Seven in 10 Americans say economy worse, site high gas prices

We've been connecting these dots since the gas price hike after Katrina. We've also noted the negative savings rate gripping our Nation for over a year (not seen since the Great Depression and even then the negative savings rate didn't last this long). Lastly, we've also noted the growing backlash to our country's failed trade & immigration policies that have led to depressed American wages and loss of quality jobs. TxDOT's own toll viability studies show many of these toll projects will go belly up (will no longer be financially viable since there will not be enough people with the discretionary income high enough to pay the tolls) if gas is above $3 a gallon, and yet here we are at $3 a gallon and on they march in defiance of the public interest and in violation of their fiduciary duty.

GALLUP: 7 in 10 Americans Say Economy Is 'Getting Worse'

By E&P Staff

Published: June 19, 2007 11:40 AM ET


NEW YORK A new Gallup Poll will only reinforce those who claim that while the rich get richer most Americans don't feel they are sharing in the growth in our economy. The stock market may be climbing and the unemployment remains relatively low, but 7 in 10 Americans believe the economy is getting worse -- the most negative reading in nearly six years.

Only one in three Americans rate the economy today as either excellent or good, while the percentage saying the economy is getting better fell from 28% to 23% in one month.

Gallup adds: "For the first time this year, a majority of Americans are negative about the employment market, saying it is a bad time to find a quality job."

The 70% negative rating is up 10 points since April. Also, just in the past month, there has been a significant five-point drop, from 28% to 23%, in the percentage saying conditions are getting better.

"When asked about the most pressing financial problems their family faces today, Americans mention healthcare costs, lack of money or low wages, and oil and gas prices," Gallup reports. "Healthcare costs are mentioned by 16% of Americans while 13% say low wages and 11% say oil and gas prices. These percentages are virtually unchanged from last month."

The survey of 1,007 adults was taken June 11 to 14.

The fallout from SB 792, the counterfeit moratorium, begins!

As we warned from the time the Governor's bill came into play, SB 792 has more trap doors and loopholes than teeth. The PEOPLE'S BILL, HB 1892, was left vetoed while our politicians passed a pro-toll, pro-TxDOT bill so they could get on with their summer vacations, which will come back to haunt them. This way they could pretend to throw a bone (HB 1892) to the grassroots knowing full well the Governor would veto it and it would NEVER become law, while passing a toll industry bill crafted by the most detested Governor in recent history! Read about our reaction to the bill and our attempts to educate legislators on what was in it here. Perry's claiming victory and his chief toll architect Transportation Commission Chair Ric Williamson is invoking the same Winston Churchill quote we are, "Never ever give up," what does that tell you? Note that Senator Jeff Wentworth tried to make the legislative intent of this bill such that his buddy Zachry can still have access to your wallets using a 50 year monopoly & private toll CDA contract on Loop 1604! And most all of the North Texas and Houston reps and senators voted to exempt their toll projects from the moratorium to the tune of $20 billion in concession fees from PRIVATE, FOREIGN companies. The taxpayers will have to pay these fees back with interest! Time to throw the bums out! The list of the Good Guys is here. The rest SOLD US OUT!


 

You can see that Rep. Lois Kolkhorst likely got fooled with this bill, too. We tried to warn them. Read on....
Here's just two of the articles outlining the troubles with SB 792:

Perry's office sees no toll moratorium at all

By Patrick Driscoll
06/03/2007
San Antonio Express-News

Now that legislators have gone home and trumpeted how they passed a bill to freeze private financing of toll roads, the governor's office has some bubble-busting news.There isn't much of a moratorium in Senate Bill 792."Of any kind, that we can tell," said Robert Black, spokesman for Gov. Rick Perry. "Unless there was something screwy that happened."

Actually, there were plenty of screwy machinations in the Legislature as lawmakers hammered out bills to rein in tolling powers of the Texas Department of Transportation.


Slapping a two-year moratorium on privatization contracts started out simple. But skittish lawmakers carved out exceptions in their backyards, and Perry fought to keep a loophole for his cherished multibillion-dollar cross-state network called the Trans-Texas Corridor.

By the time the plotting and jawboning ended a week ago, nearly every toll road project in line for a concession contract with a private developer had been exempted from the ban.

