.

My only caution to the Farm Bureau would be is that if the Hegar amendment isn’t added Perry would not have been able to make a political case to veto this bill, no matter what Rep. Krusee would have said.

Gov. Perry (veto statement on HB 2006) and Rep. Woolley (AAS Op-Ed) have each made their case for who’s to blame on this issue. Either way it’s a failure of leadership of those who control our state’s government and that includes Gov. Perry and Rep. Woolley. And the landowners of Texas are, again, left unprotected.

Trouble With The Lottery

Posted in Privatization, Commentary, Around The State at 11:57 am by wcnews

It’s hard to tell if the lottery is mismanaged and corrupt because the governor wants to sell it or if it’s just incompetence or greed.

Kickbacks alleged at lottery commission:

The Travis County district attorney’s office confirmed Tuesday that it has launched a criminal investigation after an allegation that someone affiliated with the Texas Lottery Commission may have solicited kickbacks from a financial planning firm that helped some Lotto Texas winners manage their money.

There goes that partisan Travis County DA again.

Sluggish sales force lottery to use general account for prizes:

Lottery players didn’t snap up enough Texas Two Step tickets to pay for the prizes won in Monday night’s drawing, forcing state officials to dip into another account to reward the winners.

There’s no guarantee that the governor’s proposed privatization scheme would have fixed this. The difference would be that the DA would be investigating the corporation that did the best job of lobbying the governor to get the contract instead of cronies appointed by the governor.

Republicans/”Conservatives” Still Lying To Themselves About Taxes

Posted in The Budget, Commentary, Around The State at 11:26 am by wcnews

The reason this is brought up is because of a wire article in the HCrhon today and a comment made about Democrats at the bottom of the article. The headline is what was attention grabbing at first, Democrats battle for party’s left wing. It’s nothing special just the normal blather about how if Democrats are for “broad health care reform” and for bringing the troops home, as are a vast majorities of Americans, then they’re playing to the left wing of the party.

But a comment about how these issues are essentially a fight about who will raise taxes higher, Democrat A or Democrat B, made me laugh. Immediately memories of the 2003 budget fight in Texas came to mind. When our newly GOP dominated state government didn’t raise taxes but, instead, raised every damn fee in the state, or so it seemed, to make up for the budget shortfall. They also deregulated college tuition, and cut CHIP funding. What it did was raise the tax burden enormously on the poor, especially, and the middle class too. Now even the right-wing TPPF is taking Republicans to task for keeping an obsolete tax on the books - thanks to FeetToTheFire for the link.

The budget shortfalls, of course, were brought about by most state’s tax cut fever in the 1990’s and “no tax pledges” which caused fiscal problems once the economy took a downturn. The Republicans having to make up that money decided instead for huge fee increases and not tax increases. That allowed them to say that they hadn’t raised taxes and it also allowed them the ability to fool most Republican voters into believing that their taxes weren’t raised. It’s fine if Republicans and “conservatives” want to keep believing that lowering taxes on the rich and jacking up user fees for everyone really is a tax cut, just don’t expect anyone else to keep believing it.


T. Don Hutto, Vigil X, This Saturday

Posted in Criminal Justice, T. Don Hutto, Around The Nation, Around The State, Williamson County at 10:24 am by wcnews

What: Hutto Vigil X, sponsored by Amnesty International, Free the Children Coalition
When: Saturday, June 23 all day, with the official speakers from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.
Where: Hutto “Residential” Facility, 1001 Welch Rd, Taylor, TX, 76574
How to get involved: Visit http://groups.yahoo.com/group/CAFHTA/

*Be sure to bring a hat, sunscreen and plenty of water*

The continued shameful act of detaining mother’s and children, that the Williamson County Commissioner’s Court has ratified for the low, low price of $1/inmate/day, is drawing international scorn and ridicule. This Saturday Vigil X will be held at the T. Don Hutto family lock up in conjunction with International Refugee Day. Amnesty International, Children and Families for Humane Treatment Alliance (CATHTA) along with many other cosponsors are involved:

Amnesty International and League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), with the coalitions Texans United for Families, Free the Children, and Children and Families for Humane Treatment Alliance. Individual organizations include American Civil Liberties Union of Texas (ACLU), American Friends Service Committee, Brown Berets of San Antonio, Cesar E. Chavez March for Justice, Council of American Islamic Relations, Free the Children, Freedom and Justice Foundation, Fuerza Unida, Grassroots Leadership Texas, Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, MADRES, Muslim Legal Fund of America, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), People Organizing in Defense of the Earth and Her Resources (PODER), Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Southwest Workers Union, Texas Civil Rights Project, Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, Texas Indigenous Council,Workers Defense Project/Proyecto Defensa Laboral

This is a vigil to get the T. Don Hutto family lock-up closed, and for a more humane, sane less expensive and less repressive treatment of those seeking asylum in our country. Where threats to children are common place and now the sexual misconduct of guards has become an issue. Come out and help show your support for more humane treatment of these people. Full press release below the fold.

