Federal Agency Centralizes License Plate Spying Data

Link to article here.

Technology has become the enemy of personal liberty. There's no better example than the onslaught ocurring with motorists and the attempts to collect and mine data of our travel patterns and then criminalize us for it with tolls and other cameras that don't always tell the whole picture.

Federal Agency Centralizes License Plate Spying Data
Nationwide cameras track motorists for federal database centralized at the Drug Enforcement Administration.
January 27, 2015
The Newspaper.com

The federal government is harvesting information from a network of hundreds of spy cameras to develop a centralized database that tracks the movement of motorists not suspected of any wrongdoing. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on Monday released documents obtained from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) that offer new details about how this national tracking program works.

The DEA's National License Plate Recognition Initiative uses a hundred automated license plate reader cameras (ALPR, known as ANPR in Europe) deployed in Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, New Jersey, New Mexico and Texas. The information by the cameras is supplemented by thousands of cameras operated by other agencies with federal officials most anxious to use the technology to find automobiles and other property to seize.

"The pilot National LPR Initiative has received enormous support from all several government and law enforcement entitles and multiple request have been made to connect LPR devices from state and local law enforcement In anticipation of the pilot National LPR Initiative being utilized by all of DEA as well as federal, state and local law enforcement throughout the United States," a heavily redacted June 2010 DEA email explains. "We want to insure we can collect and manage all the data and IT responsibilities that will come with the work to insure the program meets its goals, of which asset forfeiture is primary."

Information shared between the Customs and Border Patrol agency with the DEA involved 794 million license plate reads over a four-year period. Local, state and federal police departments can search through the accumulated data stored by the DEA's El Paso Intelligence Center, which is accessible 24/7 through a system known as Firebird. The information is collected to "identify travel patterns" of motorists.

According to a July 2012 email, the DEA claims it stores license plate data belonging to innocent motorist for six months. The agency has released no information on what exceptions may apply or whether the policy has changed.

"As is the case with most police and federal law enforcement spy technologies, license plate tracking programs have flown under the radar of courts and legislators for far too long, silently collecting records about ordinary Americans in the cover of secrecy," ACLU analysts Bennett Stein and Jay Stanley wrote. "When programs are secret, we have no way of challenging them or ensuring they conform with our values and the law."

S. Carolina Governor proposes gas tax hike

Link to article here.

Here’s another Republican daring to propose a gasoline tax hike in South Carolina. She would offset it with an income tax break, but citizens don’t necessarily care for offsets, they want tax reduction. We’re not familiar with how the current state gas tax in South Carolina gets spent, but it’s like Texas and many other states, they need to end diversions of the gas tax to non-road purposes before asking taxpayers to dig deeper.

Traveling Haley route on roads makes sense
Editorial
January 23, 2015
The Times and Democrat

THE ISSUE: State of the State; OUR OPINION: With governor making proposal, lawmakers should get to work quickly in ironing out details

Identifying the problem is not difficult, but fixing South Carolina roads will be expensive. Gov. Nikki Haley knows it, South Carolina legislators know it and the people of the state should accept the fact.

In outlining her long-awaited plan for infrastructure in Wednesday night’s State of the State address, Haley shifted positions on the gasoline tax but did so with a condition.

She calls for:
* Promoting economic growth by cutting income taxes at all levels by 30 percent over the next 10 years.
* Adding 10 cents to the state’s gas tax over three years, offsetting a portion of the income tax savings with a priority on infrastructure spending.
* Dedicating motor vehicle sales taxes to roads, further diversifying funding streams for transportation.
* Restructuring the South Carolina Department of Transportation and refocusing the agency on maintaining roads as a first priority and doing so in an apolitical way.

Haley states her plan will invest $3.5 billion in roads over 10 years while dedicating almost $5.6 billion in tax relief for South Carolinians.

“This is the real investment in infrastructure that South Carolina needs, and one that doesn’t raise taxes and promotes economic growth,” she said in a prepared statement on the night of the address to lawmakers.

For their part, lawmakers such as new House Speaker Jay Lucas and Sen. Joel Lourie, who gave the Democratic response to the speech, offered praise for the governor and acknowledged her leadership role. While neither directly endorsed her approach on roads, lawmakers would be wise to use her plan as a serious jumping-off point for moving and moving quickly on the infrastructure issue.