"The governor didn't appreciate the hypocrisy of it," Black said. "These guys were going to run around and say we did a two-year moratorium, when in fact they didn't."

And that's just what legislators did say as Perry's staff began combing the bill line by line to make sure there were no surprises. The bill was still pending late last week.

"The moratorium is the wind in the sails of this session's transportation reforms," crowed Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, a rookie senator who served on the Texas Transportation Commission and filed the original moratorium bill.

In or out?

Black didn't realize it, but at least one toll-road project is covered by the moratorium — U.S. 281 in San Antonio.Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, added language to make sure the 7-mile project was in the moratorium because he, like other lawmakers, was deluged with calls and e-mails from angry constituents who live near the highway.

"The overwhelming majority of my folks say they don't want this right now," he said. "We need to pause, take a deep breath, look at all our options, all of us get better informed about our options, and then proceed two years from now."

But Wentworth was willing to go only so far.

After Rep. Joe Farias, D-San Antonio, tacked on an amendment to stick Loop 1604 into the moratorium, an aide said a lobbyist dropped by to say the "powers that be" wouldn't let that stand. At Perry's insistence, a House-Senate committee later stripped out the amendment.

So Rep. David Leibowitz, D-San Antonio, got a clarification read into the House record that says Loop 1604 would effectively be in the moratorium, even without the specific language.

The next day, Wentworth got his own clarification on the Senate floor, saying Loop 1604 would not be in the moratorium.

Either way, there's a question on whether a proposed private concession for 40 miles of Loop 1604 could proceed without U.S. 281, since both are part of a bid process already under way and restarting would be out of the question under SB 792.

TxDOT won't comment.

But Bill Thornton, chairman of the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority, which is helping negotiate the concession, said it's time to take another look at financing toll roads without seeking private dollars. The bill wouldn't stop that.

"Why should we look for a concessionaire if we can do it ourselves?" he said. "The attraction of immediate money requires a return on investment to the concessionaire, whereas in government we're not looking to make a profit."

TxDOT's pursuit of a concession for U.S. 281 and Loop 1604 rang alarms for Thornton and some other San Antonio leaders two years ago, and the scuffle ended with state officials giving their word that local officials would have the final say-so.

SB 792 would chisel that gentlemen's agreement into law, giving local governments and agencies first dibs on developing toll projects and the ability to use state rights of way.

However, with Perry and TxDOT helping craft the bill in the waning days of the session, a provision was slipped in that gives the state a way to control how high toll rates can be set and how fast they can be raised for locally owned toll roads.

The provision would require market valuations to gauge how much money a toll road could bring in, including what motorists are willing to pay, and earmarking the profits to other area projects. State and local officials must agree on the terms or forfeit the toll plan.

"I'm uncomfortable with it," Thornton said of the mandate. "Government is not here to make a profit, government is here to provide a service."

Toll critics are in rare agreement with Thornton, at least to some extent, on the issue.

"SB 792 means the highest possible tolls," said Terri Hall of San Antonio Toll Party. "This policy has never had a public debate before it was adopted."

Corridor loophole
Another cloud hanging over SB 792 has to do with whether the moratorium includes the Trans-Texas Corridor leg that will parallel Interstate 35.A concession was signed in 2005 with Cintra of Spain and Zachry Construction Co. of San Antonio to draw up a development plan. Separate contracts would spin off of the plan to construct individual segments.

TxDOT officials recently said the agency might be ready to move forward with a rail project within two years.

Worried that the construction contracts might slip through the moratorium on new concessions, Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, added an amendment to plug the potential loophole. But Perry balked, threatening to veto the bill.

The House-Senate compromise committee agreed to take the amendment out.

After talking to lawyers and Perry's office, Kolkhorst said she believes in her heart that there is a moratorium on the corridor contracts, according to reports. If TxDOT wants to play with words, she said, the matter could be settled in court.

"It's a strong bill with or without the amendment," she said.

Black said Kolkhorst was told that work couldn't start on corridor projects within two years anyway because environmental studies won't be finished.

But Kolkhorst may not have known that SB 792 would still allow construction contracts to be signed, though work wouldn't begin until after the studies are completed, he said.

