Carona, Krusee, Williamson Have “Love Fest” At Annual Meeting Of Corporate Think Tank

Posted in Privatization, HD-52, Road Issues, Commentary, Around The State, The Lege at 2:37 pm by wcnews

The “so-called” Texas Taxpayers and Research Association (TTARA) - see board members here - hosted a discussion regarding “How to Fund Texas’ Growing Transportation Demands”. The discussion included the Texas trasnportation “brain trust” of Sen. John Carona (R-Dallas), Rep. Mike Krusee (R-Irrelevant), and Ric Williamson head of TxDOT, attempting to tell corporations and the media what they think is needed to fund our roads. Here was a summation of what they perceive the problem to be, as taken from this report on the discussion.

Moderator Bill Allaway of TTARA summed up their point of agreement, saying that all three men believed that the root of the current transportation funding dilemma stems from the state’s unwillingness to properly price the cost of transportation.

If that means the legislature and governor have been defunding or transportation infrastructure in Texas for the last 15 years then they’re right. That of course is not what it means. What that does mean is (1) It isn’t our fault and (2) We still don’t’ get what the problem is. Here’s a great quote from Sen. Carona about how friendly he and his former foe, Williamson, are becoming.

Williamson made the remarks during a roundtable discussion this morning on transportation with Carona and House Transportation Committee Chairman Mike Krusee (R-Round Rock) at the annual meeting of the Texas Taxpayers and Research Association. And with Carona warmly accepting Williamson’s commitment to work on gas tax reform as a roads funding solution, it certainly appeared that the two men have decided to take a step back from their often fractious dialogue on public-private toll road partnerships.

Indeed, this morning’s talk on the future of transportation funding in Texas found the men sharing much more common ground than bones of contention, leading Carona at one point to describe the talk as “a love fest.”

Well he may have said he’ll work on “gas tax reform” but what Williamson is quoted as saying in the report betrays that newfound “love”. (It’s also important to note that Williamson uses the term “reform” when speaking of the gas tax. That’s a long time GOP framing trick. People are more receptive to the word reform. But how are we talking about “reforming” the gas tax? It’s a tax increase and Williamson will soon go on to describe how the public is paralyzed on the funding choices and he can’t even say “gas tax increase”. Talk about paralyzed). Now back the the “love fest”. Love is a two-way street Senator, and though Williamson might be giving the right signals, wink wink, his words betray him. Here’s Williamson’s sales pitch on the gas tax . (EOW’s comments in italics).

Williamson quantified the problem in a number of ways. He first said that the gas tax has not come close to keeping up with the costs of building and maintaining roads. (True, that’s because it hasn’t been since 1992). If the motor fuels tax had been indexed to keep up with inflation as well as the growing demand for highways, it would be at 96 cents per gallon today. (This is a strawman argument, because it hasn’t been indexed. Not to mention where’s the data on that, indexed beginning when?) The combined state and federal gas taxes are currently at 38.4 cents per gallon.

He added that the taxes collected for the state’s transportation system currently pay for about a third of the system’s costs of construction and maintenance. “Not one strip of road in Texas pays for itself,” he said. Meanwhile, if one looks at the cost per gallon that commuters are paying to use the public toll road systems in Dallas and Houston, it comes out to between $1.25 and $1.50 a gallon. (OK, I guess, but again, where’s the documentation? Also go here to find out the real difference between tolls and price per gallon.)

Williamson said the gap between funding sources and future needs has grown so great that the public is paralyzed by the choices it faces. (See above. The public is not. The public is willing to be lead on this issue. Elected officials are paralyzed with fear because they don’t want to raise taxes, no matter how much it’s needed). “We’re not prepared to talk about 95 cents per gallon (in gas taxes) or going to all toll roads or a consumption driven model to pay for roads,” he said. (We don’t have to be. All that needs to be done, according the the Governor’s Business Council report from last year, is raise the gas tax by 8 cents and index it to inflation and it will pay for all the roads we need in the future. No tolls needed.)

