Perry Threatens Special Session On Transportation - UPDATED

Posted in Privatization, 80th Legislature, Road Issues, Around The State at 3:01 pm by wcnews

QR reporting.


Perry not as concerned about the moratorium as all the other issues in the bill

A very reliable source close to the big three reports that at their weekly breakfast this morning, Governor Perry told Lt. Governor David Dewhurst and Speaker Tom Craddick to plan on a special session if some of the issues in HB1892 are not resolved by sine die.

[UPDATE]: More on this story from Ben Wear at the AAS, HB 1892: Isn’t that special?. We learn that Perry has recommended his staff get travel insurance if the book a summer vacation, intended for the masses and the media to make him look serious. But their trying to frame this as a regional fight.

The two-year ban on most private toll road contracts added to the bill in its late stages is not the primary problem. Rather, Black said, the governor is troubled by a number of measures that give local toll road agencies such as the Harris County Toll Road Authority priority over building tollways in that area. And the bill, filed by state Rep. Wayne Smith, R-Baytown, at the behest of the county, stipulates that the state could not charge the county for highway right of way it already owns that the county might use for a toll road.

The bill has at least one problem specific to the Dallas-Fort Worth area that even supporters acknowledge is a mistake, and efforts have been underway for a couple of days to attach repair language to other legislation. Black said the governor’s office is working with legislators on fixes to the governor’s liking as well.

Perry has until May 18 to sign or veto the bill, or let it become law without his signature. HB 1892 passed in the Senate 27-4 and 139-1 in the Houston, vote counts that if they held would be well above the two-thirds needed to override a veto.

So, will a weary Legislature be moved by the threat of a lost summer? State Rep. Mike Krusee, R-Williamson County, the only House member to vote against HB 1892, said the prospect has been the subject of much discussion today.

“They’d rather not have to come back in the summer in order to address a Houston problem,” Krusee said.

Good one Mike. AAS also has Carona’s thoughts on a special session and the new compromise he’s says he’s trying to hammer out, FWIW.

[UPDATE II]: More from Capitol Letters, What Could Possibly Be Special About It?

(Perry) is apparently poised to veto it, but the bill passed by overwhelming majorities, so his office is negotiating. Part of what the governor would like to see is that his veto is upheld on this bill, and then he could entertain provisions he considers less odious in other highway legislation that are still in the pipeline.

Of course, if Perry does veto HB 1892, and the Legislature does override it, then I’m not sure what the governor could accomplish by forcing them back into session. He cannot make the Legislature undo something they want done. And if they return for a special session and do nothing, well I guess that has happened at least five times before on his watch.

That’s funny.

Mad House Wrap-Up

Posted in 80th Legislature, Commentary, The Lege at 11:31 am by wcnews

There’s buzz of a vote to vacate the chair for Speaker in the Texas House, but don’t get your hopes up, it’s not likely. While a majority of members might now be willing to vote Craddick out, it’s doubtful that anyone on the GOP side would want to be on record doing it, because it would probably kill their chance of ascending the dais. Not to mention make the party look bad.

Wrap-ups analysis from Monday Night’s action are here:

Burka thinks Craddick will survive the session, House Erupts in Protest Over Craddick Ruling.

Where does this leave Craddick? As I see it, the mob has stormed the Bastille and liberated the prisoners, but they have let the king keep his head. For now. It’s clear that there is a growing body of Republican elders that no longer supports Tom Craddick in the way he runs the House. It is also clear that they respect the institution too much, and Craddick as well, for all that he has done over the years, to take the drastic step of moving to vacate the chair. There will be no public beheading in the Place de la Concorde. At some point a delegation of elders may call on the speaker in private and ask him not to seek another term.

Kuff agrees, but wouldn’t mind if he didn’t, More on the anti-Craddick revolt.

I want to believe the former (vote to vacate), but unfortunately I think Burka is more likely to be right. Show me a candidate, and get back to me after the 2008 election.

DMN has this from Karen Brooks, Some say Craddick on shaky ground. The excerpt below clearly shows Craddick’s lack of leadership skills, the “iron fist” is all he’s got:

Some lawmakers say that Mr. Craddick may have overcorrected, that he pulled too far back and stopped giving the members direction. Others, like House Insurance Committee Chairman John Smithee, R-Amarillo, say he’s walking a tightrope, evidenced by a testy chamber willing to revolt.

“There is not this reluctance to challenge the [speaker] that we’ve seen in the past,” said Mr. Smithee. “Some of that’s a good thing, but if you get too much of that, you get a mob.”

