More On Moratorium Timing

Posted in Privatization, 80th Legislature, Road Issues, Commentary, Around The State at 12:32 pm by wcnews

It’s a good be that sometime todayHB 1892 will be vetoed, without a compromise being in place. Form Ben Wear, Monday, Monday:

Anyway, with the conference committee for SB 792 still being formed, that means there’s no way that a final version of that bill can be hammered out and approved in both houses today. Which means the clock will run out on Gov. Rick Perry’s 10-day period to make a decision on HB 1892 before midnight. Which means he’ll have to veto it later today.

His office couldn’t say yet when today or this evening Perry might take pen in hand and put HB 1892 to the sword.

The upshot of all this: SB 792, the compromise bill set to replace HB 1892, won’t get to final passage before Monday at the earliest.

There’s going to have to be A LOT of trust here. If Perry doesn’t get SB 792 until Monday then he can run out the clock, hold onto the bill without signing it for 10 days, and veto it too, after sine die. Not saying he will, just saying, that’s all.

Will the House begin the override process of HB 1892 just in case? What happens if Perry gets the bill and doesn’t sign it immediately, waits a day or so, and the override process hasn’t started yet? I’m sure there are many more questions like this and none of this may happen, but it could. And it’ll definitely make for an interesting next few days.

SB 792 Wrap UP

Posted in Privatization, 80th Legislature, Road Issues, Commentary, Around The State at 11:49 am by wcnews

Ben Wear has a nice checklist of the changes that were made in the House to SB 792.

  • Made sure that the two-year moratorium on private toll road contracts would apply not only to comprehensive development agreements but also to “facility agreements.” State Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, in this amendment was trying to make sure the Texas Department of Transportation would not try to use semantics to get around the ban.
  • Under the agency’s comprehensive development agreement with Spanish toll road builder Cintra, the Trans-Texas Corridor alternative to Interstate 35 will actually be built in pieces under “facility agreements.” One such agreement, for the lower 40 miles of Texas 130, has already been signed, and Kolkhorst wanted to make sure that the two-year ban will prevent any more for awhile.
  • Stipulated that when the state has to pay a penalty to a private tollway operator for building a competing road nearby, that the money would come existing allocations to that area rather than from general statewide transportation funds. Also a Kolkhorst change.
  • Put one El Paso road back under the moratorium. State Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, called this amendment a “carve-in,” as opposed to the numerous roads that had been carved out of the moratorium. State Rep. Geanie Morrison, R-Victoria, also made sure her district was carved back in to the moratorium.
  • Another Pickett amendment would require a public vote for any road project over $200 million in El Paso, a change targeted at what is called the Inner Loop project in that city. State Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso, who had made El Paso County exempt from the moratorium when SB 792 was in the Senate, said after the House vote Thursday that “we can’t live with this amendment.” It’s unclear, however, if Shapleigh would be able to force a conference committee over the bill, rather than a quicker concurrence by the Senate, over this one issue.
  • Pickett, in a couple of other changes targeted to El Paso, required the metropolitan planning organizations to pass an ethics policy, and stipulated that the qualifications for members of that area’s regional mobility authority board be identical to existing qualifications for its metropolitan planning organization board.
  • Exempted from the moratorium the Montgomery County parkway.
  • Required that third parties hired to do market valuations of potential tollways be precluded from later participating as investors or owners in a private toll road lease for that same project. Another Kolkhorst change.

And SB 792 is going to a conference committee which will take more time.

Williams said that with the House having added 20 amendments Thursday before passing the bill (including amendments to amendments), there was enough there that simply concurring with the House changes isn’t the right course. Was there anything in particular he or other senators had a problem with? After all, state Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, added two or three amendments Thursday that didn’t sit well with state Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, also an El Paso Democrat.


So, can the bill steam through conference and House and Senate votes in one day in time to beat an 11:59 p.m. deadline for Gov. Rick Perry to sign or veto a bill that SB 792 would replace?

“It could,” Williams said, though he wasn’t bursting with certainty on that point. “Hope springs eternal this time of the session.”