Read the rest of this entry »

NTTA Gets Vote Of Confidence From The RTC

Posted in Privatization, Road Issues, Around The State at 9:28 am by wcnews

The Regional Transportation Council in North Texas has given their blessing to the North Texas Tollway Authority (NTTA) to build SH 121. The first thing that needs to be pointed out is this isn’t a done deal yet. A vote of confidence for the NTTA was all this was, NTTA gets OK for 121 toll project.

The 27-10 vote Monday by the Regional Transportation Council sets the stage for a showdown in Austin at the Texas Transportation Commission, which is expected to make a final decision June 28. While the commission has previously said it will place great emphasis on the council’s vote, it is not bound to do so, TxDOT spokesman Randall Dillard said.

In other words, thanks for the advice, we’ll take it into consideration. But there is another issue in yesterday’s announcement that is not being challenged.

Critics say turning down the offer from Spain-based Cintra and its U.S. partner, JPMorgan Asset Management, will likely scare away other private investors. They say it’s unfair that the tollway authority was allowed to bid after Cintra’s proposal became public.

They also fear that the tollway authority could raise tolls to make up for cost overruns or traffic shortages on the Texas 121 project — whereas Cintra would have had to eat losses.

“We’re not here to gamble,” Denton County Commissioner Cynthia White said.

Corporations don’t just “eat losses” and stay in business, somehow the taxpayer will wind up paying for this if the traffic and revenue (T&R) study was inflated. There have been many issues around the country with the T&R studies, and if this one is correct it would the the exception, not the rule. If the T&R study is bad it matters little, if at all, who won this bid. When the drivers don’t appear then the tolls will rise. It will definitely be interesting to see on the 28th if TxDOT really understands the message from this just passed legislative session:

“The message we got was toll roads are OK, but we don’t want privately owned roads.”
-Ric Williamson, chairman of the Texas Transportation Commission, which approved the projects.


Speak up. Urge Rick to run!

Posted in 2008 Primary, Commentary, Around The State at 11:42 am by dembones

With 260 days remaining until Texas’ March 4 primary, now is the time for Democrats to assert themselves into the political process by coming together behind candidates who will capture their imaginations and spark their hopes. There’s time for a widely popular citizen called into service to marshall the resources available to mount a campaign to take back for the people an office that has for too long been held by Republicans beholden to their corporate paymasters.

Working Texans have been terrorized by politicians who have dismantled our state’s infrastructure; ruined the sick financially; allowed our eldest to die in summer heat because they cannot afford the highest electric rates in the nation; denied our children access to childcare, medicine, education; allowed tuition at state-funded colleges and universities to skyrocket while cutting back on grants and directing those who borrow money for tuition to banks with the highest interest rates.

Republicans have us fearing and walling off our brothers and sisters from Mexico whille casting a blind eye to employers who undercut minimum wages and create the demand that draws them to immigrate here illegally. Republicans have no plan to address the underlying reason for illegal immigration: abject poverty and hopeless despair caused by trade deals that benefit the wealthy and exploit everyone else.

In Texas, under Republican leadership, one in five children are poor. Two out of five children drop out of high school. In Texas on the Brink, Texas Senator Eliot Shapleigh reports:

In the early 2000s, the income gap between the richest 20
percent of families and the poorest 20 percent was 2nd
largest in the nation. The income gap between the richest 20
percent of families and the middle 20 percent was 1st in the

In the past 45 years, Texas has been represented in the United States Senate by four Republicans and three Democrats. The Democrats are Ralph Yarborough (served 1957-1971), Lloyd Bentsen (served 1971-1993) and Bob Krueger (served 1993).

The Republicans are John Tower (served 1961-1985), Phil Gramm (served 1985-2002), Kay Bailey Hutchinson (since 1993) and John Cornyn (since 2002).