The governor has earned the political capital to make her plan a top priority. And with lawmakers making it such, Haley will not be standing in the way of plans that seek a different approach.

The governor has focused on development in her four years in office and can boast of considerable success. But with business leaders such as Zeus Industrial Products CEO John Worley, writing in Thursday’s T&D, stating that road conditions are endangering development, Haley realizes that continued progress depends on action.

Currently, 46 percent of the state’s primary road system is in poor condition and 1,600, or a third of the bridges, are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. South Carolina has the additional challenge of owning the fourth-largest state highway system in the nation.

Next year alone South Carolina is projected to need more than $75 million just to maintain roads in their current condition. In 10 years, the amount will rise to be almost $200 million per year.

In total, the DOT has said it needs an additional $1.5 billion yearly for the next two decades just to bring roads to good condition.

The price tag is high and the timetable is long, but fixing the problem must begin now.

The current 16-cents-per-gallon gas tax has not changed since 1987. With an increase to 26 cents, the tax would still be below neighboring North Carolina’s 37.5 cents and in line with Georgia’s current 26.5 cents. It’s a price that has to be paid and should be supported.

TxDOT Spends Millions in Tuition Reimbursements

Link to article here.

More waste at TxDOT. Taxpayers pay TxDOT engineers for continuing education at PRIVATE, very epxensive universities. Cut the waste and get back to building highways!

TxDOT Spends Millions in Tuition Reimbursements
By Terri Langford, Bobby Blanchard and Becca Aaronson
Jan. 22, 2015
Texas Tribune

When it comes to reimbursing state employees for education costs, the Texas Department of Transportation is far more generous than other state agencies.

After reporting this month that the Texas Health and Human Services Commission paid a top aide's $97,020 MBA tuition, The Texas Tribune took a closer look at how much state agencies reimburse employees for education costs. Of the $23.8 million state agencies spent from 2002 to part of January 2015 on tuition, conferences and other educational programs for employees, close to half went to TxDOT staffers, according to data from the Texas comptroller’s office.

TxDOT spokeswoman Veronica Beyer could not explain why the agency spends much more on staffer education than other agencies. She said doing so helps the agency attract and retain the most talented staff.

Toll roads are elitist road system

Link to article here.

More reasons not to build toll roads
By Tom Jackson
Equipment World
January 19, 2015

As a follow up to my earlier post on the Texas SH 130 toll road, I wanted to elaborate on another reason why I think toll roads are a bad idea: elitism.

Tolls for me, free for thee
Most of the sophisticated toll systems today photograph your license plate or read an RFID transponder in your car, digitize the information and send you a bill at the end of the month. Pretty slick actually, and I don’t doubt that it’s less expensive than paying the salaries of toll collectors sitting in toll booths.

Man receives toll bill for a vehicle from another state that he does not own

Link to article here.

Man Keeps Receiving Toll Road Bill
The bill is for a vehicle from another state that he does not own
Jan 14, 2015
KRGV.com

MISSION - A Mission man said he has been battling with the Texas Department of Transportation for years. The problem is a TxTag toll bill he received by mistake.

The man called 5 On Your Side for help.

Elwood and Avis Hedin have been coming down to the Rio Grande Valley from Minnesota for years.

“It's very frustrating. When you are talking to a person, it's like talking to a machine,” said Elwood Hedin.

It was back in 2012 when Hedin first got a bill from the Texas Department of Transportation's TxTag Office, which handles toll roads.

He paid his small bill, but then started getting billed for another vehicle which was not his.

Multiple segments of Texas 130 eyed for truck toll discounts

Link to article here.

Why should a single Texas taxpayer pay for truckers to have toll discounts when we all have to pay full price to take the failing SH 130 tollway? This is not good policy and only prolongs the inevitable - bankruptcy for an ill-conceived toll road. This taxpayer subsidy should never happen.

Multiple segments of Texas 130 eyed for truck toll discounts
By Keith Goble
Land Line state legislative editor
January 9, 2015

Truckers traveling through central Texas could soon get another enticement to avoid driving on Interstate 35.