She kind of got her hat handed to her," Black said.

----------------------------

BEN WEAR: GETTING THERE
Perry stared down legislative blitz

Monday, June 04, 2007
Austin American Statesman
You may have heard that the Legislature this session approved a moratorium on toll roads.

If so, you heard wrong. No legislators that I ran into this session wanted to snuff out tollways.

Or you might have heard or read that lawmakers passed a moratorium on long-term toll road leases with private companies. This is true, but only in the most qualified sense.

This prohibition — contained in Senate Bill 792, which Gov. Rick Perry hasn't yet signed but almost certainly will when he makes it back from Turkey — is perforated with exceptions.

Under SB 792, private toll road contracts similar to the one already reached with Cintra-Zachry for Texas 130 could be done on seven projects in Dallas-Fort Worth, a proposed Interstate 69 from near Victoria to Brownsville, anything in Cameron County and all but one project in El Paso County, and on Loop 1604 in San Antonio.

And, oh yes, after Perry threatened to veto an earlier version of SB 792, the Legislature removed language that would have made it impossible to do private toll road contracts on the Trans-Texas Corridor tollway twin for Interstate 35.

Even taking the two counties and the corridor out of the discussion — lawmakers made it clear that no contracts should be signed on the corridor for the next two years, even if they didn't outright ban them — we're talking about $20 billion in contracts on those other nine roads. That's 10 zeros short of a freeze.

The obvious question, given all the public pressure and the periodic displays of legislative umbrage this session at a Texas Department of Transportation "run amok": How can this be? Everyone said they wanted to vote for a moratorium, but we didn't really get one?

It's all about commitment. In politics, all other things being equal, the side that wants it the most and is willing to do whatever it takes is going to win most of the time. In this case, that side was Perry and the Department of Transportation.

Legislators were conflicted. They wanted to please constituents, particularly rural ones, who don't want a bunch of new tollways "owned" by foreign companies cutting through farms. They were nervous about 50-year toll road leases that might outlive their children, and about corporations toting away profits that might otherwise go to building other roads.

But lawmakers also wanted urban highways, as many as possible and as soon as possible, and the Houston and Dallas delegations in particular wanted to build and run most tollways in their areas. And legislators also didn't intend to raise the gas tax, no matter how much the fiscal logic of the situation tells them they should. Those are, taken together, competing imperatives.

So the legislative commitment to stop private toll roads stretched from one end of the Capitol to the other, but it was about a centimeter deep. Perry, on the other hand, and his compadre Ric Williamson, chairman of the Texas Transportation Commission, have a passion for their agenda taller than the Capitol dome. Perry said he'd veto bills that materially curbed private toll roads and made it clear to legislators behind closed doors that he would call special sessions ad infinitum until he got what he wanted. Legislators believed him, and they blinked.

The Wednesday before lawmakers adjourned for good May 28, Williamson hosted his monthly briefing with reporters at Transportation Department World Headquarters, across 11th Street from the Capitol. By then it was looking like SB 792, which emerged as the toll road bill of choice after several pretenders had skidded into the ditch, would pass and would be acceptable to Perry.

Williamson, spotted several weeks earlier huddling with confederates at the Capitol after the Legislature passed a much tougher toll road bill, had looked grim. (Perry vetoed that earlier bill.) This day, though, Williamson sauntered into the room seeming pretty pleased with life. As he swung into his chair, he tossed some party favors onto the table, royal-blue plastic wristbands with white writing on them. The words succinctly captured why SB 792 turned out the way it did.

The Churchillian message: "Never ever give up."

House passes counterfeit moratorium, fails to fight FOR the PEOPLE'S bill!

We've come full circle. We started the session fighting this Governor, and we've ended the session the same way. The only difference is that the Legislature could have given us a slam dunk (HB 1892), but caved and left more in doubt, including the fate of the Trans Texas Corridor, than it made explicit. However, what isn't in doubt is that whatever projects move forward, we'll be charged the highest tolls!