Making disingenuous comments, while they are what we’ve all become accustomed to with him, wouldn’t seem to be the best way to start selling the public on a gas tax increase. That shouldn’t make Sen. Carona or Rep. Krusee feel at ease with Williamson, this is just more of the same from him. As far as Carona and Krusee are concerned, well, they’re jobs are on the line and they’ll say anything right now to make voters believe they’ve had a change of heart on this issue. EOW isn’t buying it. This statement from Krusee is disingenuous as well:

Krusee, though, pointed out that his amendment last session to index the gas tax went down in flames. The problem is that the public just doesn’t want to pay for roads, he said. They shot down reform of the gas tax as well as public-private toll partnerships. That leaves bonding as the only way to finance roads, but that method also has problems as it pushes the costs to future generations, he said.

The public did not shoot down a gas tax increase or PPP’s. The legislature did. And we all know how Krusee put his political career on the line to fight for a gas tax increase and against PPP’s last session. Yeah, right. The only reason Krusee filed a gas tax increase last session was so he could say what he’s saying now, nobody wanted it. Well we aren’t buying that either. Just because a majority in the legislature was afraid to raise the gas tax doesn’t mean the people were against it. Carona takes a stab at the end regarding what it will really take to fix the problem.

Carona said that he agreed with the over the horizon ideas presented by his counterparts but that to convince lawmakers to change course on transportation should be done in baby steps – and on a biennial basis. He added that the Big Three – Perry, Dewhurst and Craddick– must push transportation funding in a more prominent manner. Big changes in public policy only happen when the state’s leadership support them, Carona said. “It’s important for them to make public statements on this,” he said. “We need their help.”

Almost, the current big three won’t change the current policy. Therefore what’s needed is a new “Big Three”, as well as new chairs for both transportation committees in the legislature. With new leadership, will come new policies, and then and only then will things begin to change.

Missed Over The Weekend

Posted in Commentary, Around The Nation, Around The State at 10:55 am by wcnews

KBH on blogs:

The intemperate nature of blogs, and the lack of accountability, have had an overall toxic influence on our elections. These blogs are cynical and mean — on all sides. I don’t think that’s good. Even if you disagree with the mainstream media, there’s a sense of integrity and honesty and standards. There are journalistic standards, which blogs don’t have.

Why do the politicians keep encouraging us? More than likely this a pre-emptive attack by KBH in preparation for her future campaign for governor. This way when “the blogs” start holding her accountable in the future she can just say, “I told you so”, go on Fox “Noise”, aka “Fixed News”, and give us the “fair and balanced” facts we deserve that will be full of “..integrity and honesty and standards”. Sorry Senator, your words just go to shine a light on the hole that blogs have been filling in holding elected officials, of both parties, accountable.

The GOP Has A Huge SCHIP Problem And Bush Doesn’t Care

Posted in Health Care, Bad Government Republicans, Congress, Commentary, Around The Nation, Around The State at 10:18 am by wcnews

From the NYT, G.O.P. Lawmakers Voice Their Unease.

Members of the White House communications team invited their Capitol Hill counterparts down to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue the other day to see how Republican morale was holding up in Congress. The answer: Not so well.

Alright, very good. The White House asks how things are going on SCHIP, we say bad, and the White House will give us a plan to fight back. Right?

At the White House, administration officials urged Congressional Republicans to try to remain positive and ride out the current turmoil. Ed Gillespie, a senior adviser to Mr. Bush, told the visitors, according to multiple accounts, that had Republicans sided with Democrats on the health program, they would have opened themselves to withering criticism from conservatives and been in a worse position than they are now.

But that was small solace to Congressional Republicans who worry that the White House does not fully appreciate their political difficulties and that Mr. Bush, who will not be on the ballot next year, has put them in harm’s way with his opposition to the children’s health care bill. Many Republicans say the White House should have been more aggressive early on in getting behind a counterproposal.

It’s a plan, but the GOP is not too excited about it. These two paragraphs show the world the White House is living in. Mr. Gillespie knows very well that many Republicans did side with the Democrats on SCHIP. But Bush’s White House and the wing-nuts in the House and Senate have cut their party loose on this issue. As well as failing to recognize the seriousness of this issue to many Republicans, especially regarding their races for reelection.