In an effort to reduce congestion on I-35 through the Austin area, multiple Texas state lawmakers are behind an effort to reduce truck tolls along a 49-mile stretch of state Highway 130.



The 90-mile highway connects the state capital with San Antonio to the south. It is split into six segments. Segments 1 through 4 link Georgetown to south Austin and are run by the state Department of Transportation. Segments 5 and 6 are closest to San Antonio and are run by a private group.



Sens. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, and Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, and Rep. Celia Israel D-Austin, have filed bills for consideration during the session that begins Tuesday, Jan. 13, that would reduce the expense for truckers to travel along segments 1 through 4.

Senators call for federal gas tax hike

Link to article here.

Senators call for federal gas tax hike
By Mary Troyan
USA Today
January 11, 2015

WASHINGTON — Low gas prices have rekindled talk on Capitol Hill about raising the federal gas tax to eliminate huge annual deficits in the federal Highway Trust Fund that pays for road and bridge work around the country.

While some top Republicans remain adamant a tax hike is not the answer, there are signs that the idea, including one from Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, is at least getting a fresh look.

Corker and Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., have proposed raising the federal gas tax by 12 cents over two years and indexing it to inflation. To make the concept more palatable to fiscal conservatives, the measure would lower other taxes.

The 18.4-cent-per-gallon gas tax hasn't been raised since 1993. As vehicles have become more efficient, the revenue generated by the tax has dropped. Current stopgap funding for the Highway Trust Fund expires in May, and transportation officials in Tennessee and other states are holding back projects until uncertainty about the federal money is addressed.

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, said this week a gas tax increase could not be ruled out. Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, agreed.

They did not endorse Corker's bill, but their comments represent more of an opening than when gas prices topped $4 a gallon.

"What we floated is obvious. There is not enough money coming in," Corker said last week.

Bills focus on funding, taxes

Link to article here.

Transportation: Pay As You Go
Transportation bills focus on funding and taxes
By Michael King
Fri., Jan. 9, 2015
Austin Chronicle

If there's an incipient theme in the transportation-related bills filed thus far, it's roughly "Show Me the Money." There are several bills, including joint resolutions aimed at eventual constitutional amendments, that would re-allocate various taxes and/or fees related to transportation, mostly attempting to confine all such funding to direct highway construction. That's the thrust of HJR 28 and 29 (Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso) as well as HJR 36 (Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio), although each has different emphases; curiously, both are drafted as temporary, two-year amendments to the infinitely flexible Texas Constitution.

A similar trend includes various attempts to make certain all transportation money is dedicated to highways – and highways only. One strategy is to require a public referendum for any attempt to create and manage a "fixed rail system" (HB 527, Larson); such high democratic standards seldom seem to apply to major highway construction. Other bills would redirect all gas tax revenue to road construction, and away from the permanent school fund or anything else not highway related (SB 61, Sen. Don Huffines, R-Dallas; HB 129, Rep. Craig Goldman, R-Fort Worth). With new funding headed to transportation following the passage of November's Prop. 1 (Rainy Day Funds for transportation), there will certainly be persistent efforts to define "transportation" to mean exclusively "poured concrete." And Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, would attempt (SB 119) to make transit system management more difficult by requiring that agency boards be elected, not appointed.

Woman received toll bill to place she's never been

Link to article here.

The litany of toll billing problems continue. Erroneous bills could impound your vehicle and block your car registration, which impede your ability to get to work and earn a living!

Woman Receives Toll Road Bill by Mistake
Jan 07, 2015
KRGV.com

HARLINGEN - A Harlingen woman said she got a toll road bill by mistake and tried to resolve it without any results.

She called 5 On Your Side for help.

Due to a combination of computer and human error, it is possible to be issued a bill for a place where someone has never been.

Diana Rosales got a letter in the mail last month from some place she knew nothing about.

She received a bill from the North East Texas Regional Mobility Authority (NET RMA) for $2.11, along with a threat of added penalties and fines if she did not pay up.

“We haven't even traveled out of the (Rio Grande) Valley during the month of November,” said Rosales.

She had supposedly driven her Mercedes on something called Toll Road 49, which loops around the city of Tyler.

NET RMA is an independent government agency involved in transportation projects in Northeast Texas.

Rosales tried calling the number on the bill.