Other than Sen. Shapliegh’s issues, those two Kolkhorst amendments could cause problems. The best news in all of this is that TTC-35 “seems” to be included in the moratorium. But, beyond a complete change in thinking on how we fund our transportation infrastructure - and it’s hard to see that coming with the GOP still in control of the House in 2009 and Perry as governor - this fight is a long way from over. There will be an interim study period including a legislative study committee. Remember who appoints the members, form the bill analysis:

The bill creates a legislative study committee. The committee is composed of nine members, appointed as follows: (1) three members appointed by the lieutenant governor; (2) three members appointed by the speaker of the house of representatives; and (3) three members appointed by the governor. The legislative study committee shall select a presiding officer from among its members and conduct public hearings and study the public policy implications of including in a comprehensive development agreement entered into by a toll project entity with a private participant in connection with a toll project a provision that permits the private participant to operate and collect revenue from the toll project. In addition, the committee shall examine the public policy implications of selling an existing and operating toll project to a private entity.

Their report is due, no later than December 1, 2008. None of those three - Gov., Lt. Gov, Speaker - are anti-corporate tolls, so we can’t expect much balance on this committee. But now, with Congress coming out strongly against PPP/CDA agreements, it’s hard to believe any politician that wants to get reelected in Texas will allow these deals to go through without significant changes.

It’s a step in the right direction, that’s all it is. There’s still a long, long way to go.

Voter IDiocy, Still A Solution Without A Problem

Posted in Elections, 80th Legislature, Had Enough Yet?, Commentary, Around The State at 11:17 am by wcnews

More on the fact that voter fraud, as an issue that swings elections, does not exist. From these two links below that refer us back the the Heflin-Vo race of 2004.

In trying to win, has Dewhurst lost a friend?

Among Republicans it is an “article of religious faith that voter fraud is causing us to lose elections,” Masset said. He doesn’t agree with that, but does believe that requiring photo IDs could cause enough of a dropoff in legitimate Democratic voting to add 3 percent to the Republican vote.

Remember that in the 2005 election contest between Hubert Vo and Talmadge Heflin, Heflin questioned more than 250 votes cast in the state House race.

But a Republican lawmaker who investigated the contest concluded that Heflin produced “no evidence of any intentional voter fraud” that would have affected the outcome. Vo’s margin narrowed, but he won the election by at least 16 votes. Democrats maintain that Republicans’ general claims of voter fraud are similarly overstated.

Revisiting Heflin-Vo:

In his report ruling against Heflin, Republican Rep. Will Hartnett, who was the adjudicator of that contest, noted three kinds of questioned votes. One was for people who voted at the wrong precinct. They were legitimately in HD149, they just went to the wrong location within that district to vote. Those votes were counted. Another was for people from Fort Bend County, which borders HD149, who erroneously voted in Harris County. This is a relatively common situation - according to Paul Bettencourt, the county line is not well delineated, and he and his cohort in Fort Bend receive registration applications from folks on the other side of the line all the time. Those votes, which broke both ways, were discounted for the HD149 race.

Finally, there was a small set of truly questionable votes. One was cast by a non-citizen, a Norwegian national. He had filled out a reg form at a voter’s registration drive, and correctly indicated on the form that he was not a citizen. He was mistakenly sent a voter’s reg card anyway (by Bettencourt’s office), and his vote was subsequently thrown out. There was a woman who voted in person and also by mail. She was accustomed to voting in person, but said in her deposition that when she received a mail ballot, she assumed she was supposed to fill it out and send it it; she didn’t realize that having done so, she wasn’t supposed to then vote in person. One of her two votes was discarded. Finally, there was a person who was living in north Texas as of November, 2004. He was selling his home in Harris County - it was still on the market at the time, he still had personal belongings there, and he hadn’t registered in his new county yet. His vote was allowed to stand.

The kicker to this is that all three of those folks testified in their deposition that they had voted for Talmadge Heflin; the Norwegian gentleman said he voted a straight Republican ticket. That didn’t stop Andy Taylor from referring to them, prior to the hearing, as examples of the pernicious fraud in HD149 that helped put Hubert Vo into office, and which he, Andy Taylor, Defender of the Sanctity of the Voting Process, was there to ferret out and expose for all the world to see. None of these folks had acted in bad faith, and by almost perverse coincidence they’d all supported Taylor’s man. But they served a useful rhetorical purpose, one which still informs the terms of this argument more than two years later.

We’re left now with the only explanation for the GOP to still pursue this is because of their long held practice of excluding voters, (In partisan Republican circles, the pursuit of voter fraud is code for suppressing the votes of minorities and poor people), through voter intimidation, Operation Eagle Eye.

The “vote fraud” fantasies are tinged by deeply right-wing racial and anti-urban panics. I’ve talked to many conservative who seem to consider the idea of mass non-white participation in the duties of citizenship is inherently suspicious. It’s an idea all decent Americans should consider abhorrent. It is also, however, a very old conservative obsession-one that goes back to the beginnings of the right-wing takeover of the Republican Party itself.