Most GOP members of Congress, that aren’t retiring, and are staring a serious fight to hold they’re seat, can’t find much solace or hope from the message the White House is sending. Holding that 20-30 percent of “wing nuts” in their district won’t do muchto keep them in Congress. It’s possible the 2008 election will cause enough Republicans to lose their seats that Democrats will get huge majorities in both Houses and win the White House. That would be a fitting Bush Legacy.

With a lame duck president it’s a wonder that the GOP is still hanging with this guy. Bush and his White House have never really worked well with Congress, no matter the party. It’s always been a “my-way-or-the-highway” relationship. I’m surprised that the Republican members of Congress are still willing to follow this White House and allow them to hasten their own demise.

Texas Blog Round Up (October 15, 2007)

Posted in Commentary, Around The State at 9:01 am by wcnews

It’s Monday, and that means it is time again for the Texas Progressive Alliance Blog Round Up. This week’s round-up is compiled by Vince from Capitol Annex.

Barney Frank responds to GLBT activists: “Now, this is the issue: Does a political party say to its most militant, committed, ideologically driven believers in purity that they have a veto over what the party does?” Evan at The Caucus Blog responds.

BossKitty at Bluebloggin asks why are so many Texans still illiterate?

The Texas Cloverleaf endorses Karen Guerra for 16th District Court Judge in Denton County.

Burnt Orange Report highlights the hard work being done across the nation. A broad coalition has launched a campaign to override President Bush’s SCHIP veto and Kay Granger is public enemy number 1 in Texas. Ads, analysis, polls, and outrage… BOR has it all.

North Texas Liberal asks, “Could Congress override Bush’s veto?” Speaker Pelosi and Sen. Kennedy seem to think that SCHIP is worth fighting for. So do we.

Vince from Capitol Annex notes that Kay Granger should have known better when it comes to her recent “no” vote on the reauthorization and expansion of SCHIP.

Gary at Easter Lemming Liberal News cannot stop writing about conservative bloggers repeatedly attacking a family who were in a terrible automobile accident and received government health care and liked it. Maybe next time your kids are in the hospitable you’ll be attacked by right-wing idiots and more slime in the right-wing noise machine.

McBlogger has a story up about a State Representative you should know.

A supervisor for CPS Energy in San Antonio has a hangman’s noose displayed in his cubicle. PDiddie at Brains and Eggs posts the details, including a photo.

Muse notes that Kay Bailey Hutchinson is trying out harder helmet hair styles so that the words of mean bloggers will bounce right off her in her imaginary (or not) run for governor in 2010.

Warning from TXsharon: Calibrate your outrage meter before visiting Bluedaze to read how Bush policies have weakened the Clean Water Act so Texas water is no longer fit for drinking, swimming or fishing.

CouldBeTrue from South Texas Chisme notes that Presidential Candidate Tom Tancredo wants to build that d*mn fence north of Brownsville. Either you’re with the fence or he’ll move the boundaries so your town’s part of Mexico.

Unsurprised at Al Gore’s Nobel Peace Prize, nor at his acceptance speech, Hal at Half Empty surprises everyone with the Moonwalking Mannequin Bird.

Rattlebrain Randy prefers a little bit of disaster - sure it may hurt his constituents, but it helps his friends in the insurance industry, notes Blue 19th.
At Texas Kaos, diarist persiancowboy invites members of the general public to sign on to the complaint against rogue Judge Sharon Keller for her callous use of judicial power.

Off the Kuff reports that State Rep. Garnet Coleman is urging AG Greg Abbott to sue to block a recent Center for Medicaid and State Operations directive that will result in the loss of CHIP coverage for thousands of children.

Stop Cornyn is fuming about Cornyn’s vote against children. After voting against Texas children twice, now Junior John wants a watered down version to save face. It is time to fully fund children’s health insurance.


