The Congestion Pricing Scam

Posted in Privatization, Road Issues, Around The State at 11:06 am by wcnews

(As you read this remember this is what some want to do to Mopac in Austin).

Off The Kuff has a post up on the continuing saga of toll congestion fees, aka “Lexus lanes”, in Harris County, More on tollway congestion pricing. In theory he he has no objection but…

the more I read about the “thinking” behind HCTRA’s recent botched attempt at it, the more I think that the powers that be here don’t have a clue about how to implement it.

Like so many scams, *cough* Amway *cough*, in theory they sound great but in reality…not so much. Via Sal’s link to the HChron article above, that was marked up by CorridorWatch, we learn about what’s really behind congestion pricing.

“Toll roads can’t compete without the presence of congestion and motorist inconvenience on the public highway system,” National Motorists Association president James Baxter wrote on the group’s Web site recently.

The group advocates against various regulatory measures on driving and opposes congestion pricing and toll roads in general.

“Are congestion problems going to be corrected if they threaten the income of the toll road?” Baxter wrote. “Not in our lifetimes!”

It’s a simple as that. Muck up the free roads and force drivers to the toll roads where they can be gouged.

“If you have a commute that should take 18 minutes, and it takes 48, think of the wear and tear on your car, and you may use up half a gallon of gasoline. It reaches a point where it becomes revenue-neutral,” [Harris County Precinct 3 Commissioner Steve Radack] said.

“You pay Exxon or you pay the toll.”

The National Motorists Association (NMA) also has this article up on it’s site on tolls and congestion fees, Toll Roads: The Slippery Slope. Here’s a nugget from that:

Anyone who has used the Illinois toll road system knows how badly a toll system can be operated. Traffic jams, toll booth collisions of epidemic proportions, and continual delays as motorists are forced to stop and deposit forty cents every few miles down the road. I marvel that Illinois motorists don’t demand this system be legislated out of existence. The Illinois tollway serves as a towering example of just how much abuse motorists will endure, without demanding rational change. But, like other toll roads, the more obvious shortcomings may not be the most important. State transportation agencies will universally deny this, but the evidence is there for everyone to see. Toll roads retard the development and increase the deterioration of the rest of the highway system. Upgrades and improvement to any highway viewed as “competing” with the toll road are postponed or ignored. Unnecessary congestion, underposted speed limits and arbitrary enforcement on alternative roads are silently condoned by transportation officials and elected officials. Think about it, toll roads can’t compete without the presence of congestion and motorist inconvenience on the existing highway system. Are these problems going to be effectively addressed if that hurts the income potential of the toll road? Not in our lifetimes!

The withering of non-tolled roads was what Sen. John Carona (R - Dallas) was so concerned about before session, with CDA’s, before he lost his will to turn back the tide on toll roads. The scam is to “voluntarily” force people to drive toll roads, by making the non-tolled options a unpalatable as possible. To maximize toll road receipts, or corporate profits, whichever the case. As always don’t forget that raising the gas tax by a couple of cents and indexing it to inflation can end all of this insanity. We just need some politicians with leadership ability to get it done.

Education News

Posted in The Environment, Public Schools, Education, Around The State, Williamson County at 10:12 am by wcnews

First the good news. This looks interesting, Texas education policy board will debut. The Texas Center for Education Policy is a group setup as a “clearing house” for education research by the widow of former state senator and Texas Supreme Court Justice Oscar Mauzy. (Emphasis added).

Angela Valenzuela, an education professor at the University of Texas at Austin, is the director for the Texas Center for Educational Policy based at the university. The center will connect education researchers to each other and provide data for decision makers, including Congress, the Texas Legislature, the State Board of Education and local school boards.

“This center will be a bridge between decision makers and people who are doing the research, filling a necessary gap,” Valenzuela said.

“You won’t have researchers (at the Texas Center for Educational Policy) who are hired to generate a particular result. But rather, you have scholars that dedicate their lives to certain research questions and under a peer review method that makes them accountable,” Valenzuela said.