She said, “Several times. And I say that because I did call several times. After waiting 30 minutes on hold on one occasion, I gave up. I said this is crazy. This is just insane.”

The authority places cameras along the toll roads. These cameras read the license plates of vehicles that travel on those roads.

CHANNEL 5 NEWS contacted the agency, and a spokesperson said they dismissed the bill over the weekend. She said lighting caused a bit of glare on one vehicle's license plate. That caused them to think the vehicle was the one Rosales owns.

“There is nowhere on there where I can contact or even submit a form, or go online and submit a form. Please send me a picture or send me some proof that I was there,” said Rosales.
She almost paid the bill just to get it over with.

“It's the principle of the thing and you multiply that two dollars and whatever cents by how many? And how many people are actually willing to call 5 On Your Side? Wouldn't it have been easier to just write a check and just bill the two dollars and whatever cents?” she asked.

Rosales's case does bring up the question of how many incorrect bills the regional mobility authority send out to drivers by mistake each year, and how many people pay money they do not actually owe?

If they send you a bill by mistake and you pay it, can you get a refund? Those are the questions. CHANNEL 5 NEWS is trying to get answers.

The attorney for NET RMA said they are working on the answers to those questions. There are eight regional mobility authorities operate in Texas, including agencies for Hidalgo and Cameron counties.

The North East Texas Regional Mobility Authority does have a way you can dispute a toll.

It cannot be done online. A letter must be mailed in.

The attorney for the NET RMA explained their process for reading license plates.

The attorney said license plates are read by a camera, and that image is then entered into a computer. Software handles optical character recognition. That information is then reviewed by a person.

One problem is that some characters look virtually identical, such as an "l" and the number one.

So both the computer and the human have to make a mistake on the same license plate for someone to receive a bill in error. The NET RMA said their error rate last week was less than one percent.

Transportation Committees major factor in needed reforms

Link to article here.

Transportation Committees major factor in needed reforms
By Terri Hall
Examiner.com
January 25, 2015

When Texas voters elected a new Governor and Lt. Governor, they ushered in a new era of leadership that promised key reforms in the arena of transportation - promising to address the structural funding shortfalls without tolls as well as problems with processes and efficiencies. Much of the new policy will be shaped by who Lt. Governor Dan Patrick and Speaker Joe Straus tap as Transportation Committee members. Patrick just announced his picks Friday and Straus is expected to announce his soon.

So let’s take a look at Patrick’s picks for the Senate Transportation Committee. Senator Robert Nichols (R - Jacksonville) will remain the Chair, but most notable are the new faces on the committee, including four new senators Bob Hall (R - Kaufman County), Don Huffines (R -Dallas), Lois Kolkhorst (R -Brenham), and Van Taylor (R - Plano). Taylor and Kolkhorst formerly served in the Texas House. All of the new senators are anti-toll. Huffines was appointed Vice Chair, which is a big nod. Compare that to just one anti-toll committee member last session and none in prior sessions, and this is a Texas-sized step forward for taxpayers.

Alamo MPO shafts 281 commuters AGAIN!

Alamo transportation board wastes Prop 1 on non-priority projects
Fails to turn toll lanes back to free lanes on 281 as promised
By Terri Hall
Jan., 26, 2015

Today, the Alamo Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (AAMPO) decided how Prop 1 funds would be spent on area roads. Notably absent, again, was Bexar County Commissioner Kevin Wolff whose precinct encompasses the controversial toll project on US 281. His father, the County Judge Nelson Wolff, sent a letter to the Transportation Commission asking for Prop 1 funds to be used to turn toll lanes into free lanes on US 281 if Prop 1 passed, and yet there's a deafening silence from both Wolffs now that Wolff was re-elected county judge.

Rather than turn toll lanes back to free lanes on US 281 as promised and as its own policy requires, the board unanimiously chose to spend $124 million in new money that voters approved, which can only be spent on non-toll projects, to non-priority minor fixes to frontage roads on I-10 near Boerne and on Hwy 90. Neither project is on the state's 100 Most Congested Roads List. US 281 has been consistently on the list for years and even ranked the #1 most stressful road in the state per the Commuter Stress Index. None of the new funds will be used on major congestion relief projects that add capacity to major corridors - all of which are slated to be tolled.

