Leaving The Least Among Us Behind - TYC & CHIP

Posted in Health Care, The Budget, 80th Legislature at 10:05 am by wcnews

There’s been little coverage of the Texas Youth Commission (TYC) scandal here at EOW and it’s mainly because so many other blogs have been doing a great job with the coverage. This is a horrible scandal. The people that were entrusted to “rehabilitate” troubled youth were the one’s that wound up abusing them and making things much, much worse. Again, it was a lack of caring about the least among us, or as Kuff correctly calls it indifference. The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.

The reason it’s again, is because this was done four years ago, as well, when CHIP funding and many other social services were cut so we didn’t have to raise taxes to make up for a budget deficit. Now with a budget surplus, created as a result of those cuts, we cannot “afford” to fully restore that funding because property tax cuts take priority over funding health care for children, CHIP expansion could reduce other help.

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Toll Compromise In The Works?

Posted in Privatization, 80th Legislature, Road Issues at 10:35 pm by wcnews

Ben Wear is reporting that Carona, Krusee, Williamson (are) working on compromise toll bill. That a compromise is in the works is not surprising. Krusee and Williamson have to do something to try and make themselves relevant again. But from the story and what Sen. Carona says, it’s doubtful, at this time, that much, if anything, will come of this:

Carona and Krusee, three-term chairman of the House Transportation Committee, have also filed shell bills, SB 1929 and HB 3783, intended to be catch-alls for both the innumerable bills filed this session in both houses averse to the Transportation Department as well as policies that Krusee, Williamson and the agency would like to add to their arsenal. Given the rather broad gulf between their positions, Carona acknowledged that these behind-the-scenes talks are unlikely to produce a consensus product. Rather, both will introduce their versions and run them, with a conference committee left to sort it all out in May.

“I can tell you now it is highly unlikely that Chairman Krusee and I will find agreement on every issue before the process starts,” Carona said, then began chuckling. “And we may not have reached agreement, comfortable agreement, when the process ends. But it’s safe to say we both agree that something significant has to happen this session to provide for our future roadways that is considerable of public views and meets the growing concerns of our colleagues.”

The omnibus bill approach could create fresh concerns among at least some of those colleagues. Bills that would freeze private toll road contracts (by Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville), eliminate private contracts altogether and force tollways to become free roads when debt is paid off (by Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan) and dozens of other bills might languish while lawmakers wait and wonder if their idea will make the final product.

The moratorium bills are moving through both chambers and it’s doubtful that there’s a willingness to compromise with these two guys (Krusee and Williamson) who have done very little compromising over the last few years on this issue. Instead they’ve been keeping secrets and ramming stuff down peoples throats. And if any members of the legislature are naive enough to think that a bill would be safe in conference committee they’re fooling themselves. How did Bush say it? “..Fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can’t get fooled again.”

This Is Hilarious

Posted in Privatization, 80th Legislature, Road Issues, Commentary at 12:55 pm by wcnews

If you haven’t read the article in the post below from TollRoadNews yet, you should, it’s hilarious, Texas concession freeze close to veto-proof score in legislature. I’ll excerpt some below, with my comment in bold:

Krusee’s base slipping

Even the House Transportation Committee from which there was previously enthusiastic support for concessions and the Trans Texas Corridor program has now gone to the freezers with five signed up for HB2772. Mike Krusee chairman of that committee and a champion of tollroads and concessions has been unable to stem the tide. Mr. Samuel obviously doesn’t live in Texas and is not aware of Last Term Krusee’s reelect numbers. He lost support a long time ago.


Krusee said last week he would introduce a compromise bill, but he has not done so. As chairman of the committee he has discretionary power over handling of the bill which has been referred to him by Speaker Tom Craddick, who still apparently opposes the moratorium. But supporters of tollroads seem to have been struck silent by the populist anti-toll frenzy that seems to have gripped so many of the legislators. Struck silent? More like scared s*%tless.