The 15-member advisory board, which includes liberal Waco philanthropist Bernard Rappoport, former Democratic state Sen. Carlos Truan and former Democratic Lt. Gov. Ben Barnes, appears to skew left politically. Valenzuela explained she found it difficult to get any Republicans to serve, but the board won’t be involved in peer-reviewing research.

Board member John Guerra, president of the Texas Association for Mexican American Chambers of Commerce, said a week never passes without corporate leaders expressing anxieties to him about having a quality future work force.

“The Center for Education will have great influence in terms of assuring that we have a curriculum that meets the needs of business today and in the future,” he said.

That’s an important distinction to make that researchers will not be asked to fit the data around a predetermined outcome, like so many, ahem, think tanks do. That part about not being able to get any Republicans to serve is interesting.

Now for the no so good news. Apparently Leander ISD thought it was a good idea to build an elementary school in a former chemical company.

The site of a future elementary school that the Leander district plans to open inside a former chemical company facility is considered a “moderate to high potential hazard” by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

The commission, which confirmed the ranking Monday afternoon, began reviewing plans for Grandview Hills Elementary School after parents raised concerns about harmful chemicals, such as mercury and cancer-causing benzene, that have been found at the site. But the potential hazard appears to be unrelated to the fact that the site used to be home to the chemical company.

Why did they do it? To save money, of course. But that’s no longer the case apparently.

The district purchased the 40-acre site, which has six buildings, in September for $14.6 million. District officials said buying a site with existing buildings would be cheaper than building a school.

The school was scheduled to open in the fall but has been delayed, possibly to fall 2008, because mold was found in the main building where students would be.

The district is asking school board members for $3.7 million to remove the mold.

KUT has this audio report on it’s site. Good rule of thumb for the future, no schools on the sites of former chemical companies.

And last, the State Auditor is going to look into the contracting issues at the TEA, State auditor to probe TEA.

Amid all the confusion surrounding an internal investigation at the Texas Education Agency, the state auditor’s office has decided to take its own look at how the agency hands out lucrative contracts.

“Perhaps they can talk to all the parties involved and resolve all this,” said TEA spokeswoman Debbie Graves Ratcliffe. “Good luck.”

State auditor John Keel confirmed Tuesday that his office had opened an investigation but said that he could not comment further.

Although it will probably be weeks or months before the new investigation is concluded, it could help to settle the confusion that surrounds the internal investigation’s report – in particular one footnote that has implications for Robert Scott, TEA’s acting commissioner.

He was criticized last month when the TEA investigation found evidence he improperly intervened in a contract awarded to a friend of his named Emily Chick Miller.

Mr. Scott vigorously denied the charges, and he responded last week by saying he was the victim of a case of mistaken identity. He said investigators may have confused him with a different education official with the same name – an administrative employee who works in the Waco regional education office that handled the contract.

That second Mr. Scott now also denies he did the things the report alleges the first Mr. Scott did.

(Thankfully for clarity’s sake, the acting education commissioner goes by Robert Scott. The Waco-based official uses the name Rob Scott.)

Hopefully John Keel can tell us who is the real Mr. Scott. For background on this go here and here.

Go See Rick Noriega On Thursday

Posted in 2008 Primary, Democratic Events, Congress, Around The State at 12:13 am by wcnews

Rick Noriega will formally announce the creation of his Exploratory Committee on Thursday on the grounds of the Texas Capitol. Draft Rick Noriega has all the details.


News 8’s Coverage Of The Disaster At The WCRAS

Posted in Animal Shelter, Had Enough Yet?, Williamson County at 4:47 pm by wcnews

News 8’s Chelsea Hover is doing a great job covering this issue. Could there have been a cover-up of the problems at the animal shelter? It’s starting to look that way.

Here is her first report from Monday, Wilco animal shelter struggling with animals, staffing, to get you up to speed. But from today’s article we hear again of people being threatened and told not to “speak ill” of the animal shelter, Wilco animal shelter problems came with warning.

