This Weeks Anti-Toll Events

Posted in 80th Legislature, Road Issues, Around The State at 2:50 pm by wcnews

This Thursday, March 1st is Sen. Carona’s special hearing on transportation policy. Meaning toll policy, public private partnerships and the TTC. AAS transportation writer Ben Wear has already pre-determined that the hearing will be “zoo” because it will be held in a 200 seat auditorium instead of a smaller hearing room. He also believes that as long as 39% and last term Krusee are guiding transportation policy the TTC is a slam dunk. We’ll see.

The Thursday hearing, the subject of much excitement among anti-tollsters on the Web, is scheduled to go all day, another rarity for legislative hearings not involving the state budget or school finance. Will it lead to any radical change in state policy? Probably not as long as Perry lives at 11th and Colorado streets and the House Transportation Committee is run by Perry/Williamson ally Rep. Mike Krusee, a Williamson County Republican.

The next day, Friday, March 2nd it’s the Don’t Tag Texas Rally - flyer (.PDF) - sponsored by the Farm And Ranch Freedom Alliance (FARFA). Jimmie Vaughn will play and there will be many speakers:

Penny Langford-Freeman: District Director for Congressman Ron Paul
Hank Gilbert: 2006 Democratic Candidate for Texas Agriculture Commissioner
Liz McIntyre: Co-author of Spychips: How Major Corporations and Government Plan to Track Your Every Purchase and Watch Your Every Move
Michael Badnarik: Libertarian candidate for President in 2004
John Dromgoole: The Natural Gardener
Judith McGeary: Executive Director, Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance
Linda Curtis: Executive Director of Independent Texans
David Stall: Co-Founder of Corridor Watch
Terri Hall: Regional Director, San Antonio Toll Party
Alex Jones: National radio broadcaster and documentary filmmaker
Gina Parker: National Issues Chairman, Eagle Forum

That’s quite a diverse group. It just goes to show that bad public policy can be realized by everyone. The rally is also to address the problems with the National Animal Identification System (NAIS), which you can find out all about here.

A Weak Executive’s Orders

Posted in 80th Legislature, Had Enough Yet?, Around The State at 11:57 am by wcnews

After Reconstruction and a new Texas Constitution, Texas was purposefully made to have a weak executive in an effort to decentralize government. With that in mind it’s only natural that executives would push against the limits of their power, from time to time, and try to acquire more.

That being said the recent MO of the our former governor and current president - I’ll do what I want when I want - has obviously bled over into our current governor. Gov. Perry’s penchant for governing by executive order - instituting what failed to make it through the legislative process by fiat - is very reminiscent of President Bush’s use of signing statements to try and get around laws passed by Congress.

Since he became governor in 2000, Perry has issued 65 executive orders. Most are the usual gubernatorial mix of disaster declarations, study task forces and flags flying at half-staff to honor the dead.

However, more than either of the previous two governors, Perry also has used executive orders to expand the power of his office, and his executive order mandating vaccinations against the human papillomavirus is not the first that over-stepped the Legislature.

At least four times, Perry has issued executive orders for state agencies to adopt policies that failed to pass in the Legislature — including a bill by Chisum to speed up the hearings process on air pollution permits such as the one involved in the TXU case.

Of course the most humorous part of all this is how little Republicans and “conservatives” cared about Gov. Perry’s abuse of these orders until it hit them between the eyes. As long as he was using them to screw the teacher’s unions and help big business they didn’t much care.

An obvious hypocrisy in Perry’s HPV order and lottery sale scheme is his sudden “concern” for the Texans without health care. If Perry was truly concerned about the health care of Texans he’d issue an Executive Order putting back the funding that was taken from CHIP 4 years ago, at the least, and if he’s really serious, mandating health care for all Texans. Although there’s no former member of Perry’s staff that has taken it upon themselves to become a lobbyist for children or Texans without health care. Sadly that, more than likely, explains why he hasn’t.

To a certain extent this is nothing more than the natural tug-of-war between branches of government. These orders, until recently, were mainly used for ceremonial announcements. This is not supposed to be a tool for the governor to use to make or change laws. The disturbing part is that most legislators and citizens didn’t much care if the governor did this as long as they agreed with it. If the governor doesn’t have the power to make or change existing laws using these orders, then it’s illegal and it’s wrong, whether one agrees with the governor or not.