Perry Legacy: Unpopular, failed toll road policy

Link to article here.

Governor proposes a toll road plan 'as big as Texas'
Aman Batheja | Texas Tribune | Posted: January 7, 2015

Rick Perry was just a year into his tenure as governor when he proposed the Trans-Texas Corridor, a massive 4,000-mile network of privately operated toll roads, railroad tracks and utility lines that would take 50 years to build.

“This plan is as big as Texas and as ambitious as our people,” Perry said at the first of many events touting the project.

The corridor he envisioned would never become a reality, but he still managed to leave his mark on the state’s approach to funding roads. Under his leadership, Texas has been the country’s most aggressive supporter of tolling and private-sector investment in transportation.

Toll tags used to enforce speed limits

Link to article here.

Electric toll tags can and will be used to enforce speed limits. Couple this with all the so-called distracted driving laws, and the nanny state in America is run amok.

Not just tolls: E-Z Pass keeping an eye on speeders
 Larry Copeland, USA TODAY
December 20, 2014

Warning to motorists: Don't speed in the toll lanes. E-Z Pass is watching.

Several states, including New York, Maryland and Pennsylvania, say they monitor speeds through the fast pass toll lanes and will suspend your E-Z Pass for multiple speeding violations.

In all, five of the 15 E-Z Pass states have some kind of rules on the books for breaking the speed limit in the convenience lanes.

"You can lose your E-Z Pass privileges if you speed through E-Z Pass lanes," says Dan Weiller, director of communications for the New York State Thruway Authority. "You get a couple of warnings. We don't have the power to give a ticket, but we do have to power to revoke your E-Z Pass, which we will."

He and tolling officials in several other states say the issue is the safety of human toll collectors. "At most toll barriers, we have a mix of E-Z Pass lanes and standard toll lanes," Weiller says.

On Maryland toll roads, drivers' speed is monitored in the free-flowing toll lanes, which have a 30 mph speed limit, says Becky Freeberger, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Transportation Authority. "If we clock you at 12 mph more than that, we will send you a warning, saying slow down," she says. "It's not a ticket." If a driver gets a second such notice within six months, their E-Z Pass account can be suspended for up to 60 days.

In Pennsylvania, a warning usually suffices for lead-footed drivers, says Carl DeFebo, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission. "If a collector spots an E-Z Pass customer blasting through at a high rate of speed, they'll get a license plate," he says. "We do have the ability to send a warning letter to the customer, and that has proven effective. If the customer doesn't heed the warning we have the ability to suspend their E-Z Pass privileges but we haven't done that recently."

DeFebo notes that while states can collect tolls using transponders based in other states, they don't yet have the ability to access the account information of out-of-state drivers. "We don't have the ability to send a warning letter to those customers," he says. "As far as I know there is no reciprocity (with other states) on this issue."

That's one reason the state is slow to suspend E-Z Pass accounts, he says. "It would be like letting others get off the hook but going after our own customers."

West Virginia can suspend the accounts of E-Z Pass customers who repeatedly speed but rarely does so, says Etta Keeney, customer services supervisor with West Virginia Parkways Authority.

"If they're over a certain speed, they receive an informational letter, like a warning, please slow down for your safety and ours," she says. "If they continue to speed, if it's like a habitual problem, we can take their privileges."

In Rhode Island. lasers are used to monitor speeds in E-Z Pass lanes on the Newport Bridge, also known as the Claiborne Pell Bridge, the state's only tolled facility, says Jim Swanberg, director of plaza operations, safety and security for the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority. He says drivers can be "disqualified" for speeding after getting a warning.

Police enforce speed limits on E-Z Pass toll roads, and some states say they don't gather any information on motorists' speed.

In Virginia, E-Z Pass account holders sign a customer agreement to abide by the speed limit through toll plazas, says Tamara Rollison, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Transportation. "There is no consequence spelled out if someone breaks the speed limit regarding their E-Z Pass usage," she says. "The expectation is you obey the law."

On North Carolina's Quick Pass toll roads, which also accept E-Z Pass accounts, driver speeds are not monitored, says Steve Abbott, a spokesman with the North Carolina Department of Transportation. The state's toll roads, which opened in 2011, were the first in the nation to be built without toll booths, he says. "It's all transponders or (billing) by mail," Abbott says. "If you drive it at 20 mph or 70 mph, it doesn't note the speed of the vehicle," he says.