But many say they saw this coming.

It’s a regional shelter, meaning shelters in Round Rock, Hutto, Leander and Cedar Park closed their doors the day it opened.

“We were told once the animals were gone from here it was no longer the city’s problem. We were told not to speak ill of the project or we could potentially be terminated,” Stacey Sherva, former director of the Cedar Park Animal Control Shelter, said.

Sherva was the director of the Cedar Park Animal Control center for eight and a half years. She resigned the day she learned they would be forced to transfer their rescues to the regional shelter.

She and a group of other animal advocates went to their city leaders, pleading with them to reconsider.

“We tried to show them, with documents, that that facility was being built too small. We tried to convince them with the numbers that we had, and Round Rock had, and Leander had that 45 kennels on their first draft was going to be completely inadequate,” Sherva said.

“They did seek input from other entities, and were tyring to get that input to use the best available data that they had,” Williamson County public information officer Connie Watson said.

The county was told of problems before the shelter opened and they did nothing. Then they threatened the people that told them of the problems. That’s not good, but that is what Republicans do. If you’ll remember the first shelter director that she was told not to talk to anyone about the problems either. From Melanie Sobel’s letter:

I was then called by Commissioner Boatright to meet with him at his office where he advised me not to say anything negative about the project to the other city representatives on the committee.

That’s just how our unaccountable elected officials think democracy works in Williamson County. Then we’re told of the non-responsiveness, we’ve all become so accustomed to in Williamson County, by the unaccountable Republicans that run it.

Although many of the county commissioners have claimed to be animal-lovers, those who are dedicating their waking hours to fighting this cause on behalf of these animals, like Moses, said they find that hard to believe.

“I know I’ve written to them, others have written to them, gone to meetings. However, for them, it seems it always goes back to…the money,” Moses said.

News 8 obtained a copy of the shelter’s newly approved budget and it shows that only nine percent of total expenditures are for animal care and medication.

The most significant expenses are staff salaries and euthanasia services.

While the former Cedar Park shelter boasted a kill rate of just 8.9 percent of all animals, the regional facility reports a 34 percent kill rate of just adoptable animals. That means that animals deemed unadoptable are not factored in to that number.

Maybe if there was a check with those letters they would have gotten an answer. From this reporting the story is starting to change from willful ignorance to the possibility of a cover-up of a project that our county leaders know had gone bad and did nothing to correct. The only way to get their attention is to vote them out, let us begin.

TPJ Reminds Us That Craddick Has A Ton Of Cash

Posted in HD-52, Election 2008, 2008 Primary, Around The State at 1:48 pm by wcnews

Speaker Craddick’s Money Balked Instead of Talked. The subtitle asks, “Did he keep his powder dry when he needed it most?” He’s got $4 million plus, the question is how is he going to use it?

If Speaker Craddick is loaded, the question becomes how—or if—he will discharge this weapon. Will he open up on fellow Republicans? Will he leave the dirty work to loyal surrogates? Or will he abandon the struggle and safeguard his jackpot for some other end?


As he has done in the past, Craddick may be tempted to hold onto his campaign booty. He could enlist the lobby and his top donors to suppress his rivals. Yet the mutiny now facing Craddick is much more pervasive and threatening than what he confronted previously. So if he refuses to let his money talk this time, Craddick faces a greater risk of losing the Speaker’s gavel that he coveted for decades.

If Craddick cedes the podium, he could tap his war chest to complete his political career in style, enjoying the finest meals, wines and hotels. Finally, he could leave the House and have six years to distribute these funds to candidates, think tanks or even a charity run by his friends, family or Tom Craddick himself.

There are many of the usual suspects on the list, Bob Perry, James Leininger, Wal-Mart, telecom, lobbyists, etc.. The question is will he start a bloodbath in the Republican Party or, with even Rep. Warren Chisum, his buddy, thinking about running against him maybe he’ll just take the money and run? It’s hard to believe that Craddick would go quietly.