The TTC will not be stopped by SB 792....urban toll projects will not be stopped by this. AND it gives the PUBLIC tolling entities yet another "tool" in the toolbox to charge concession fees on PUBLIC toll roads like private equity deals, which to the end user still means the highest possible tolls at a time of record high gas prices. When this stuff hits the fan, those 19 who voted against SB 792 will be vindicated. It's HB 3588 from 2003 all over again! (See more here).


Though it was evident the Legislature WAS NOT going to override the veto of HB 1892 since the Senate caved to Perry Monday, May 14, the more information about provisions of the "compromise" bill hatched behind closed doors by Senators John Carona, Tommy Williams, and Kim Brimer, among others, came to light, the more the grassroots OPPOSED SB 792.

Despite a last minute attempt to avert disaster, the House voted to pass SB 792 Saturday, May 26, 2007. When the senators brokered a deal, it became abundantly clear that the odds of stopping the SB 792 Perry freight train were slim to nil. What I kept hearing from reps was they wouldn't take on the Governor because of his threats to call a special session. The vast majority of them were more concerned about starting their summer break than passing the PEOPLE'S bill! Rather than work their colleagues in the Senate to keep the two-thirds majority needed to override the veto of HB 1892, they all threw their hands up and started the blame game, including caving on nearly every taxpayer protection.

Short of Representative Nathan Macias, it was hard to find ANYONE willing to face a MAJOR shift in transportation policy that was inserted by this Governor into SB 792 late in the session, called "market valuation." This policy has never had a public debate before it was adopted. The more legislators I spoke with, the more I realized they didn't understand the implications nor did they want to. They wanted to stick their heads in the sand hoping and wishing for things rather than face what was ACTUALLY IN THE BILL. Even grassroots heroes like Lois Kolkhorst, were left saying "I know in my heart this is a moratorium" Friday morning after the conference committee report emerged without amendment 13 and several others.

Well, "knowing in your heart" won't be enough to restrain TxDOT in the off-season when the Legislature is out of session and they proceed with extracting the MOST MONEY possible from the traveling public through market based tolls. Nineteen members could see the writing on the wall and realized this bill is just like 2003 when an omnibus transportation bill shows up at the end of a session and gets rushed through with new language that will come back to haunt reps later.

THE GOOD GUYS:

Nathan Macias lead the charge along with David Leibowitz, Lon Burnam, Joaquin Castro, Garnet Coleman, Joe Farias, Jessica Farrar, Stephen Frost, Ana Hernandez, Jodie Laubenberg, Trey Martinez Fischer, Ruth McClendon, Sid Miller, Ken Paxton, Robert Puente, Joe Straus, Senfronia Thompson, Marc Veaseyv, and Mike Villarreal.

The rest who voted FOR SB 792 can't use that excuse this time, because we educated them about what was in the bill. They also received multiple bulletins informing them about the implications of market valuation.

To thank each of the good guys use this email formula: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (ie - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.). They're sure to get visits like this from the highway lobby's goons.
 

Link to story here.
 

House sends toll road compromise to governor

Bill includes moratorium on certain new, privately developed roads.

By Liz Austin Peterson
ASSOCIATED PRESS
Sunday, May 27, 2007The House sent Gov. Rick Perry a compromise transportation bill Saturday that freezes most new privately financed toll road projects for two years yet dodges a threatened special legislative session.

House members voted 127-19 to accept the negotiated deal, which was approved by the Senate on Friday. The bill now heads to Perry, whose office worked on the compromise with lawmakers from both chambers.

"Today's action ensures that Texas will continue to have the tools needed to support the state's booming population and economic growth," Perry spokeswoman Krista Moody said.

Perry vetoed the first major transportation bill lawmakers sent him, saying it would shut down road construction, kill jobs and prevent access to federal highway money.

He threatened to call a special session if the Legislature overrode that veto and worked with members of both chambers to craft a compromise.

The Senate quickly passed the second bill, but the House added several amendments, forcing the appointment of a conference committee to find yet another middle course.

The legislation institutes a moratorium on most new privately developed toll roads. The compromise version includes more exemptions to appease critics, such as Rio Grande Valley officials who feared that the ban would hinder development of the Interstate 69 corridor.

The compromise bill also imposes limits on comprehensive development agreements, used in contracts for private-public road building.