John Carter Took $3,000 From CCA

Posted in T. Don Hutto, Around The Nation, Around The State, Williamson County at 12:20 am by wcnews

Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) the corporation that’s responsible for locking up children and families at T. Don Hutto has given money to many politicians in Texas and around the nation. Here’s the FEC disclosure. John Carter took $3,000 from them. Texas Senator’s Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn have taken $2,000 each. Texas Congressman Lamar Smith took $4,500 and Rep. Pete Sessions took $1,000. There’s many more names and organizations that are easily recognizable in CCA’s FEC disclosure.

Puts in context John Carter’s comments on his visit to T. Don Hutto:

“We talked to a whole table full of moms and kids,” Carter said. “We talked about the schools and they love them.”


But Congressman Carter says the Corrections Corporation of America is doing a good job providing a family-like environment. He also believes the education the children are getting meets Texas standards.

“I don’t know where they are getting this information, but I saw nothing other than a very compassionate, family-oriented facility,” Carter said.


State Audit Of The Trans Texas Corridor Shows It’s A Mess

Posted in Road Issues, Around The State at 12:31 pm by wcnews

Below is a summary of what the audit found. This is not news to anyone who’s been paying attention. Here’s the link to the SAO report (.PDF).

Administration of Contracts. The Department has been successful in certain key aspects of administering its Comprehensive Development Agreement contract with Cintra Zachry, LP and negotiating the first road project for TTC-35. However, weaknesses in the Department’s accounting for project costs create risks that the public will not know how much the State pays for TTC-35 or whether those costs are appropriate.

TTC-35 Estimates. The Master Development Plan contains conceptual plans for the design, construction, financing, operation, and maintenance of TTC-35. The Master Development Plan anticipates that TTC-35 could be developed through a series of 50-year contracts over a staggered timeframe and could cost more than $105.6 billion. According to the Master Development Plan, the design, right of way, construction, operations, maintenance, and financing costs will be provided through a developer, but in some cases these items could be partially paid by the State. There will be a separate contract for each segment, or group of segments, of TTC-35; each contract will be between the segment’s developer and the Department. As of January 2007, none of these segment development contracts had been executed, although the Department is currently negotiating such a contract for State Highway 130 (segments 5 and 6) with Cintra Zachry, LP.

Reliability of Financial Information. There is a lack of reliable information regarding projected toll road construction costs, operating expenses, revenue, and developer income. Auditors made an effort to sum the elements of costs, operating expenses, revenue, and developer income contained within the TTC-35 Master Development Plan. Upon its review of the sums, the Department stated that this financial information was not correct because it is not possible to accurately estimate profits due to many unforeseen variables. This report contains financial information auditors summed from the Master Development Plan for every 10 years of the 50-year life of the projects (see Table 8 in Appendix 2).

Sal, as always, deserves a tip for this and has much, much more.

Clay Robinson adds this, Auditors expose holes in TTC-35:

But the report, released less than a week before a scheduled Texas Senate committee hearing on toll roads, is sure to add fuel to a political controversy that has raged for months.

This will definitely add to that and I’m sure Sen. Carona has taken note of this.

And Ben Wear adds this nugget, Auditor scolds agency for corridor project:

The department, in a response included in the 73-page audit, agreed with most of the auditors’ observations and recommendations. But the department defended its decision to withhold for more than a year portions of its contract with corridor developer Cintra-Zachry. And it said the auditor was wrong to conclude that the contract commits the department to guarantee Cintra-Zachry a 12 percent rate of return on what it spends building a 300-mile toll road alternative to Interstate 35.

“The 12 percent was merely a modeling assumption,” the agency’s response says.

The state plans to delete language about a “12 percent guaranteed return on equity” now in the master development plan, the audit says.

The report also says the $3 billion in payments from the developer that the state expects to get could be reduced to nothing if interest rates and inflation are higher than expected. The agency in its response did not address that assertion.

Austin state Sen. Kirk Watson, a Democrat who serves on the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee, in a statement said the audit should put the brakes on the corridor project pending further study.