Texas U.S. Senate News

Posted in Election 2008, 2008 Primary, Around The Nation, Around The State at 9:24 am by wcnews

Our two Texas Senators are continuing to rubberstamp the Bush disaster in Iraq, Cornyn, Hutchison say troop surge needs more time to work.

Don’t expect Texas’ senators to join the growing Republican revolt against President Bush’s Iraq policies. Both remain committed to giving the troop surge more time, even as violence escalates.

“It ought to be based on conditions on the ground rather than an arbitrary timetable.” Sen. John Cornyn said Monday. “We need to give this a little bit of time to see if it can work, and I hope that it does.”

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison also has no intention of joining the anti-war chorus.

“Absolutely not,” said spokesman Matt Mackowiak. “She’s been against a date certain for withdrawal from the beginning. … We need to give the surge time to work. The full complement of 30,000 troops has only been there three weeks. We’re seeing good signs in al-Anbar province. There’s an offensive going on in Diyala province as we speak. We need to wait and see.”

There are several Republican Senators shooting their mouths off about the war and that Bush needs to change course. Most appear to be up for reelection. And there’s a big difference between shooting off their mouths and actually voting against the president. I would assume that Kay and John will do whatever the president tells them on this issue. If you want to stop the war we have to Stop Cornyn first. There’s no better way to Stop
Cornyn than to Draft Rick Noriega.

In other Senate news the blog JobsAnger has endorsed Rep. Rick Noriega for US Senate, Climbing On Board The Noriega Train.

It’s now starting to look like it’s coming down to a choice between Mikal Watts and Rick Noriega. Quite frankly, being a North Texan, I didn’t know much about either one and I’ve never been able to jump on the bandwagon of a candidate I don’t know anything about.


But slowly, my fellow left-wing bloggers began to help me see the light. Blogs that I really respect such as Boadicea, Dos Centavos, South Texas Chisme, Texas Liberal and McBlogger (among others) let it be known that they supported Noriega. This forced me to take a closer look at the man, and the more I found out, the more I began to like and respect him.

Couple this with the fact that the more I find out about Watts, the more I am scared of him. He seems to be the real DINO in the race. He’s already let it be known he doesn’t support a woman’s right to govern her own body. I suspect he probably wouldn’t help poor people very much either.


So today, I’m proudly getting aboard the Noriega for Senate train. It is my fervent hope that Rick Noriega can drive that train all the way to Washington, where I have no doubt that he’ll make an excellent senator.

Welcome aboard.


And Muse has a link to an article in The Hill about Noriega v. Watts, Watts puts primary marker down as Noriega enters Texas Senate race. The more ink this primary race gets the better. It only adds to Cornyn’s vulnerability. The more the MSM talks about his challengers the more name recognition they get.


Filching - More Republican Incompetence

Posted in Privatization, Had Enough Yet?, Road Issues, Around The State at 1:38 pm by wcnews

The only thing really left to discuss is whether Republicans really are this bad at governing or if it’s on purpose. Is it just their plan to make government look incompetent/bad so they can drown it in the bathtub. In the long run it really doesn’t matter because the result is the same.

Check out this article in by the SAEN’s Patrick Driscoll to see what I’m talking about, Highway shortfall is worsening. (Emphasis mine).

State lawmakers did plenty of bellyaching about toll roads in the spring legislative session, yet curiously were bent on hamstringing transportation funding more than ever.

House members torched an effort to index the gas tax to inflation. The tax has been frozen since 1991 and is now losing ground to construction costs in annual double digits.

They also eagerly offered motorists a summer gas-tax holiday, which would have cost the state up to $700 million, though Senate members quietly let that flash of generosity die.

Then, after the session, news trickled out that lawmakers filched another $243 million from the State Highway Fund to plug budget holes, despite bold talk about stemming such bleeding of the fund and a $14 billion state surplus to play with.