QR says Craddick just thinks members are still bitter from the Speaker’s race:

Craddick added that he believed he has followed through on promises earlier this session to give committee chairmen more freedom with the allowance that he always thought that he had given them large amounts of freedom. In the end, it was “just bitterness carrying over” from the failed Speaker’s challenge that led to the move to overrule, he said.

But it’s the last paragraph in this Clary Robison piece, Technical setback loosens Craddick’s iron grip, that caught my eye:

The outcome of next year’s legislative elections also may affect Craddick’s future. The Republicans hold an 81-69 edge in the House. Some Democrats believe Craddick couldn’t survive if Democrats pick up enough seats to close that gap significantly.

There’s quite a bit in that sentence. That’s 6 seats to tie, 7 to take the majority. How many seats, out of 7 let’s say, do these “some Democrats” think would be enough to be “significant”? Hopefully the new reality is, that what this session should make clear to every Democrat, is that if there is a choice similar to the one that presented itself at the beginning of this session, to elect a better Speaker, then Craddick is not an option. And even if the gap isn’t significantly closed, which I believe it will be, it’s time for a change. Hear that Craddick D’s?

While most, except Craddick and his closest allies believe we’ll have a new Speaker come ‘09. That does seem likely right now, but January 2009 is a long way off.

Gas Tax Band-Aid, Not This Time

Posted in The Budget, 80th Legislature, Road Issues, Commentary, Around The State at 9:44 am by wcnews

Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer has an admirable goal, to bring some relief to Texans gas bills over the Summer, but it’s a too little at a time when we need sweeping change. Like peeing in the ocean. The amendment to to add a 3 month, 20 cent/gallon, gas tax holiday to to SB 1886 (RV# 1065) passed with near unanimous support. The vote was 118 - 16, Alan Ritter and Mark Strama were the only Democrats voting against.

Last year when REp. Martinez Fischer put this forward I posted on it. I had reservations, but after listening in on a conference call, decided it was worth a shot. Not anymore. Some of the issues with this is that it’s a Democrat reinforcing a Republican theme that tax cuts make the world go ’round. Another is that it would be nice to have this now but then in September, as the kids go back to school, we’ll get hit with that 20 cent increase. Also hopefully the pain of the higher price will drive down demand, and the price soon after. Also check out what Whos Playin? had to say about it last year. That said the bill doesn’t even guarantee the money has to be passed down to the customer, from this DMN article, House favors gas tax break.

The bill would make it a Class B misdemeanor ($2,000 fine and/or up to 180 days in jail) for gasoline dealers to fail to pass on the tax savings, and the attorney general would be empowered to investigate any complaints along those lines and seek charges.

I’m sure the AG will be chasing down these crimes in that three month window.

Another part of the DMN article was that Rep. Mike Krusee tried to add an amendment to to the bill (SB 1886) to index the gas tax, which is what really needs to happen, and it failed.

Just before approving Mr. Martinez Fischer’s measure, House members left little doubt where they stand on fuel taxes, overwhelmingly rejecting a measure that would have allowed the gas tax to rise according to an index that mirrors the inflation rate.

Rep. Mike Krusee, the House’s Transportation Committee chairman, pointed out that the gas tax has been stuck at 20 cents a gallon since 1991. He argued that with the Legislature poised to approve a two-year ban on private toll-road agreements, Texas needs to find other ways to pay for roads to accommodate the state’s rapid growth.

“There aren’t many tools left,” said Mr. Krusee, R-Round Rock. “This is about all there is. This is our traditional method of financing roads.”

But House members were in no mood to raise the gas tax, even if only to keep up with inflation. They rebuffed Mr. Krusee’s measure, 122-19.

“We’re already at three bucks and going north,” said Rep. Jim Keffer, R-Eastland. “I just don’t feel it’s a time to go forward with this.”

Now I’m sure Rep. Krusee did that so he can say, “Look I tried”. Which is another reason this is bad. An anti-tax, pro-corporate toll representative, is only doing this to reinforce his point that tolls are the only option we have to build roads because the legislature it too scared to vote to index the gas tax.

Which leads us back to everything that’s wrong with how we fund and build, or don’t fund and build, our transportation infrastructure in this state. We need comprehensive reform in this area and band-aids like this will do nothing to help in that regard. I’ll give Rep. Martinez Fischer credit for trying something to help the average folk, but this just ain’t worth it.