Defection of Republicans who had previously supported the program is the problem. Robert Nichols author of the companion SB1267 in the Senate was a precipitating factor in the turnaround because Nichols as a member of the Texas Transportation Commission for eight years to 2005 was one of the key instigators of the move to tolling and concessions, and was deeply involved in some of the early concession negotiation with Cintra.

Nichols coming out against toll concessions was a turn-up like Al Gore saying global warming is a sham.


Part of the problem is the Texas legislature - popularly called “the leege” - a bunch of part-time people who are in session for only five months in the first half of every second year, and who face the voters in the fall after each legislative session. Again, obviously not from Texas. That’s “lege” and the election is the Nov. before session.


One observer told us the legislators at the Capitol in Austin as often as not vote on legislation “like sheep” not knowing what they are voting for but following a leader. Only one observer?


A moratorium on concession signings for six months or the rest of the calendar year even might not damage Texas concessioning process irremediably. A legislative study committee could conduct a thorough review in that timeframe.

But the moratorium bills in the legislature provide for a moratorium through Sept 1, 2009 which seems far longer than needed for just a study. Sounds more like a crematorium than a moratorium. Let’s hope so!

More on this from Move It!, Pro toller says enough already.

“A moratorium on ignorant demagoguery by posturing politicians.”

And again, obviously he’s not from Texas.

TTC/Privatization Moratorium Bills Headed For Veto Proof Majorities In Both Chambers

Posted in Privatization, 80th Legislature, Road Issues at 11:22 am by wcnews

The public approval and debate over the Trans-Texas Corridor (TTC) and, more importantly, the comprehensive development agreements/public private partnerships/(privatization) of our highways in Texas has, unfortunately, happened backwards. With a public airing of the implications coming after the plan was approved. The legislation was passed, even approved by voters, and only then, once the people started becoming aware of it’s full impact, did a real debate begin to take place. Now, to get this issue back in the correct order - an informed debate/sunshine then allowing the public to have their say - we must have a moratorium on the TTC and privatization. There will be much wailing and gnashing of teeth from the pro-privatization side about how this will put us further behind. But rest assured, it is much better to get this right than to rush a bad plan.

From Sal we learn that HB 2772 - the moratorium bill in the House, it’s companion in the Senate is SB 1267 - has been referred to the Transportation Committee. (Corridor News is updating cosponsors to the bills on their site). With this bill being referred to the committee it’s now obvious that the bad, long-term, political implications of the TTC are too much to allow Republicans to continue to support this scheme. Their continued support of the TTC will devastate them in rural communities and they know it.

Which brings up to Last Term Krusee and Mr 39%. It appears the final impediments to getting the moratorium through the legislature are Krusee and Gov. Perry. Both, in case you forgot, had poor showings in last November’s and their support of the TTC had much to do with that. I doubt the GOP will let a bill, whose failure could do so much long-term damage to their party, be held up by a representative that won’t even be around next session. As for Perry, well if the numbers get a little higher in the House, they’ll be able to override 39%’s veto.

The moratorium, as Sen. Nichols editorial in today’s Startlegram points out, does not stop legitimate - my word - toll roads, those that do not involve privatization. All the moratorium does is allow for what’s vital in a democracy, an informed public debate over how we fund our transportation infrastructure in Texas. And an increase in the gas tax - which is almost always missing from the debate, as is the case in Sen. Nichols Op-Ed - is essential to keeping our roads “OURS” and affordable. An open and informed debated on this issue is what those that are for the TTC scheme have been afraid of the whole time, and that’s why they have been, and continue to be for no debate on this issue. If it’s so good then they should be able to come out in the open and explain it to the people of Texas.


DA John Bradley Taking Correct Stand On Jessica’s Law

Posted in Criminal Justice, 80th Legislature, Williamson County at 10:36 pm by wcnews

Yesterday Williamson County DA John Bradley was one of several DA’s that testified at a Senate Criminal Justice Committee hearing on Jessica’s Law - two bills in the Senate. Also testifying were Lt. Gov. Dewhurst and Attorney General Abbott. It was basically two statewide politicians with ambition for higher office (Dewhurst and Abbott) on one side and those that actually have to carry out those laws (the DA’s) on the other side. From this DMN article, 2 views of predator plan given.