In all, a tenth of the highway fund, $1.6 billion, will be diverted from building and maintaining roads over the next two fiscal years, up 15 percent from this biennium. That doesn’t include a fourth of the gas-tax funds that go to schools.

Toll-road critics say the diverted money is just one way state leaders have created a self-fulfilling funding crisis, which is hyped to justify tolling.

All filching aside the last paragraph is pretty much what our transportation debate in this state has become. A state created crisis. Are the highways and byways of our state an boon to the economic development of the entire state, as the Governor and his pro-TTC minions are fond or saying, or aren’t they? If they are then then the cheapest, fairest, and easiest way to fund them is by raising and indexing the gas tax. (One-fourth goes to schools, it would seem that could go to lower property taxes). If they are we shouldn’t be just taxing - with tolls, and tolls are taxes - all the major metropolitan areas of the state. The whole state should participate in funding this economic development, if they’re going to reap the benefit. It seems the reason that the cheapest and fairest way to fund roads won’t be done for exactly that reason. If Republicans can’t kick-back “profit” to those that finance their campaigns then there isn’t any economic development, if you know what I mean.

Can’t leave Rep. Mike Krusee out of this discussion. In this article he insults his legislative brethren in that condescending, elitist tone that his constituents are so used to hearing:

But lawmakers in the thick of a labyrinth of transportation bills last session put it this way:

“The Legislature as a whole is just not a very sophisticated animal,” said House Transportation Committee Chairman Mike Krusee, R-Round Rock.

Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, chairman of the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee, agreed.

“There’s still a severe lack of understanding as to how critical the transportation shortfall in Texas has become,” he said.

Even Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, a hero of the toll moratorium bill, joined the House stampede to thwart indexing the gas tax to consumer inflation. The vote was 122-19 to stifle the measure, which Krusee had tried to tack on a bill.

The only reason Rep. Krusee even put that bill up is because he knew it had no chance of passing. Otherwise it never would have gotten through his committee. We can’t expect a political party that thinks government is the problem to use government to fix problems. All they want to do is outsource our infrastructure, health care, etc., to corporations and that usually causes more problems than it fixes.

Make no mistake the transportation disaster confronting our state is wholly owned by the Republicans. It will take a fundamental shift of the political landscape to change this. Without political leaders willing to do what needs to be done, raise and index the gas tax, this will not change.

Let Us Begin - The End Of Republican Dominance In Texas

Posted in Take Action, Election 2008, 2008 Primary, Had Enough Yet?, Around The State at 12:14 pm by wcnews

Over the weekend Opinion Journal had an interesting article on the state of Republicans in Texas, The Troubled Texas GOP. The main idea of the article is explained in the subtitle, Will Lone Star Republicans blow it on immigration like the California party did? Meaning, is the GOP in Texas headed back to the minority because of the angry, intolerant stance they are taking on immigration? The answer is like so many things yes, but.. With this intolerant stance on immigration and the “inevitability of demographics” it is definitely possible. BUT it takes is an opposition that is willing to take advantage of this opportunity. If Democrats take action to paint the Texas GOP into the corner they’ve already started moving into then it will happen. But if they wait for the inevitable to happen, “..depending on voters to reject the other party is a losing strategy”, then it won’t. Democrats must take the opportunity not just to highlight the ugliness of the Texas GOP’s stance on issue but must show the difference between that ugliness and the restoration of the American Dream.

Make no mistake this is an opportunity for Democrats and many are realizing it, as evidenced by the amount of interest there is at the opportunity to take out the vulnerable John Cornyn. There are many more vulnerable Republicans all around the state, in local races too, that only need good Democrats to run against them to send them home. EOW wrote about this last week - at least as it pertains to Williamson County - but it’s true for the entire state. (Everywhere you see Williamson County substitute Texas).