Sanke Oil & Slime Is All The GOP Has Left

Posted in Bad Government Republicans, Commentary, Around The Nation at 11:07 am by wcnews

David Sirota’s latest column details the “conservative” tax cut snake oil i no longer selling, Confronting the Hollow Men.

T.S. Eliot’s 1925 poem, The Hollow Men, says “the way the world ends” is “not with a bang, but a whimper.” If Eliot were writing today, the hollow men might be America’s conservative ideologues, the world that of the national anti-tax movement, and the whimper the one barely heard on September 12, 2007.

That day, Roll Call, the tiny-circulation Washington newspaper, reported that Republican senators were fretting about “new polling data showing tax cuts are no longer priority No. 1″ with voters. One senior GOP aide admitted that when it comes to tax cuts, “We’ve worn out the message.”

That Republicans’ 30-year anti-tax revolution could ebb with such little fanfare is a testament to how fast public attitudes about taxes are evolving.

Next up Paul Krugman on the GOP’s sliming of a 12 year old, Sliming Graeme Frost.

All in all, the Graeme Frost case is a perfect illustration of the modern right-wing political machine at work, and in particular its routine reliance on character assassination in place of honest debate. If service members oppose a Republican war, they’re “phony soldiers”; if Michael J. Fox opposes Bush policy on stem cells, he’s faking his Parkinson’s symptoms; if an injured 12-year-old child makes the case for a government health insurance program, he’s a fraud.

Meanwhile, leading conservative politicians, far from trying to distance themselves from these smears, rush to embrace them. And some people in the news media are still willing to be used as patsies.

Politics aside, the Graeme Frost case demonstrates the true depth of the health care crisis: every other advanced country has universal health insurance, but in America, insurance is now out of reach for many hard-working families, even if they have incomes some might call middle-class.

And there’s one more point that should not be forgotten: ultimately, this isn’t about the Frost parents. It’s about Graeme Frost and his sister.

I don’t know about you, but I think American children who need medical care should get it, period. Even if you think adults have made bad choices — a baseless smear in the case of the Frosts, but put that on one side — only a truly vicious political movement would respond by punishing their injured children.

Only those on the extreme right sill buy the snake oil they’re selling and believe their slime.

Is Selby Carrying Cornyn’s Water?

Posted in US Senate Race, Election 2008, Health Care, Commentary, Around The State at 9:38 am by wcnews

Gardener Selby’s at it again. This post at Postcards, Two Texans not quite spelling out CHIP deal, but…, taken in combination with his column from yesterday, gives the appearance, at least to EOW, that he’s trying a little too hard - carrying Cornyn’s water, so to speak - to make the case for Cornyn that the Senator’s stance on SCHIP isn’t as bad as most people think it is.

While Cornyn’s new found middle ground position, that the CPPP says still “hurts Texas”, would be better than the sustenance money the president proposed, the best option is still the BIPARTISAN compromise that’s already been worked out. What Cornyn’s attempt at a “compromise” on SCHIP shows is that he’s worried about his position on this regarding his upcoming reelection campaign, and is desperately in search of cover on this issue.

While it’s hard to believe that Cornyn and the CPPP would be the driving forces behind any SCHIP compromise, anything is possible. Selby must have mentioned the CPPP too much in his post because he had to give a “shout-out” to the leading Texas “wing-nut” think tank at the end of his post. Maybe EOW’s reading too much into this but it sure seems that Selby’s trying a little too hard to help Cornyn on SCHIP.


Carona Saying The Right Things On Transportation, Again

Posted in Privatization, Road Issues, Around The State at 11:43 pm by wcnews

Sen. John Carona (D-Dallas) spoke with the SAEN artilce about transportation while stumping for Prop 12, Senator urging funding for roads.

State lawmakers don’t seem to have a clue when it comes to gauging public tolerance for higher gasoline taxes or hearing demands to scale back toll-road plans, a ranking Texas Senate member said Thursday.

“We need leadership on these issues,” said John Carona, R-Dallas, chairman of the Senate Committee on Transportation and Homeland Security. “I’m very frustrated from the governor of Texas on down.”