That is all about the guaranteed profits that these corporations were given in the contracts. Hopefully that’s a deal breaker. That’s the main reason they would even do this because they know these roads won’t make money. Cintra/Zachry are well aware that they can’t profrit off these roads unless their profits are guaranteed - so much for the free market. And once this is all hashed out we’ll find out just how high the tolls would have to be to guarantee those profits.

This is just heaping more on ‘ol 39%’s plate. Can’t wait to see their reaction to this.

Mr. Carter Goes To Hutto

Posted in T. Don Hutto, District 31, Williamson County at 10:42 am by wcnews

T. Don Hutto that is. The only report so far is from KXAN, Round Rock Congressman Pleased With State Of Detention Center.

“We talked to a whole table full of moms and kids,” Carter said. “We talked about the schools and they love them.”


But Congressman Carter says the Corrections Corporation of America is doing a good job providing a family-like environment. He also believes the education the children are getting meets Texas standards.

“I don’t know where they are getting this information, but I saw nothing other than a very compassionate, family-oriented facility,” Carter said.

What a great place. At least John Carter is having to face up to this record of putting children and families in this lock-up.


Severe Poverty Growing More Than Any Other Segment Of The Population

Posted in Commentary, Around The Nation at 10:54 am by wcnews

So says this report from McClatchy, U.S. economy leaving record numbers in severe poverty. Truly starling stuff about poverty in the good ‘ol US of A.

The percentage of poor Americans who are living in severe poverty has reached a 32-year high, millions of working Americans are falling closer to the poverty line and the gulf between the nation’s “haves” and “have-nots” continues to widen.


The McClatchy analysis found that the number of severely poor Americans grew by 26 percent from 2000 to 2005. That’s 56 percent faster than the overall poverty population grew in the same period. McClatchy’s review also found statistically significant increases in the percentage of the population in severe poverty in 65 of 215 large U.S. counties, and similar increases in 28 states. The review also suggested that the rise in severely poor residents isn’t confined to large urban counties but extends to suburban and rural areas.

The plight of the severely poor is a distressing sidebar to an unusual economic expansion. Worker productivity has increased dramatically since the brief recession of 2001, but wages and job growth have lagged behind. At the same time, the share of national income going to corporate profits has dwarfed the amount going to wages and salaries. That helps explain why the median household income of working-age families, adjusted for inflation, has fallen for five straight years.

These and other factors have helped push 43 percent of the nation’s 37 million poor people into deep poverty - the highest rate since at least 1975.

The share of poor Americans in deep poverty has climbed slowly but steadily over the last three decades. But since 2000, the number of severely poor has grown “more than any other segment of the population,” according to a recent study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

“That was the exact opposite of what we anticipated when we began,” said Dr. Steven Woolf of Virginia Commonwealth University, who co-authored the study. “We’re not seeing as much moderate poverty as a proportion of the population. What we’re seeing is a dramatic growth of severe poverty.”

These are truly disgusting statistics. But this is what compassionate conservatism is all about. Just like regular conservatism but with a nicer name. Oh yeah, who was George W. Bush’s favorite philosopher again. I doubt he would approve.

McBlogger Chews-Up & Spits-Out The GACoC

Posted in Road Issues, Central Texas, Williamson County at 9:53 am by wcnews

EOW posted earlier in the week on the AAS Editorial that came out in conjunction with the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce (GACoC) announcement of it’s new pro-toll initiative. The basic point being made was that whenever the MSM makes it’s case for a gas tax over tolls they treat them as equals. When everybody knows that raising the gas tax is much cheaper and fairer and saner than toll roads. But don’t take my word for it, take McBlogger’s, The Austin Chamber of Commerce loves them some tolls.

Yeah, the problem, as Senator Watson is finding out, is not accountability, it’s the fairness of tolls themselves and how much more expensive they are than gas taxes. That’s why tolls are going to be DOA and our leaders that support them are going to have some real problems down the road. Tolls almost cost the Chair of the House Transportation Committee his seat in this last cycle (what, you thought we’d get through this without mentioning Krusee even once?).