Budget Conferees Take the Ax To Teachers and Ronnie Earle, Good News On CHIP

Posted in Health Care, SD 5, Teachers, The Budget, Corruption, Around The State, 80th Legislature, The Lege at 10:45 am by wcnews

Startlegram has the story, Panel votes to reduce teachers’ pay raise.

In a fast and furious spurt of late-night budget writing Thursday, Texas lawmakers moved to roughly cut in half an across-the-board teacher pay increase approved earlier this year. The House had voted for an $800 yearly increase, but a panel of negotiators knocked it down to about $400 Thursday night.

In exchange, the House-Senate budget committee — handing Gov. Rick Perry a victory but angering teachers groups — increased funding for incentive pay programs for Texas educators.


Earlier in the day, the Texas prosecutor who helped end the political career of former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay was poised to lose money and investigative manpower Thursday, when state lawmakers moved to cut proposed funding from his Public Integrity Unit.

Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle, a Democrat, is responsible for policing the ethical conduct of state elected officials and enforcing anti-corruption laws in the state capital — where Republicans hold every statewide office and both houses of the Legislature.

Earle said if the funding decision is signed into law he could lose up to three full-time employees, hampering his ability to prosecute waste, fraud and public corruption. He called it a “significant loss.”

“They’re whittling away at our ability to enforce the law,” Earle said. “They’re really cutting off the taxpayers’ noses to spite their own faces.”


“I think it ought to be fully funded,” said state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston. “I think it has a real important role, and we shouldn’t be cutting their budget.”

Elsewhere, the House and Senate negotiators decided to increase funding and ease eligibility requirements for kids who receive healthcare under the state’s Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP.

Sen. Whitmire is continuing to work his way back into the good graces of Democrats with actions like this. For more on the teacher pay raise here’s what the TFT had to say:

The House budget conferees also this evening gave up more than half of the $583 million that the House had voted to invest in a cost-of-living raise for teachers, counselors, nurses, and librarians. The legislature’s budget staff estimated that what’s left would provide an annual raise of only $425, which equals less than 1 percent for the average teacher. That translates into a minuscule $35.42 a month in gross pay-before you deduct taxes, before you take out 0.65 percent for TRS-Care, and before you deduct 6.58 percent for the TRS pension fund, if Sen. Duncan gets his way. For the average teacher, the net raise after taxes and deductions likely would boil down to less than $25 a month.

In other words, a pay raise of less than 1 percent will be tied to a 3-percent increase in pension deductions for 300,000 teachers and others on the state minimum salary schedule. Meanwhile, 300,000 or so other school employees will receive no pay raise at all but will have the same 3-percent increase in pension costs deducted from their paychecks. You have to give Sen. Duncan and company credit-it takes a certain ingenuity to come up with a plan this bad.

If you’ve read this far, you’re probably wondering what the heck happened to the other $303 million that was in the House-proposed pay raise. The answer is that the budget conferees would plow that money back into the incentive schemes passed last session, tying bonuses largely to students’ test scores. In fact, for this purpose, the conferees magically managed to find an extra $40 million, goosing the total for incentives up to $342.8 million. The pay and benefit priorities that have emerged from the back rooms at the capitol are pretty clear, and clearly wrong.

There is good new on CHIP, Budget writers expand CHIP benefit.

The Children’s Health Insurance Program would be expanded under action by the Senate Finance Committee, which voted 12-1 to allow youngsters to be enrolled for a year at a time as long as some families’ eligibility is checked more often. The committee action sends the measure to the full Senate.


Senate Finance Committee Chairman Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, was the only “no” vote on HB109. He has voiced concern about the cost of 12-month eligibility.

Thanks for bringing us back to reality Senator.

Rep. John Carter (R - Exxon Mobil) Misses Deadline For Annual Financial Disclosure

Posted in District 31, Congress, Had Enough Yet?, Around The State at 10:04 am by wcnews

From this AAS article, GOP House members from Central Texas decline to release financial statements.

Each member of Congress must file a financial disclosure form annually by May 15 to the House Legislative Resources Center listing the member’s assets and liabilities and stock purchases and sales, as well as a ballpark estimate of wealth.

The center releases the forms 30 days after the forms are filed and after they have been vetted by the House ethics committee. Though many members release the records to the public at the time they file them, the offices of Reps. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, and Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio, said it hasn’t been their practice to release the documents early.


Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock, had to file an extension for his records and didn’t have them ready to release, said spokeswoman Lindsey Willis. He now will have up to 90 days to get his information filed.

Last year, McCaul listed his wealth at between $13.3 million and $58.3 million, while Carter listed his wealth at between $824,000 and $4.5 million, and Smith listed his wealth at between $1.9 million and $8.5 million.

Hesitation to release the records might reflect the already contentious election season, said University of Texas government professor Bruce Buchanan.

“I can’t imagine why they would not (release the records), other than that they feel if they release them earlier rather than later, it gives more time for adverse publicity,” Buchanan said.

That’s right. With gas cresting $3.00/gallon and oil company profits at all time highs John Carter’s actions shouldn’t surprise anyone. It make sense that a member of Congress would stall letting their constituents see how much money they made off of their Exxon Mobil stock last year. It’s that or we have to believe that or that they’re just a bunch of incompetents that can’t get their paperwork done on time. Either way it’s not good.


Voter IDiocy Back In Play?

Posted in Elections, 80th Legislature, Around The State, The Lege at 11:39 pm by wcnews

Sen. Gallegos has to go back to Houston to for health reasons. Texas Politics and QR are reporting. From Texas Politcs:

Sen. Mario Gallegos is headed back to Houston for a surgical procedure and is not sure whether he will return to Austin for the remainder of the session, according to his spokesman Harold Cook.

Gallegos, who received a liver transplant earlier this year, has missed a good part of the session. But he has been in Austin for the last couple of weeks, against his doctor’s wishes.

“His time is up,” Cook said.

Gallegos’ absence leaves an opening for Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst to bring up the contentious voter ID bill, which brought the Senate to a standstill this week.
Without all 11 Democratic Senators on the floor, Republicans have the minimum votes needed to start debate.

When I asked Dewhurst whether he would bring the bill up again, he said, “I haven’t had a moment to think about it. We can only fight two or three things at once.”

Gallegos met with the Republican caucus and asked them to respect his attempts to be here on behalf of his constituents, Cook said.

“He has fought the good fight on this,” Cook said.

After all that’s happened on this issue in the Senate this session all we can hope is that out of a sense of decency, or out of respect, a Republican - just don’t bring it up again Dewhurst - will step up and keep this issue from coming up. That’s all we have.

SB 792 Passes The House

Posted in Privatization, 80th Legislature, Road Issues, Around The State at 9:08 pm by wcnews

Almost unanimous, the vote was 145 - 2. Macias and Riddle were the two. More later.

SB 792 Debate - Liveblogging

Posted in Privatization, 80th Legislature, Road Issues, Around The State at 3:32 pm by wcnews

Here we go. I’ll try and keep up with this for a while.

First Amendment by Rep. Lois Kolkhorst. A clarifying amendment to make sure everyone understands this is a moratorium on ALL CDA’s not “carved out”, aka exempted, in the bill. Looks like “carve(d) out” is today’s catch phrase.

Rep. Vicky Truitt is getting sassy about her “carve out”.

Kolkhorst is stressing that the TTC is definitely part of the moratorium.

[UPDATE]: Ben Wear has some pre-debate info including another amendment upcoming form Rep. Kolkhorst that could cause problems.

Under the bill, prospective toll projects would be subject to a market valuation by a third party. Her amendment would stipulate that the folks doing such evaluations could not also participate financially in the projects later. That could affect investment banks that have begun to become players in the private toll road industry, such as Goldman Sachs, and might have the financial acumen to be candidates for the market evaluation gigs.

[UPDATE]: The amendment was temporarily withdrawn.

[UPDATE]: Macias amendment for not secret contracts. No surprise, Rep. Mike Krusee (R - Pro Corporate Toller) against the amendment and open government. He’s a little testy and his voice is getting shrill. So early?

[UPDATE]: Traffic and Revenue (T&R) is the most important and closely guarded part of the deal Krusee says. You can read all about T&R and the issues with them here. This is where the numbers get jiggered and the corporations make there money and put the taxpayers on the hook when the traffic doesn’t come and the revenue falls short. Of course they want to keep this secret.

[UPDATE]: Motion to table coming. Rep. Truitt understands the people’s need to know but…but the interests of the corporation are much, much more important.

Motion to table…prevails..101 - 41.

[UPDATE]: Pickett..Pickett..Pickett..amendments adopted without record votes.