Speeding and the other E-Z Pass states:
Delaware. "We don't monitor speeds with the E-Z Pass system," says Mike Williams, chief of communications with the state Division of Motor Vehicles. "Speeding is a law enforcement issue in Delaware.

Maine. Speeds are not monitored, says Erin Courtney, a spokeswoman with the Maine Turnpike Authority.

Massachusetts. E-Z Pass does not monitor drivers' speeds on toll roads nor as they drive through toll plazas; drivers don't lose E-Z Pass privileges for speeding through toll plazas, says Amanda Richard, deputy press secretary of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation.

New Hampshire. "New Hampshire Turnpike System presently does not use the E-Z Pass equipment in the toll plazas or open road toll lanes to collect speed data and enforce speeds through the plaza or toll zone, nor do we suspend E-Z Pass privileges," says Christopher Waszczuk, administrator of the New Hampshire Bureau of Turnpikes. "The state police is used to legally enforce the speed limit in locations susceptible to speeding."

New Jersey. The E-Z Pass equipment at toll plazas on the New Jersey Turnpike and the Garden State Parkway records the speed of vehicles coming through, says Thomas Feeney, a spokesman for the New Jersey Turnpike Authority. "But we don't issue tickets or suspend privileges," he says.

Ohio. "We do not monitor speed using E-Z Pass," says Adam Greenslade, spokesman for the Ohio Turnpike and Infrastructure Commission. "Also, as far as speeding at our toll plazas is concerned, we have a completely gated system. Therefore, even E-Z Pass users are required to slow down enough to give the gate time to open."

Information for E-Z Pass in Indiana and I-PASS in Illinois was not available.

P3s cost Canadians $8 billion more than public-run roads

Link to article here.

Privatizing highways using P3s (called AFPs in Canada) cost Canadians $8 billion more than if the government had done the toll projects. Bottom line, P3s cost far more than the quicker delivery is worth.

Government-managed projects could save Ontario money: Auditor-General
By Adrian Morrow
The Globe and Mail
Tuesday, Dec. 09 2014

Public-private partnerships have cost Ontario taxpayers nearly $8-billion more on infrastructure over the past nine years than if the government had successfully built the projects itself.

Tolls up 54% in Miami, drivers flee tollways

Link to article here.

This is what is happening all over Texas, too: “It’s crazy. Gas is going down but what we’re saving on gas we’re spending on tolls.” Tolls have gone up 54% overall in Miami and that’s the pattern for toll roads - perpetual, ever increasing, unaccountable taxation. This is the legacy of Rick Perry that's well articulated by this frustrated motorist quoted below: “They’re taxing the crap out of people.”

Tolls on 836, 112 have driver tempers flaring
By Glenn Garvin
Miami Herald
12/06/2014

It may take a full year to evaluate how a new toll system on State Roads 836 and 112 has affected traffic, expressway authorities say, but the effect on motorists’ tempers is pretty clear: They’re flaring.

“An abuse of power!” fumes Coral Gables architect Maria Luisa Castellanos. “Taxation without representation.” says Jim Angleton, who owns a cluster of financial services scattered across Miami-Dade: “They’re taxing the crap out of people.”

Diversions of gas tax threaten transparency

Link to article here.

Transportation Diversions Are the Enemy of Transparency
by Ross Kecseg
Empower Texans
December 31, 2014

Lazy politicians maintain that Texans should pay higher taxes, fees and tolls if we hope to meet roadway demand spurred by population growth. However, they fail to mention the gas tax revenue we already pay is diverted to unrelated programs with billions more spent by transportation agencies on non-road projects.

A simple example is our state’s gas tax. The legislature levies it specifically for the State Highway fund…and then diverts 52% of it elsewhere. Transportation is such a “high priority” that Republicans gleefully divert more than half of road money away from what it was created to finance—roads.

Federal gas tax hike on the horizon?

Link to article here.

John Thune Puts Gas Tax Hike on the Table for GOP Senate
by Dan Riehl
4 Jan 2015
Breitbart.com

The incoming chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, Sen. John Thune (R-SD) put all options on the table when it comes to replenishing the shrinking Highway Trust Fund, which is widely seen as opening the door to a tax increase.