The hearing showed a disconnect between a politically popular get-tough-on-sex-predators bill and the reality painted by prosecutors that it would, in the words of one, “handcuff district attorneys.”

Sane laws that work be damned, this is about having a great sound bite issue for a future campaign. DA Bradley does a good job of pointing out that this law will not help, but it will probably make things worse.

Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley said the death penalty could provoke a molester to kill the only witness and that the bill – by requiring stiff penalties and leaving no discretion – is rife with unintended consequences.

“I cannot support a bill that will make it any more likely that a child will die,” he said. “The number of options I have with this bill go down, not up.”

Current law provides a range of 5 to 99 years for the sexual assault of a child, and Mr. Bradley said that every prosecutor pushes to get the harshest penalty the case will sustain.

About 95 percent of cases are plea-bargained, he said, but the first-offense, mandatory 25-year sentence will force trials in many weak cases. He said child victims often make poor witnesses and the offender is usually a family member or someone well known to the victim, meaning some reluctance to prosecute with stiff punishments.

It will take much more of this to stop this from becoming law. This is one of those bills that will, more than likely, become law, even though enough lawmakers know it’s a bad law. They are too afraid to vote against it because a future opponent will use it against them to paint them as pro-child molester. DA Bradley deserves credit for being right on this issue.


One Privatization Scheme Down…

Posted in Privatization, 80th Legislature, Around The State at 9:16 pm by wcnews

Next time you hear a “wing-nut” say the private sector can always do a better job just remind them of the Accenture scheme.

Who Woulda Thunk It? - UPDATED

Posted in Privatization, Road Issues, Around The State at 8:34 am by wcnews

That a car salesman would be for the TTC? Red McCombs is pro-toll, pro-CDA/PPP’s, and wants roads built NOW, no matter how much it will cost consumers in the future. Or so he says, McCombs: Let’s keep Texas moving. It’s always comforting when a zillionaire writes an editorial, I’m thinking Leininger here too, telling us about all the benefits we will get from a plan that will enrich them even further. In case you aren’t aware Red McCombs is a car salesman. They’re one of the biggest lobbies for keeping cars and trucks as the only serious mode of transportation in our state and country. But the worst part of this editorial is the straw man argument he gives us about those opposed to these toll roads.

The worst scenario is for lawmakers to prohibit or limit the use of tolls or private funds to pay for needed road projects without authorizing new funding to offset the revenue loss.

Doing nothing to ease gridlock is the worst option of all. Yet that’s what many protesters and some legislators seem to be calling for with a proposed moratorium on much needed roads. A moratorium is a short-term political fix for a far-reaching issue. There are two approaches to building roads: through a gas tax increase or through user fees such as those on toll roads.

Some lawmakers support significant increases in the state gasoline tax to pay for more roads. Gas tax increases in excess of 40 cents per gallon would be needed to get serious about solving traffic problems.

By utilizing toll roads and private investment along with traditional funding methods, Texas can get more roads built faster and without a significant tax increase.

There is A LOT wrong with these four paragraphs. The worst scenario is for lawmakers to even “limit” tolls or private funds? We should just let corporations do what they think is best because, as we all know, they always have the public’s well being as their number one priority. Letting corporations run wild is what got lawmakers in this mess to begin with.

Nobody is suggesting doing nothing, no matter what it “seems” like to Mr. McCombs. There are many alternative plans for improving transportation in Texas. What the moratorium will do is make sure that we’re doing what’s right before we get locked into a plan for 40 years. It might not be the best policy for future care sales, but it’s what’s best for Texans. Yes the choice is between a gas tax, a user fee, or some combination of the two. But from what we’ve seen and heard it’s obvious that ceding our transportation infrastructure to corporations is not the least expensive way to pay for raods, no matter the short-term gain. Even with a 40 cent rise in the gas tax it would be much cheaper than tolls.