[UPDATE]: Rep. England amendment to except Highway 161 in Dallas County form the new market valuation in the Senate bill. Rep. Wayne Smith opposes amendment. 161 is already excluded from the moratorium, but not from the market valuation. The valuation will determine what the toll would be to make it “profitable”. Smith to table…England to close, 161 “looks like war torn Bosnia”…Rep. Davis brings up that 161 is a major artery to the Cowboys new stadium and the Rangers stadium. Motion to table…prevails..74 - 62.

[UPDATE]: Moving through some quick amendments.

[UPDATE]: Amendment to the previously withdrawn Kolkhorst amendment. Fixes Truitt’s issues. Now the original Kolkhorst amendment was adopted.

[UPDATE]: Another Kolkhorst amendment passed.

[UPDATE]: Here’s the Kolkhorst amendment that Ben Wear told us about. An investor or banker in the toll roads can’t be part of the market valuation. Passes without a record vote.

[UPDATE]: Kolkhorst on buybacks, to remove one word, the word “new” which was added in the Senate…Krusee and Coleman are for tabling the amendment. This is about whether on a buyback it’s has to be on the original valuation..motion to table…motion to table fails…65 - 79. I’ll give Kolkhorst credit. She said that when a bill comes back with one word added she gets suspicious.

[UPDATE]: Rep. Truitt to speak against tabling the amendment. Kolkhorst, Krusee, Smith, etc…huddled behind the front podium..

[UPDATE]: I must have missed something I thought the earlier amendment was to table.

[UPDATE]: This is getting a little tedious but I think what this amendment amounts to is that it could take away the guaranteed “profits” that were part of the original agreement, and if that’s taken out then no corporation would ever enter into an agreement without a guaranteed profit provision in it.

[UPDATE]: Amendment to amendment coming..and adopted…now Kolkhorst’s amendment now up…don’t want to buyback highways from huge, unmet, future projections. Kolkhorst amendment as amended passes.

[UPDATE]: I’ll be leaving soon and this bill will pass, I’m assuming, and go to conference committee. Another amendment passes.

[UPDATE]: Riddle amendment…Smith motion to table….prevails…110 - 26. I’m outta here.

Sal Gets Sued (Again)

Posted in Privatization, Road Issues, Commentary, Around The State at 12:50 pm by wcnews

Sal Costello, proprietor of The Muckraker, has been sued by one of the most powerful lobbying firms in the state. You can read all about it at this post, Toll Road Lobby Threatens Texas Blogger With Lawsuit. Here’s why he’s being sued (below the fold):

Read the rest of this entry »

More On Toll Moratoriums And Timing

Posted in Privatization, 80th Legislature, Road Issues, Around The State, The Lege at 12:46 pm by wcnews

Ben Wear has this at Postcards on why the veto deadline is Midnight Friday, Perry’s veto clock runs slow. Here’s the gist of it:

Perry’s office says he has until 11:59 p.m. Friday, and everyone seems to be going along with that. But it takes a flexible interpretation of the Texas Constitution to come up with that time.

Here’s the relevant excerpt of what the Constitution says about a governor and his consideration of bills from the Legislature: “If any bill shall not be returned by the Governor with his objections within ten days (Sundays excepted) after it shall have been presented to him, the same shall be a law … “

The Constitution, at least in this section, does not define what a “day” is. Under the interpretation of Perry’s office, he’ll actually have 10 days, 14 hours and 44 minutes to make a decision. His office received the bill at 9:15 a.m. on Monday, May 7. To get to Perry’s interpretation, you pretty much have to treat May 7 as Day Zero and assume that the 10-day clock didn’t start ticking until May 7 turned into May 8.

And he goes on to say, “..for a variety of political, tactical and symbolic reasons..” nobody wants HB 1892 vetoed and the override process started. Somebody’s worried about looking weak and irrelevant. Anyway with all this talk about timing it reminds me about how the governor’s office slow-played accepting the bill and how much time that bought him. This from the QR onMay 4th:

Nevertheless, the delay gives the Governor and his allies an additional three days to round up votes to block the over ride.

Or work on a compromise. If it wasn’t for those shenanigans we’d be well into an override frenzy with all the political, tactical and symbolic issues it would bring. Doen’t much matter now, more from Ben’s post:

Absent a Texas Constitutional scholar raising a stink, however, this is the interpretation that will carry the day. Or maybe that’s a day plus 14 hours and 44 minutes.

Is there a constitutional scholar in the house?

« Previous entries · Next entries »