Per an AP report, “Gas and diesel taxes haven’t risen since 1993, resulting in perennial shortfalls in the fund that pays for most road projects”.

Several commissions have called for raising the taxes, but Congress has been reluctant. Instead lawmakers have dipped repeatedly into the general treasury to keep the trust fund solvent.

The federal gas tax is 18.4 cents per gallon and the diesel tax is 24.4 cents per gallon.

Thune made the comments while on “Fox News Sunday.”

P3s come at a high cost

Link to article here.

When will governments figure out that they’ll never come out on top on a P3 deal? Never. These special interests have armies of lawyers to write these contracts in a way where taxpayers will always be on the hook for the losses and will guarantee the profits of these corporations. This example in Ontario is just another in a Texas-sized stack of examples of P3s that fleece the public.

Public-private partnerships come with a high cost
North Bay Regional Health Centre
By Rebecca Zanussi
December 26, 2014
North Bay Nipissing News

ALMAGUIN – An initiative meant to save the province money is actually costing more — $8 billion more to be precise.

Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk released her annual report on Tuesday, Dec. 9, reviewing a number of initiatives led by the Ontario government. One of the areas she examined in detail was private-public-partnerships, known as P3s or Alternative Funding Procurements (AFPs).

“For 74 projects that were either completed or under way under Infrastructure Ontario, tangible costs, such as construction, finance and professional services, were estimated to be nearly $8 billion higher under the AFP approach than they were estimated to have been if the projects had been delivered by the public sector,” Lysyk said following the release of the report.

“About $6.5 billion of this is due to higher private-sector financing costs.”

The North Bay Regional Health Centre was one of the first AFP projects built in Ontario. And Dave Smits, vice president of corporate and support services for the health centre, believes that the process was worth the investment.

“In a traditional method of funding, you would bid the work for the new hospital project, pick a general contractor, and after the new building was built undergo a typical warranty period of about a year,” Smits says.

“But after that the contractor’s work is essentially done and you’re responsible for the maintenance of the building for the rest of its life cycle.”

That could give way to complications, Smits says, because while the costs for constructing the building were approved, maintenance issues had to be dealt with as they arose, and sometimes the funding wasn’t there.
But in an AFP hospital the onus of maintenance — and the estimated cost over the hospital’s mortgage — is on the contractor.

“With AFP hospitals, the government realized the traditional approach to funding ongoing maintenance hadn’t been particularly successful,” Smits says.

“Over the life, the buildings were falling into a state of disrepair. Certain systems were maybe not maintained or kept in line.”

And that’s where AFPs come in. The contractor bids a capital cost for building the new project, but also includes the maintenance costs. And if any of it isn’t maintained — whether it’s walls needing a new coat of paint, or equipment being out of commission — the contractor could face a financial penalty written into the contract.
However, Lysyk said in her report that a typical AFP project almost always costs significantly more than if governments just put up the money themselves and hired contractors to build the same infrastructure, under conventional contracts.

But Smits says it’s not quite that simple.

“What we’ve seen in the past, often from a life cycle perspective, is that the cheapest isn’t necessarily the best,” he says.

Smits provided his personal opinion that before using the AFP model, a hospital would have to consult on a design, submit it to the ministry for approval, and likely be told to cut down the cost. That meant either shrinking the space, or compromising on value of equipment upfront. The practical example Smits gave for this is choosing a vinyl flooring over tile because the vinyl would cost less, even though the tile would last longer. In the long run the cost of maintaining and replacing would actually be more, but that wasn’t the ministry’s focus: the upfront costs were deemed the priority.

“The difference with AFP is the contractor has been given that responsibility to come up with the best accommodation of finishes, quality of equipment, etc. that they as experts have to figure out how to balance the upfront costs and maintenance,” Smits says.

“So, it makes them think really hard about, ‘Am I going to just cheap out on all the finishes because I’m going to have to replace them,’ versus, ‘No, I’m going to go with better finishes that will last longer.’”

P3s began appearing on the provincial landscape in 2001, when the then-Minister of Finance announced that public-private partnerships would have to be seriously considered before the Ontario government would commit any funding for new hospitals that were needed at that time.
 