And to say that we would not have a significant tax increase if we had tolls is just a bunch of crap. As Sen. Carona said, “Today’s tolls are just disguised taxes.”

There are two main reasons why the TTC is bad. First it’s not a commuter road. It’s main goal is to get truck traffic off of I-35. And with the outrageous tolls they’ll be charging it’s doubtful that there will be any noticeable difference. The second is for this reason, a gas tax is always cheaper, a gas tax is always cheaper - just keep saying that over and over every time you see one of these editorials. I hope the AAS will allow someone who’s on the other side to respond to this editorial.

Let’s not let ‘ol car salesman Red sell us a toll road lemon.

[UPDATE]: Check out what a colossal screw-up the SH 121 deal in Dallas has already become, Was 121 deal the richest?.

The deal to make State Highway 121 a toll road for $2.8 billion in cash was less than half of what the state could have gotten, according to a very rough estimate unveiled Monday by the North Texas Tollway Authority.

Tip to Sal on this who says, “Most sane people knew selling a public highway to a spanish company was a bad deal, but who would have thought it would be exposed to be an outrageous financial screw up so quickly?”.



Posted in 80th Legislature, Commentary, Around The State at 12:54 pm by wcnews

The beginning of this DMN editorial, A Powerful Need: Weak governorship does not serve Texas well, on their recommendation for a stronger governor in Texas is very ironic:

Blame it on the Civil War. Or, more precisely, on the bitter Reconstruction period, which led to the Texas Constitution of 1876, designed to bar any official – say, our governor – from hoarding too much power.

To see the irony you have to know that “the bitter Reconstruction period” was the last time we had a Republican governor until 1978, more than one hundred years between them. The irony is that the reason we have a weak governor is because of overly powerful Republican governor’s abusing their power during that period. Isn’t it IRONIC that this editorial comes up in the wake of a unconstitutional power grab by a Republican governor? It wouldn’t be right to reward Perry’s bad leadership and overreaching power grab by giving him more power.

There have been plenty of governor’s in Texas that have been able to use this office, in it’s current state, to lead, and lead well. It’s not the rules of the office it’s the measure of the person that determines the power they will be able to wield.

They also advocate for “.. a Cabinet style of government, as in Washington and many state capitals..” While that is, more than likely, a better system then the current boards and commissions model we currently have, it doesn’t eliminate the fact that the governor would still have to get his initiatives through the legislature. The governor’s attempt to legislate by executive order is wrong and should stay that way, no matter what future powers we may want to give the governor of Texas.

Weekend Update

Posted in Privatization, 80th Legislature, Road Issues, Around The State at 10:11 am by wcnews

DMN has two articles on toll roads. First, Cintra becoming king of the toll roads, on the Spanish company, Cintra, which stands to gain from much of the tolling and pirvatization of our roads in Texas. Pay special attention to what’s happening with the road the control in Canada.

But it was a 67-mile toll road outside Toronto that paved the way for much of the company’s recent business, including its work in Texas.

Cintra garnered international attention when, in 1999, it assumed control of the existing 407 ETR project outside Toronto. It had opened as the world’s first all-electronic toll road.

But in the last several years, Cintra and Ontario provincial officials have battled extensively over the rates the company can charge motorists, with the case reaching the highest courts in Canada. Cintra officials recently prevailed, although they point out that the contract provides stiff penalties should higher tolls result in less traffic.

“The tolls when we bought the project were way low,” said Mr. López. “If we had kept the toll where it was, it would have been congested.”

The Canadian toll rate debate has led to regular meetings between Cintra and Canadian government officials.

“We meet all the time,” Mr. López said. “Especially if there is an election coming.”

Here’s the second article, Texas toll-road debate still has miles to go. It’s a where we stand now type of article and generally puts off any possibility of this being stopped, despite the public outrage. It also has no mention of CDA’s and PPP’s, basically known as the hijacking of our transportation future. Not much new in it for anyone that’s been paying attention. It again reminds us that we’re, only now, starting the debate about Texas’ transportation future that we should have had many years ago. This is the penatly we get for electing people like Mr. 39%. (Ben Wear also has this little dittie on former TxDOT member and current Sen. Nichols change of hear on the TTC).