TDP On Protests At T. Don Hutto

Posted in Criminal Justice, Privatization, T. Don Hutto, Williamson County at 11:29 pm by wcnews

The Taylor Daily Press has a news reporter, Tessa Moll, and here’s her first article on TDH, it’s a good one - Protesters visit Taylor despite cancellation of UN envoy’s tour. She was out amongst the protesters getting quotes and snapping pictures. I like this quote the best:

“How can we demand that other countries allow UN inspectors, while we won’t?” asked Anita Lopez, a member of The Galleons Organization, an Hispanic advocacy group. Lopez joined a group of protesters outside the immigration detention facility and held a sign that read “No child left behind bars.”

Later there’s this on the Rep. Rodriguez sponsored resolution (HCR 64) currently in the legislature:

Jina Gayton, a San Antonio resident, gathered signatures at the vigil to urge Texas legislators to discuss HCR 64, a house concurrent resolution to seek more humane alternatives for those currently in ICE custody.

The resolution, authored by state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, and Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, is currently awaiting a hearing in the House State Affairs Committee. The committee chair, state Rep. David Swinford, R-Amarillo, must bring the issue to the committee, but a spokeswoman from Swinford’s office said he has no intention to do so.

Welcome to Williamson County Tessa you’re off to a great start.

Perry Takes A Stand On HPV - NOT!

Posted in 80th Legislature, Commentary, Around The State at 5:15 pm by wcnews

As we know from the long line of “conservatives” we’ve had running our state and country they take a stand and stick by it. Yeah right, Perry allows HPV bill to become law. Audio of Gov. Perry discussing his decision here. I know, I couldn’t help myself.

Letters, Letters, Everywhere

Posted in Privatization, 80th Legislature, Road Issues, Around The State at 4:35 pm by wcnews

Yesterday Gov. Perry finally took possession of HB 1892. We’ll have to wait until May 18th for him to veto it. But in the meantime, Rep. Fred Hill (R-Richardson) sent a letter to TxDOT Executive Director Michael Behrens. In the letter he asks some, what appear to be, “softball” questions about the fate of planned toll schemes in the Metroplex, if Perry’s upcoming veto is overridden, and the bill actually becomes law. And Behrens responded quickly with suitably “chicken-little-like” (see Corridor Watch for more commentary) responses. Both letters can be read at Honkin’ Mad. There’s more analysis on this at the Startlegram, Bill endangers toll roads in Tarrant.

Tip to Ben Wear on all of this, HB 1892: You’ve got mail!, who has more commentary on the Behrens letter and on another one from Rep. Sylvester Turner and all other member’s of the Calendars Committee, except the vice-chair Rep. Norma Chavez, to committee chair Beverly Woolley. Which states:

“ … we will vote against any calendar that includes this bill (SB 1267) at this time,” the letter to committee chairwoman Beverly Woolley, R-Houston, says. “Therefore, we are requesting that you do not set SB 1267 for the House Calendar.”

I disagree with Ben, a little, on his analysis:

Given that all these honorable gentlemen and gentlewomen have voted for the moratorium language in HB 1892, you might wonder why they now want to bury another bill with like language. The answer is that opponents of HB 1892 — and in the House there was only one, state Rep. Mike Krusee, R-Williamson County — want to pass the much more limited SB 1267 to help avoid a legislative override of a Perry veto on HB 1892.

The logic of this strategy is that Perry can argue, hey, you can have your private toll road moratorium with SB 1267 without all this other bad stuff (from Perry, Krusee and the Texas Department of Transportation’s view) in HB 1892. And if Perry can convince 11 senators or 51 House members to go along with this approach, then the override of a possible Perry veto would die.

SB 1267 is not more limiting, it’s actually an across the board moratorium, without all the exceptions that were added to HB 1892. And it also doesn’t have the original language of 1892 which was to give more power to HCTRA. What Perry and Krusee are trying say is - but, of course, nobody can trust them - if you want a moratorium, then let’s pass a moratorium with no exceptions. But now that those exceptions are included those who represent those areas that have been excepted, those like Rep. Turner, who’s from Houston, don’t want to have SB 1267 which has not to take it’s place. Therefore the letter to the Calendars Committee.

The game now is for Perry and Krusee to try and convince as many Rep.’s and Sen.’s as it takes to kill the veto override, that if the Lege is going to pass a moratorium it needs to be SB 1267. Which would bring more timing issues. But that’s going to be real hard with the distrust they’ve built up on this issue over the years.


Protests In Taylor As UN Inspector Is Not Allowed In T. Don Hutto

Posted in Privatization, Criminal Justice, T. Don Hutto, Around The Nation, Around The State, Williamson County at 10:22 am by wcnews

A UN Inspector coming to the US to see how immigrants are treated in our country was denied access by ICE after being told otherwise, to tour the T. Don Hutto family lock-up in Taylor. U.N. official to meet former detainees after tour of Texas immigration facility canceled.