He’s got three initiatives, (has he been reading EOW?), for the 2009 session, if he’s reelected, that is.

“I’m not opposed to all the toll roads,” he said. “I just think they need to be part of the mix, not all of the solution.”

But that means other options are needed, he said. Between now and the 2009 legislative session, the senator will rally support for three initiatives:

Raising the state’s 20-cent-a-gallon gas tax by a nickel or a dime.

Indexing the gas tax to construction costs but capping increases to 3 percent a year.

Asking voters to consider a constitutional amendment to ban diversions of highway funds for other uses — including a fourth of the gas-tax pie going to schools, but only if all of that funding can be replaced from other sources.

Carona believes he can push some version of all three measures through the Senate.

“It’ll depend wholly on what’s going on in the House,” he said. “The time to go after this is right now, while there’s heightened legislative awareness.”


Toll critic Terri Hall of San Antonio Toll Party said she can’t support a higher gas tax until TxDOT’s finances are probed and the agency chucks a policy to toll new highway lanes whenever feasible.

“However, we appreciate a lawmaker courageously stepping forward to start the discussion of real solutions other than tolls,” she said.

Yes we do appreciate it. Be warned though, Carona is up for reelection, and he’s said the right things before, and his actions didn’t back them up.

Cornyn Will Chance It On SCHIP

Posted in US Senate Race, Election 2008, Health Care, Around The State at 10:37 am by wcnews

Selby’s column in today’s AAS features the opinion of two political consultants that say, Cornyn[’s] vote on kids’ health insurance might not hurt him.

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, assured himself of being peppered when he voted against bolstering the Children’s Health Insurance Plan serving children of the working poor.

Even so, two political consultants insist that his position — rating a Democrat-steered approach too expensive and too expansive — won’t hurt him.

Todd Smith of Austin and Craig Murphy of Arlington should know. They coached then-state Rep. Arlene Wohlgemuth in her unsuccessful 2004 challenge to U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Texas.

There’s always a chance, I guess, that it may not, but it more than likely will. Tip to PinkDome who EOW agrees with 100%, this will hurt Cornyn. Of course whether it hurts him bad enough that he loses the election, only time will tell. But it appears Cornyn is willing to take that chance.

Wohlgemuth scrambled, Murphy suggested, because she wasn’t widely known before Edwards popped her. Cornyn shouldn’t have an identity problem, nor will he lack resources to deliver his message.

There definitely won’t be an identity problem for Cornyn. Trying to throw out the comparison with the Edwards/Wohlgemuth 2004 Congressional race, with the 2008 US Senate race, where health care will be one one of the top two or three issues, doesn’t wash. These consultants and Cornyn should be aware of the main lesson learned from the Wohlgemuth race - she is no longer an elected representative. Cornyn is already very unpopular, especially for an incumbent Senator, in what has been a GOP friendly state. It’s doubtful this will help those numbers.

If Cornyn wants to continue with this radical stance on children’s health care, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison voted for this plan, that the ever-shrinking base of the GOP loves, then more power to him. His reelect problem is not a problem of shoring up the GOP base. His problem is with Independents and moderates and this will do nothing to help with them. If his consultants tell him that his stance on this issue won’t hurt his race for reelection, that will be just fine with Democrats in Texas.

The CPPP has the latest analysis on how the SCHIP reauthorization will help Texas, as well as Cornyn’s latest folly.


Hutto/Carmel Creek Tax Incentives Bigger Than Austin/The Domain

Posted in Taxes, Commentary, Williamson County at 3:46 pm by wcnews

Via the AAS:

Hutto city leaders have agreed to give a developer incentives worth about $52 million for a 466-acre mixed-use development, the largest in city history and possibly more than what Austin awarded in its controversial package for the Domain.


Hutto’s deal could end up being richer than the City of Austin’s incentives package for the Domain shopping center, which total $37 million to $57 million over 20 years. That agreement has been controversial among groups that oppose giving certain retail competitors a financial advantage.