The Republican electoral strategy in Texas is geared toward busting unions and disenfranchisement of voters who work for a living. The state ranks 44th in the percentage of eligible voters that vote. Without an organized opposition championing for the working class, voters are more easily swayed by 30-second attack ads. Republicans own the airwaves, spending many times their opponents on television commercials.

The result is that Republicans own the vote from the top one-fifth and earn it in the second one-fifth by promising a chance to get into the top fifth. Little surprise it is, then, that fewer than two in five voted to re-elect Republican Governor Rick Perry (39%).

Meanwhile, the disenfranchised 61 percent who do not support Rick Perry are left without hope in a sea of debt and fear of getting sick and missing work.

Friends, you haven’t lost your political power, you just haven’t been using it! This government and its corporate lobbyists with their hands on every lever of power have fooled you into thinking your vote doesn’t count. They have brainwashed you into thinking they are going to protect you from the threat of the moment, when all they care about is retaining power and living in opulence.

One of the enablers in the Republican war on working class families is Senator John Cornyn. Replacing Cornyn with a true representative of the people will go a long way toward restoring our faith in the system. The path will be difficult, but nothing compared to the misery many have endured under this regime. It will take a great deal of money, but the 2006 election proved that substatial sums of money can be raised for progressive people-powered candidates nationwide.

The support from the grassroots must be there for that national help to materialize. This is why Texans must select a candidate who can inspire us and restore hope. This is why we must encourage Texas Representative Rick Noriega to enter the race for the Democratic nomination.

Noriega has literally fought for our freedom and exercised it in the Texas House of Representatives for the benefit of working families. Others have written at length about Noriega’s qualifications. The most important thing you need to know is that Rick Noriega has served this nation and this state with honor. We hope in the days to come you will learn more about him and agree that he has the strength of character and leadership to spark hope in the hearts of long-suffering Texas’ working-class voters.

Craddick’s Money Is Not Going Anywhere, At Least Not Yet

Posted in Election 2008, 2008 Primary, Around The State at 10:16 am by wcnews

From the HChron, Fundraising begins for turbulent Texas House:

Two of the state’s biggest megadonors, Houston homebuilder Bob Perry and San Antonio businessman Jim Leininger, are likely to play key roles in the GOP primaries.

Craddick has supported the issues of Leininger, a school voucher proponent, and Perry, who favors limits on lawsuits against businesses. Perry will continue to support Craddick because of his record on tort reform, said his spokesman.

“Without Craddick, their agenda doesn’t look as good,” Chisum said. “I don’t think they’ll abandon Craddick by any means. In fact, they may just double their effort.”

That pretty much says it all as far as who still supports Craddick and why.


The “New Way Forward” On Tolls

Posted in Privatization, 80th Legislature, Road Issues at 11:14 am by wcnews

“The message we got was toll roads are OK, but we don’t want privately owned roads.”
-Ric Williamson, chairman of the Texas Transportation Commission, which approved the projects.

It’s obvious from that statement that TxDOT/Gov. Perry’s plan to toll every new road will continue. With yesterday’s TxDOT approval of tolling more than 80 new road projects in Texas we have not come face-to-face with how SB 792 has been interpreted by the pro-corporate tollers.

The reason every road must be tolled is because TxDOT has no money, at this time, to build roads any other way. The reason they have no money is because the legislature has not raised the gas tax since 1992, that’s 15 years. It’s no coincidence, by the way, that the last time it was raised, was the last time Texas had a Democratic governor.

(Please click on “Read the rest of this entry” for much more on this topic and to find out what the new catch-phrase in tolling is).

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Texas Monthly Releases ” The Best and Worst Legislators of 2007″

Posted in 80th Legislature, Commentary, Around The State at 5:07 pm by wcnews

FWIW, here’s the lists [link]:


Rafael Anchia, Democrat, Dallas
Sen. John Carona, Republican, Dallas
Byron Cook, Republican, Corsicana
Sen. Bob Deuell, Republican, Mesquite
Scott Hochberg, Democrat, Houston
Lois Kolkhorst, Republican, Brenham
Jerry Madden, Republican, Plano
Sen. Steve Ogden, Republican, Bryan
Sylvester Turner, Democrat, Houston
Sen. Tommy Williams, Republican, The Woodlands