A United Nations migrant rights expert planned to meet Monday with former detainees of a highly criticized Texas immigrant detention center after his tour of the facility was canceled.Jorge Bustamante, the Human Rights Council’s independent expert on migrant rights, said he was notified Sunday that his planned visit to the T. Don Hutto facility in Taylor had been called off. Bustamante said he was not given a reason.

“I am frustrated by the cancellation,” said Bustamante, who said he had been invited to tour the facility by the Department of Homeland Security.

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency canceled Bustamante’s visit to Hutto because of pending litigation regarding the facility, according to a State Department spokesman. Last week, an ICE spokeswoman said the visit had never been approved.

In this KXAN report on the protest, with video, Mr. Bustamante refutes the ICE statement and questions why they must lie about it.

Bustamante says he was invited by the Department of Homeland Security months ago. But when he arrived Monday, he was not allowed inside.

“They had an advanced word, as I’m trying to explain to you, because they invited me,” Bustamante said. “I am here under a written invitation of the United States government.”

An AP report says the visit to the facility was never approved by federal authorities.

“Well, that is simply not true,” Bustamante said, “and I don’t know why they are lying.”

Whether it’s pending legislation, a pending lawsuit or lying, it all goes back to one thing. As the demonstrators say, they’ve got something to hide:

Demonstrators marched and chanted. They say it’s wrong for government officials to detain children at the T. Don Hutto center. They also say it’s wrong to deny a UN representaive access inside the immigration center.

“What Homeland Security and Bush are doing is manifesting that they all have something to hide from the world,” said Jay Johnson Castro with Save the Children. “This man is an expert. This man is an official expert from the human rights council.”

All of that and it has gotten the blessing of the elected government of Williamson County. Be sure and let the County Judge, Dan Gattis, Sr. and your Commissioner know how you feel about your county government sanctioning the detention of children. Don’t forget Congressman John Carter, and state Rep.’s Mike Krusee and Dan Gattis, Jr.

A House Gone Mad

Posted in 80th Legislature, Around The State, The Lege at 9:51 am by wcnews

Best I can tell last night on the floor of the Texas House something happened that hasn’t happened in 24 years. QR reports that the last time a Chair/Speaker’s ruling was challenged was 1973 and the Speaker was Price Daniel. The Chair’s ruling, while incorrect, is one that in a “normal” session is just let go by the members. An obvious local bill was placed on the Major State Calendar, that’s a no no. That this challenge came to be is just another sign of the ongoing battle between the members, Speaker Craddick and his “leadership” style. But Harvey Kronberg also reported earlier in the day yesterday, in his weekly News 8 Commentary, that Craddick’s power (is) crumbling as opposition mounts. And this is not a “normal” session.

With only three weeks left to this legislative session, something startling is going on in the Texas House of Representatives. For the first time since the Republican takeover of 2003, a bipartisan group has quietly moved power from the podium to the members on the floor.

Despite the attempts to save face by certain of his minions - Rep. Gattis and Rep. Bonnen (see QR/Talton Challenges..) - what happened last night reinforces exactly what Harvey said. A bipartisan group has taken power from the Speaker. Capitol Letters has this post - and much, much more on last night’s action - on the final vote.

House: 87-50 Point of Order Respectfully Overruled

Respectfully, I should say, depending on who you ask.

The point was overruled, the bill presumably sent back to Calendars where it languishes - until someone, out of sympathy for the guys down in Zapata, moves to suspend the rules and pass the bill.

Now, clearly many many MANY people were taking a speaker vote.

Others were not. Gattis, for example, and Dutton both made it clear that they weren’t voting against the speaker.

At this point, it’s safe to say that all the 68 people who voted against Craddick on the speaker’s election day are holding fast.

And its also safe to say - because I have first hand knowledge of this - that a few of the “yes” votes during the speaker’s race just voted “no” for the speaker.

What that means in the long run, I don’t know. There’s been rumblings of “vacating the chair” since the speaker’s race. I don’t know if this body will have the desire, will, guts, cohones, whatever, to pull the trigger on another speaker’s race before the end of the session.

As Gattis pointed out, everyone’s “battlescarred.”

You know, maybe they should just start partying together more, like they used to.


No matter why that happened last night, this shows that there’s a bipartisan majority in the Texas House, that has the power to control what does and doesn’t get done in the House for the rest of this session. Somehow, in the next 20 days, the Speaker will need to reckon with that.