Additionally, it sets up a process to determine a road's market value and makes it easier for local transportation authorities to take on projects in their areas.

Comprehensive development agreements are a relatively new tool meant to let the Texas Department of Transportation complete road-building projects more quickly and cheaply by using a single contract for both design and construction.

Those agreements have attracted the attention of multinational consortiums willing to pay large sums up front for the right to operate roads and pocket the tolls for decades to come.

That has outraged residents and lawmakers who say drivers will become hostages to the private companies, forced to pay increasingly hefty tolls.

The legislation also establishes a task force to evaluate and make recommendations for the next legislative session about private equity contracts and taxpayer protections.

OVERRIDE PERRY VETO

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

 
Grassroots fed-up, push to override veto of HB 1892!
Citizens outraged at Governor, Legislature caving to Mr. 39%

Thursday, May 24, 2007 – Fed-up is putting it mildly, the people of Texas are looking for a place to direct their rage and it's going to rest squarely on this Legislature in the final 4 days of the session. The grassroots WILL NOT leave empty-handed.

"SB 792 needs to die. We will not accept market-based highways and TxDOT demanding concession fees just like Cintra. The PEOPLE'S BILL (HB 1892) got vetoed, and it's high time we override it to make it law," steams home school mom turned grassroots activist and TURF Founder, Terri Hall. "The grassroots are FED-UP; they're ready to get out their pitchforks! We expect the PEOPLE'S BILL to become law."

"You're going to hear HB 1892 is a non-starter, it's flawed, it's dead. Have they all whimped out? If these guys turn around and vote NOT to override a bill they sent to the Governor in a combined 169-5 vote, then they all deserve to be thrown out of office along with Perry. If the Legislature refuses to address HB 1892 because they don't want to give up their summer vacation, there will be TOTAL voter revolt! We've come to believe all the claims that HB 1892 is flawed are empty and false arguments to try and distract the GRASSROOTS from achieving a historic moment in political history....overriding a Governor's veto for the first time since 1979 due to Perry's failed, detested transportation policies!" states Hall. "Our drumbeat will not and cannot be squelched."


William Lutz of the Lone Star Report in an article on the ramifications of SB 792 notes:

"A further flaw is it allows continuation of current policy, whereby the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) may require up-front 'concession fees' in exchange for building some new toll projects. The tolls that pay these concession fees are taxes, not user fees, because concession fees result in tolls over and above the amount required to build and maintain the road. Since the fees are paid back over time from toll revenue, it increases the burden of debt on our children and grandchildren.

In short, concession fees, which are continued by the 'market valuation' language in SB 792, allow the government to raise taxes and do off-budget spending in a manner concealed to the public and without proper legislative oversight and authorization."

"The grassroots will not stand idly by and allow Rick Perry and Ric Williamson's market-based incarnation of extorting money from the traveling public to drive on highways we've already built and paid for. We will not let this Governor unleash a whole new policy initiative hatched in some back room deal with legislators who lack spines. Market value means highest possible tolls. It doesn't really matter if it's the public or private sector doing it, concession fees fleece the taxpayer. At a time when gas prices are at or over $3.00 a gallon, this policy is as foolish as it is sinister. It will bankrupt motorists and, in turn, the State," Hall concludes.

Market valuation dollars WILL STILL ALLOW TXDOT TO BUILD THE TRANS TEXAS CORRIDOR!
Trans Texas Corridor alignment I-69 is already exempted in this bill. These politicians may think they will go home and say they got a moratorium under SB 792, and then TTC-69 hearings will start and the fury will begin. The way the market valuation section reads, it says the money will be used in the region, in counties contiguous to the tolling entity's boundaries. Let it be put on the record that this means they can use market valuation money to build TTC 35 segments in Guadalupe & Wilson Counties (Seguin, Floresville, St. Hegwig) and the areas touching Houston and Dallas for either TTC 69 or TTC 35. Concession fees will also free up gas tax money that can then be applied to TTC segments that are not toll viable.

"HB 1892 is good public policy, it's the people's bill, it slows down this toll train, and allows us to truly study the ramifications of transportation policy before making it law," states Hall.