Speaking of Mr. 39% the DMN has this article today, Lawmakers increasingly challenge Perry, on the “..incredible shrinking governor”. Perry’s attempt to reassert himself after a weak showing in November is not working. This about sums it up:

The rebuff of Mr. Perry and the deflation of his agenda are more than a difference over HPV; it is part of a “power rebalancing,” said Ross Ramsey, editor of the Capitol newsletter Texas Weekly.

After six years in office, Mr. Perry has appointed every board member in the state, and most of the agency directors. And he has worked to control hiring within agencies and had those offices report to him, Mr. Ramsey said.

Sparked by the HPV mandate, Mr. Ramsey said: “The Legislature is doing a push-back. The governor screwed up and is reaping the whirlwind.”

Coupling all this with his underwhelming showing in last year’s election – Mr. Perry won with 39 percent of the vote in a crowded field – it’s clear the governor has lost some of his mojo, Mr. Ramsey said.

“Is there anything the Legislature is going to do because he’s Perry? The answer is no,” Mr. Ramsey said. “The things he gets done now are the things the Legislature wants done.”

Perry thought that after the election he would be able to count on support for his more “middle-of-the-road” agenda from both parties. But in reality the Democrats don’t trust him, the Republicans don’t like his agenda, and neither one fears him because he has very little public support.


Jessica’s Law Gets Mixed Reviews

Posted in Criminal Justice, 80th Legislature, Williamson County at 2:20 pm by wcnews

The TDP had this artilce, House passes Jessica’s Law, on Jessica’s Law with Rep. Mike Krusee and WC DA John Bradley seeing it differently.

Rep. Krusee:

“I think this bill serves as a deterrent to sex offenders,” Rep. Mike Krusee, R-Dist. 52, said. “This bill gives jurors another option to use against repeat offenders.”

Krusee said it took more than four hours of debate and more than 20 amendments to be read Monday before the House passed its version of the law.

“(Monday) we were here debating this ‘til seven o’clock,” Krusee said.


However, Krusee said what qualifies as an offender for the punishments has been narrowed.

“These penalties are reserved for repeat offenders - for a person who molests one child for more than a month or someone who molests several children for longer than 30 days,” he said.

Despite last term’s Bushian reference to the “hard work” he did, debating ’til 7:00, manhy people think this law is lacking including John Bradley:

“There are some bills known as ‘Jessica’s Law’ that tend to focus on increasing punishment that, though they have good intention, focus it on the wrong place,” Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley said in a previous interview. “The question we need to address is what assistance do children need, not should we increase punishment. Texas already has some of the toughest punishments for sexually based crimes in the country. By increasing the punishment, the numbers of abuse cases aren’t likely to really change.”


In addition, Bradley said, Jessica’s Law implies it is fairly easy to catch and punish sex offenders.

“… The legislature and certainly the lieutenant governor think it’s quite simple to catch these criminals but in reality it is quite the opposite,” he said. “If a jury finds sex offenders guilty of a crime, they have no problem sending them away for a long time. We need to spend more time on capture … rather than punishment.”

The DA makes some solid points on this. Not to mention the fact that there are many other problems with Jessica’s Law - Texas (see this previous EOW post w/links). The DMN has an article today, Predator penalties criticized, exposes how the way this bill is currently could possibly be used to kill people things like this:

A coach pats a freshman cheerleader on the behind in the hall; an uncle touches his teenage niece; a baby sitter plays doctor with the young boy she’s watching.

I really like what Rep Turner had to say about the bill.

“We all want to deal with sexual predators, and we want to deal with them in the most severest of terms,” said Houston Democratic Rep. Sylvester Turner, who tried unsuccessfully to add a third punishment option of a long prison sentence to the bill. “But writing bad law and hoping prosecutors will not apply what we have authorized is just not the way to govern, I’m sorry.”

What shocked me about this article was the way the holes in the bill were glossed over by Rep. Gattis and others.

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