This is not going away and there will be serious electoral consequences in the future for elected officials that don’t listen to the public on the issue of transportation and tolls.


Probation Reform? Not In Williamson County

Posted in Criminal Justice, Williamson County at 4:34 pm by wcnews

If there’s one thing Williamson County has always been known for it’s being the authoritarian neighbor to the north of Travis County. Whether it’s the Mayor of Round Rock intimidating a business owner for a it’s patron’s dressing up in drag or lockin’ people up and throwing away the key. So it only makes sense that Williamson County criminal justice officials would have a problem with changing a policy that might keep people from going to jail.

There was a serious bipartisan effort over the interim to try and find a way to lower the number of people we send to prison. Instead of building more prisons we would put non-violent offenders on probation. A good number of these are minor drug crimes where the offender and society would be better served by sending the offender to treatment and supervision instead of prison. Even the Leininger-funded right-wing TPPF think tank is on board with this.

This TDP article, Bill could defer criminals to treatment, with quotes from Williamson County DA John Bradley and Taylor Police Captain Don Georgens, shows very well where they stand on this issue. They’re speaking about a bill filed this session, HB 1678, by one member of that bipartisan effort Rep. Jerry Madden (R - Plano).

Read the rest of this entry »

Democracy Is Not Cheap

Posted in 80th Legislature at 11:38 am by wcnews

It is cheaper than a tax cut and much harder to get through the GOP controlled Lege though. We all know that voting machines are suspect and that we need a verifiable paper trail, at the least, to be able to successfully audit them. But with the news that it may cost $40 million - $50 million dollars Republicans are balking, Cost may stall ballot paper trail.

A paper-trail system would consist of a printer in a sealed case attached to every voting machine that would let voters check their votes against the receipt. The paper trail could then be consulted in the event of a recount.

Kolkhorst described her bill as a work in progress, largely because it does not address how to pay for the additional voting equipment.

“I could have fainted when I got the fiscal note on this bill,” Kolkhorst told the committe


Both Kolkhorst and the committee chairman, state Rep. Leo Berman, R-Tyler, said they would not support legislation that would amount to an unfunded mandate. Berman said he will keep the bill pending in committee until the funding issue is resolved, even if that means not passing a paper-trail bill until the next legislative session, in 2009.

State Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, a committee member, said the urgency of the issue means lawmakers can’t wait until the next session. He said the issue should be addressed before the 2008 election because too many voters don’t trust electronic voting.

I know that it’s not a tax cut, or busting the spending cap, but relatively speaking, as compared to the tax cut that was just allowed for, this is a drop in the bucket. Especially when it’s taken into consideration that this will make our help make sure our votes are counted as they were cast.

The Republican Budget For Texas Is A CF, Again

Posted in 80th Legislature, Had Enough Yet?, Uncategorized at 9:24 am by wcnews

Kuff has the post, The budget bungle, and speaks for all of us bloggers:

Dear “Democrats for Real Reform”:

Just so we’re clear, this is why the rest of us are pissed off. Yes, we know, you got your shiny new committee chairs and whatnot in return for your support of the current regime. Who knows, you may even be able to do some good from those lofty perches. I hope you can, because Lord knows there’s not enough good in the world, let alone in the Lege. But frankly, it won’t matter, because it’s not possible for you to do enough good to undo all the bad that’s going to get done, and already has been done.

It’s very simple. They don’t care about restoring CHIP. They’re not going to fully fund the schools. They took six billion dollars out of general revenue to fund a reckless property tax cut, and I guarantee you they’re going to take more to pay for more of those cuts in 2009. There will be a few scraps left over to fight for, but for the third regular session in a row, we’re gonna get screwed. That’s just how it is.

Now, maybe things wouldn’t be that much better with a different Speaker. I’m sure Jim Pitts would have done his darnedest to fund that property tax cut, too. But maybe, just maybe, with someone other than Warren Chisum in charge of the purse strings, we could have rejigged the priorities a little. Let’s just say that this is one of those times where the devil you know was unquestionably the greater of the two evils.

So this is why we’re mad, and why people are tossing around words like “primary” and “Iscariot”. And just think, there’s three full months left of this joy. How lovely.


All of us cranky bloggers


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