Note: The bill in question was authored by Rep. Ryan Guillen. Want to guess whether he voted with the Speaker in January - against a secret ballot in the Speaker’s race. Here’s the link to the bill, HB 4068, and the record vote, # 1047. If you click on the record vote you’ll see that only three Democrats voted with the Speaker - Dutton, Guillen and Peña - all voted with the Speaker in January.


The Devil You Do Know

Posted in Commentary, Williamson County, The Lege at 5:00 pm by wcnews

Sal says Rep. Mike Krusee will run in 2008. At this point and time, at least publicly, nothing less should be expected. Like Tom DeLay, Rep. Krusee wouldn’t want to give the impression, this early, that he won’t run because then the campaign contribution money would dry up. Whether it’s ego or bluster at this point only Mike Krusee knows for sure.

With such a poor showing in 2006, in both the Republican Primary and the General Election, as Sal correctly points out, he’s sure to draw opponents, and better financed opponents, in both races in 2008. Krusee is vulnerable in the primary because he’s not a “base” Republican and the primary is won by the candidate that gets the support of the base. And in Williamson County the Republican base is on the far-right. While Krusee bills himself as a “conservative” he’s a “conservative” in the free-market/business sense and not in the social/religious/”moral values” sense. He would be more in the fiscal conservative, social liberal wing of his party. While Rep. Krusee votes the party line on most of those issues he’s never an outspoken proponent on those issues. Therefore that could open him up to a challenge from somebody on the “conservative”, social, wing-nut, right of his party in Williamson County.

That matched with the fact that Rep. Krusee has alienated almost every rural voter in the Eastern part of his district only adds to his problem in the 2008 GOP primary. There will be a significant “anyone but Krusee” contingent in the 2008 GOP primary for District 52.

It’s less than a year from the primary, and if Rep. Krusee thinks his money will be able to buy him reelection in 2008 he’s mistaken. His money can’t change what most, if not all, of the primary voters already know about him from his many years as an elected official in Williamson County. Therefore his message will more than likely be, “vote for the devil you know, not the devil you don’t know”, and a campaign of smearing and gutter politics. Not only Krusee’s party hierarchy, but primary voters too, will be more inclined to back a primary challenger because they will see Krusee’s renomination as a sure loser in the general election in 2008.

Whether Krusee wins or his future opponent does in the GOP primary, the Democrats in Williamson County will be in an excellent position to win this seat. The Democrat this time will either be running against an even weaker incumbent than 2006 or a yet to be named challenger, in a district that is becoming more and more Democratic by the day. The Texas Democratic Party already has it’s eye on this seat as a pick-up in 2008, to once again add to it’s numbers in the Texas House.

It would be fitting for Williamson County to put a Democrat back in the House in 2008, in District 52, for the first time since Rep. Mike Krusee was first elected and, hopefully, at the same time help the Democrats takes back the Texas House.

Toll Tricks

Posted in Privatization, Road Issues, Central Texas, Williamson County at 1:49 pm by wcnews

Ben Wear’s had two good columns the last two weeks. The one from last Monday on the varying pay shemes those who drive 183-A will encounter, Mapping out how to pay way on 183-A.

Things are about to get very complicated with the 183-A tollway.

Starting Tuesday (That was May 1st), the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, which built and runs the 11.7-mile highway from the Lakeline Mall area to north of Leander, will begin charging people to drive on the road.

Well, some of them. On part of it. For now. Or maybe later.

Where to start?

What people need to know about 183-A — and I’m quite sure that only a small portion of you do — is that the highway has three distinct pieces.

What a disaster. Today he has another one, Signs of the toll times. It’s about the confusing signs on I-35 for Texas 130 as drivers head South to Austin. Signs that are meant to confuse drivers, trick them into driving the toll road (my words).

The big green signs suspended above Interstate 35 north of Georgetown offer southbound drivers an interesting choice: Austin or Austin.

Three lanes, one sign says, take you to Austin on I-35, essentially the same route through Georgetown and Round Rock that people have been using since about, oh, 1930. Or, another sign says, you can exit right and use “130, Toll” to get to Austin. Of course, if you do that you’ll swing several miles to the east, get a close look at Hutto and Pflugerville, and have to pay about $3 to get to Austin’s fringe. But the sign is accurate, technically.

These two articles go a long way to pointing out the funny, in a sad and maddening way, tricks played on drivers along these toll roads. While reading those two articles it becomes apparent what the goal of these roads are, making money, in a carnival sort of way. They’re not about getting people form A to B in a more efficient manner. If the roads were built efficiently for commuting and getting people around there would be no need to trick drivers to get them on the road, hide the costs, and use sliding scale toll charges.

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