Lon Burnam, Democrat, Fort Worth
Warren Chisum, Republican, Pampa
Speaker Tom Craddick, Republican, Midland
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, Republican
Sen. Troy Fraser, Republican, Marble Falls
Charlie Howard, Republican, Sugar Land
Sen. Eddie Lucio, Democrat, Brownsville
Sen. Dan Patrick, Republican, Houston
Gov. Rick Perry, Republican
Debbie Riddle, Republican, Houston


Rob Eissler Republican, The Woodlands
Senator Kevin Eltife Republican, Tyler
Dan Gattis Republican, Georgetown
Fred Hill Republican, Richardson
Senator Juan Hinojosa Democrat, McAllen
?The Insurgency? Jim Dunnam, Robert Talton, et al.
John Smithee Republican, Amarillo
Burt Solomons Republican, Carrollton
Mark Strama Democrat, Austin
Senfronia Thompson Democrat, Houston
Senator John Whitmire Democrat, Houston


Kino Flores Democrat, Mission
Pat Haggerty Republican, El Paso
Linda Harper-Brown Republican, Irving
Sid Miller Republican, Stephenville
Mike O?Day Republican, Pearland
Chente Quintanilla Democrat, El Paso
Bill Zedler Republican, Arlington


Senator Kirk Watson Democrat, Austin

The former Austin mayor (and once and future statewide candidate) instantly earned respect for his intellect and diplomacy-and for knowing enough to let his elders take credit for his accomplishments.


The concept of “furniture” originated in the early years of the Legislature to describe members who were no more consequential than their desks, chairs, inkwells, and spittoons?the equivalent of backbenchers in Parliament. Today the term is only mildly pejorative; the sin lies not in being furniture but in failing to recognize it. Here is the furniture for the eightieth session:

Alma Allen Democrat, Houston
Roberto Alonzo Democrat, Dallas
Wayne Christian Republican, Center
Senator Craig Estes Republican, Wichita Falls
Joe Farias Democrat, San Antonio
Jim Jackson Republican, Carrollton
Senator Mike Jackson Republican, League City
Nathan Macias Republican, Bulverde
Armando Martinez Democrat, Weslaco

The whole article is available until tomorrow some time, I get it before Noon, and can be read here. If you paid attention during session you already know most of it.

TxDOT Initiates New Process

Posted in Road Issues, Around The State at 1:02 pm by wcnews

Here’s the press release, State Works to Accelerate Transportation Projects, thanks to deh for the tip:

AUSTIN - Moving quickly to implement recent transportation legislation, state transportation officials today initiated a new process to work with local officials – including local toll road authorities – to accelerate projects to reduce congestion and improve safety.

“The Legislature has given us clear direction to solve transportation problems by working with local officials,” said Ric Williamson, chair of the Texas Transportation Commission. “That is exactly what we are doing.”

At a special meeting in Austin, the commission authorized the Texas Department of Transportation to work with local toll entities such as regional tollway authorities, regional mobility authorities and counties to begin moving forward on 87 projects that are currently years away from being fully funded. View map of project locations.

“These are projects that local officials have said are needed to reduce congestion but are waiting in line for funding. We want to help our local partners build the projects as quickly and efficiently as possible,” Williamson said.

To accelerate improvements, the projects are being proposed by TxDOT for development, construction and operation as toll projects.

New legislation signed this week by Governor Perry, Senate Bill 792, gives local toll entities the first option to develop, construct and operate toll projects in their jurisdiction.

Before initiating a toll project on the state highway system, SB 792 requires the local toll authority and TxDOT to agree on terms and conditions for the project, including the initial toll rate and the methodology for changing the rate. The law also requires a market valuation of the project be developed to determine what the project is worth.

“It’s important to understand that in the absence of substantial new revenue, we will soon have no choice other than to shift tax resources from congestion relief to maintenance of the system, especially in major metropolitan areas and along the state’s busiest corridors,” said Williamson. “Evaluating the tolling potential of these projects will help us better understand the choices we all face.”

There are some TTC-35 projects on the list of 87 projects. Clearly this has not changed the” tolling fever” at TxDOT. They obviously see tolls as their only option for building highways in Texas. Now they will try doing it with local authorities first, instead of corporations. That’s better but, again, without leadership on this issue, and public outcry to raise the gas tax, toll roads will be built everywhere. If that isn’t what you want it’s up to you to start communicating to your elected officials that they won’t be punished politically for raising the gas tax.

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