Grass-roots lobbyist Jeff Heckler opposes the Domain’s package and said he could also have an issue with Hutto’s incentives, depending on whether more than half the development is retail. In that case, a city would be giving the development a leg up on other retail outlets, he said.

Developers don’t have that percentage breakdown for the Crossings of Carmel Creek yet, spokeswoman Beth Woods said.

Hutto approves incentives to retail developments on a case-by-case basis, City Manager Ed Broussard said. The recently approved package provided the city leverage in reaching a separate agreement that gives it more control over landscaping, parks and other infrastructure on the site, he said.

Giving up a portion of the sales tax was necessary for Hutto, Love said.

“If the complex wasn’t there, what sales tax would we have?” he asked.

I hope mayor Love isn’t trying to say that if it wasn’t for tax incentives that land would never be developed. Because that’s flat wrong. These deals generally speaking do not pay off as promised. Local Austin Businesses have started a Stop Domain Subsidies petition drive to stop the tax subsidies promised to the Austin mall.

Quoting from the Executive Summary of this EPI publication, Rethinking Growth Strategies, a couple of excerpts. First to bust the myth of that tax incentives lure companies because cost reduction.

It is commonly thought that firms will migrate to a particular state for the purpose of reducing costs, since lower costs may result in higher profits for business owners. But state and local taxes are not typically a significant cost of doing business. All state and local taxes combined make up but a small share of business costs and reduce profits only to a limited extent. Indeed, the costs of taxes pale in comparison to many other location-specific costs, and numerous location factors—including qualified workers, proximity to customers, and quality public services—can be more critical than taxes. The availability of these vital location factors depends in large part on each state and locality’s commitment to public investment—and their ability to pay for it. Research, in fact, substantiates that public investment plays a positive role in helping lower costs for firms.

They’re nice, but that land was going to be developed anyway. Next.

It follows that, if taxes are not a decisive factor and public spending can be a positive force, then the use of tax cuts to create jobs can carry uneconomical “costs per job.” Even with optimistic assumptions, for each private-sector job created by state and local tax cuts, governments may lose between $39,000 and $78,000 or more in tax revenue annually. This substantial revenue loss forces governments to lay off public employees in numbers that probably exceed the number of jobs created in the private sector. The net effect of tax cuts is thus likely to be a loss of employment. In addition, the public would lose the value of the public services that would no longer be provided. So, while access to jobs is clearly a vital concern in today’s economy, public officials and voters should focus not solely on faith in tax cuts but on the best ways to get employment results. In the end, any jobs that might be gained by cutting taxes can be more than offset by the jobs lost as a result of cuts in public services.

State and local tax cuts and incentives are probably not the best use of public revenues, even when the object is to encourage business firms to put more people to work. This finding confirms that state and local officials should take into account public-service as well as tax effects on the economy when considering fiscal policy designed to promote optimal job growth. Tax increases used to enhance public services can be the best way to spur the economy. By stimulating growth, generating jobs, and providing direct benefits to residents, improvements in state and local public services can be one of the most effective strategies to advance the quality of life of citizens.

In other words trading all that that tax money for a road, some parks, and an amphitheater [.PDF], on land that would be developed without giving away that money, isn’t much of a deal.

Gattis And Birkman Speak On TDH

Posted in Commissioners Court, Criminal Justice, T. Don Hutto, Williamson County at 1:15 pm by wcnews

This News 8 article on yesterday’s court vote on TDH has a couple of great quotes in it from our elected representatives in Williamson County.

“This gets down to us really on a liability issue. That doesn’t mean all the human rights stuff goes past us. We’re really concerned about that, but this issue really boils down to the contract,” Judge Dan Gattis said.

“This is not about immigration policy. This is about the county and whether or not we chose to be in the middle of a situation between the federal government and a private corporation,” commissioner Lisa Birkman said.

You can almost feel the compassion in Judge Gattis’ voice. It makes EOW wonder which “human rights stuff” doesn’t get pas them? In answer to Mrs. Birkman’s question, yes, you did, that’s what the 15 grand each month is for.

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