My gut tells me there are many Democrats in Williamson County Texas that have been voting Republican and working with the Republicans because that was the only game in town. Well, that’s changed and it’s time to come home. If that was the case, there’s no reason anymore to wait in line for someone to decide not to run again and continue to keep quiet and aid the other side. Your needed to run as a Democrat, run a campaign for a Democrat, fund raise for a Democrat, block walk for a Democrat, NOW. Opportunity is knocking with the Democratic Party in Williamson County Texas.

Many factors are moving in the Democrats favor, not the least of which is the Republicans inability to govern. But without an opposition party that will hold them accountable for their mistakes they will, more than likely, stay in power. If that happens then the Democrats have lost a huge opportunity to take this state back and will have no one to blame but themselves. So let us begin.


HChron on Rick Noriega

Posted in Election 2008, 2008 Primary, Around The State at 2:38 pm by wcnews

Here’s the article, Noriega moves closer to run for U.S. Senate.

Noriega has neither statewide name identification nor personal wealth to match Watts’ potential campaign. But that does not dissuade him from running.

“Mikal’s a friend of mine. I appreciate that he’s given financial support to candidates and the party, but Texans don’t judge candidates by the size of their wallet,” Noriega said.

Noriega plans to create his own exploratory committee for the Senate race this week.

Read the whole article and get to know Rick Noriega a little better. He’s the one we need to make John Cornyn a former Senator.


TEA v OIG Squabble Continues

Posted in Cronyism, Education, Around The State at 10:54 am by wcnews

This is squabble seems to be boiling down to whether or not a more open bidding system should be used with TEA contracting no matter how competent for the job those who received these no-bid contracts are. The TEA’s response to accusations of cronyism are this:

The “management response,” written by agency Deputy Commissioner Robert Scott and other senior staff members, claims that much of agency Inspector General Michael Donley’s report is inaccurate. The response also seeks to dispel the notion that some people received contracts because of personal ties, and it calls inaccurate Donley’s claim that some at the education agency systematically manipulated contracting procedures.

“The individuals in question all possess the necessary skills needed to complete the tasks they were contracted to do,” the response says.

As South Texas Chisme says that explanation is lacking:

Sounds like the ‘My nephew can tie his own shoes’ defense.

The TEA’s full response to the OIG report can be read here (.DOC) via QR. Yesterday’s issue with the name game aside there still were issues with contracting at the TEA.

Among other issues addressed:

•Donley’s report says that an Austin service center gave a contract to recommend ways to make students more prepared for college and that subcontracts for the project went to three people recommended by Wynn without an interviewing or selection process. One was Miller, Wynn’s ex-wife, and one was Scott’s former executive assistant.

The agency responded that the three subcontractors had “the necessary skill sets to complete the work.”

•A former employee of Jones’ retired from the agency in April 2006 but the next month received a subcontract from a service center to lend technical assistance on financial matters, Donley reported. The head of the service center said Jones, the education agency’s chief operating officer, told him to hire the former employee.

Donley also points out that agency employees are not allowed to return to work for a year after retiring.

The response from management points to an internal rule that allows the agency to contract with an entity that hires a retired employee.

•Donley’s report says that the head of the regional service center in Austin says Christi Martin, a former senior policy adviser at the education agency who now works for the Gates Foundation, directed the center to give a subcontract to a former speechwriter for Neeley. Donley’s report says the former speechwriter assisted an agency official in writing some of the terms of the contract before it was issued.

The agency response says Neeley recommended her former speechwriter, who is no longer working on the project.

•Donley’s report repeatedly notes that contracts were given to regional centers without bids, but agency staff responded that bids were not required by law.

The management response complains that Neeley released Donley’s report without a review by Scott or a written response from anybody implicated in it.

Donley said in an e-mail to top agency staff last week that Scott canceled meetings they set up to go over the report. Scott said Friday that he did not want to respond in private meetings.

“The way to respond to these things is in writing and above board,” Scott said.

First they complain they weren’t allowed to respond and when it comes out they declined to respond they say they wanted to wait for the report to com out to respond. Then what’s the problem?

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