In November of 2001, the government approved the development of two new hospitals (in Brampton and Ottawa) using the P3 approach.

According to Lysyk’s report, as of March 31 there were almost $23.5 billion in liabilities and commitments that current and future governments will have to pay for AFP projects. The province has also borrowed money to pay AFP contractors when projects were substantially completed. The Auditor General estimates these borrowed amounts to be an additional $5 billion, included as part of the total public debt recorded in the Public Accounts.

Lysyk also found that two of the risks Infrastructure Ontario used in its assessments for P3s should not have been included. Without them, public-sector delivery for 18 of the 24 projects would have been assessed as $350 million cheaper than delivery under AFP.

Infrastructure Ontario estimated that this $8-billion difference was more than offset by the risk of potential cost overruns if the construction and, in some cases, maintenance of these 74 facilities was done by the public sector.
 Smits says while there are some complications that arise with AFPs, such as different sets of complexities, he has found the model much less stressful than the previous method.

“At the end of the day I’m getting funded to keep this building in what I consider a very good state of repair,” he says.

“And I’ve been guaranteed that funding in my contract. It gives me a certain comfort I couldn’t have had in old delivery model. In past, you weren’t sure where the money was going to come from to keep your building up to date and looking good and functioning well.

Chinese to fund road project in exchange for residency

Link to article here.

This is a seriously risky proposition. All foreign investors are not created equal. Giving residents of a hostile Communist country like China permanent residency in the U.S. in exchange for money is disgusting! Nothing like buying your way into our country. Public private partnerships (P3) are a threat to our sovereignty over our own public infrastructure, but this takes even a P3 to new heights.


Chinese investors to fund I-95 interchange in exchange for U.S. residency
By David Tanner, Land Line senior editor
12/2/14

The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission not only has gone outside the box, but has gone outside the country to find funding for a new interchange with I-95. Turnpike officials are capitalizing on a law that allows Chinese investors to fund half of the project cost in exchange for permanent-residency visas from the U.S. government.

The EB-5 Immigrant Investor Pilot Program was enacted by Congress in 1990 and is overseen by the U.S. Customs and Immigration Service. It allows foreign investors to chip in at least $500,000 for U.S. projects of regional significance in exchange for residency.

In 2012, the Turnpike Commission paid $50,000 to study whether EB-5 financing would be a viable option.

The commission signed an agreement with the Delaware Valley Regional Center to attract up to $250 million in EB-5 financing. The DVRC successfully applied to the U.S. Customs and Immigration Service to be designated as an EB-5 regional center – one of the stipulations for attracting foreign investment.

The mainline Pennsylvania Turnpike is designated as I-276 in Bristol County. Interstate 95 currently passes over the turnpike in Northeast Philadelphia with no interchange. Officials have been planning an interchange there for years.

The first $150 million to jumpstart the project came from the Federal Highway Administration and the Turnpike Commission. It is being used to widen four miles of the Turnpike in Bristol County and to lay groundwork for three new bridges and piers for future ramps. According to officials, that will take about four years.

Future phases will reconfigure traffic patterns and connect the Pennsylvania Turnpike with the New Jersey Turnpike.

A turnpike official previously told Land Line that the entire project would cost about $1.4 billion. Tolls and other sources will complete the financing.

Tax relief, road funding priorities in coming session

Link to article here.

It’s reports like this one that we’ll use to hold state leaders accountable for how they spend our hard-earned tax money this next budget cycle. They promise more money for roads, but TxDOT’s perpetual excuse to levy toll taxes on every highway will continue to be ‘it’s still not enough’ unless we demand NONE of this new money or existing tax revenues can be used to build toll roads. If they’re going to build a toll road, it should pay for itself with just the toll users alone - no tax money!

Tax relief figures high on legislative budget priorities
By Peggy Fikac
December 6, 2014
Houston Chronicle

AUSTIN — Texans can expect tax relief, a focus on border security and more efforts to fight traffic congestion when a cash-flush Legislature convenes in January.

The budget priorities line up with campaign promises from Republican state leaders and lawmakers, who handily won their spots with a message of keeping state government lean while carefully weighing additional spending for its benefits.