The best independent analysis of the consequences of SB 792 here: http://www.easttexasreview.com/story.htm?StoryID=4494

TxDOT's GOTCHA in SB 792

Immediate Release

BIG FAT UP FRONT PAYMENTS WILL BE MANDATORY ON ALL TOLL PROJECTS IF SB 792 PASSES!

TRADITIONAL TURNPIKES NO LONGER AN OPTION!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007 – YOU’VE BEEN HAD! reads the bulletin to legislators sent out by grassroots group Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF). In seeking clarification on the implications of “market valuation” on toll projects (Sec. 228.0111), TURF has learned that if SB 792 passes as written, ALL toll projects around the state MUST USE market valuation to establish toll rates and to set toll rate escalation. Traditional turnpikes, where a PUBLIC tolling entity simply sells bonds for the actual cost of building the road and the tolls pay back that debt, WILL BE OFF THE TABLE!

A third party appraiser would determine the market value of the road and that amount, once agreed upon by TxDOT and the tolling entity, would be deposited in subaccounts JUST LIKE A CONCESSION FEE with CDAs! Motorists taking that tollway will then be charged OPPRESSIVELY HIGH TOLLS beyond the cost of building that specific road since the toll rate now has to cover the upfront fee (which is just like a concession fee in the private toll deals!).


“Market valuation” is TxDOT and the Governor’s GOTCHA in SB 792. In speaking with many legislators, most DO NOT KNOW THIS and thought market valuation only applied to the buy back provisions or were optional or applied only to certain projects. Senator Robert Nichols added an amendment stating if both the tolling entity and TxDOT CANNOT AGREE on the market value, the project cannot move forward. However, most legislators don’t realize this means the PROJECT DIES and cannot go forward USING THE TRADITIONAL TURNPIKE model. So unless a tolling entity can agree with what's been dubbed a rogue agency, TxDOT, A PROJECT DIES ALTOGETHER!

"Market valuation tolling is like a back door CDA! Do we really have a CDA moratorium when this is the case? Will your constituents back home think YOU VOTED FOR A WIN when they’re going to be charged OPPRESSIVELY HIGH tolls anyway?" asks Terri Hall, Founder/Director of TURF.

"We fear this opens another can of worms that will bring regrets similar to HB 3588. Many wanted to “correct the sins of the past” this session in regards to tolling and for having “created a monster” in TxDOT," states Hall.

Here's what Senator Robert Nichols said about market valuation in the Lone Star Report, May 21, 2007: "For the first time you're having a county toll authority or a regional mobility authority that is going to have to come up with a front end concession, kind of like a private entity. They're going to have to commit to spend those funds. Either to TxDOT or to other projects in that area."

"We have to ask is getting a compromise bill signed more important than enacting good transportation policy that’s been fully vetted and had the proper public debate? Unleashing yet another 'monster' (http://satollparty.com/post/?p=538 and http://satollparty.com/post/?p=549) on the taxpaying public with provisions stuck in a bill at the last minute should cause us all to pause," warns Hall.

It’s clear few knew what they were voting on last week.

TURF's bulletin continues:
"This Legislature needs to step back and focus on getting a good bill passed, not on special session threats or rushing to the finish line empty-handed. May it be said you finished well, and in a way that you won’t regret back home."

View the bill here.

Tricky Ricky HATES the PEOPLE'S amendment

Ricky’s ticked

By Eileen Welsome
Texas Observer

May 22nd, 2007 at 9:25 pm


Sources tell us this evening that Tricky Ricky is displeased with an amendment put up by state Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, which closed a loophole in SB 792, the transportation legislation designed to temporarily halt the rush to privatize the state’s roads.

The loophole was big enough to drive, well, the the Trans-Texas Corridor through. And, of course, that’s exactly what Tricky Ricky wanted.

For five years, Ricky has been pushing his futuristic plan to pave the state with super-highways the width of several football fields. The corridors will eat up hundreds of thousands of acres of prime farmland and facilitate global trade, but they won’t reduce congestion at all, records and testimony show.


SB 792, which has passed the House and Senate, is now supposedly going to a conference committee made up of House and Senate members. The bill sponsor, State Rep. Wayne Smith, a Baytown Republican, said tonight that the conferees have been trying to come to agreement on the nearly two dozen amendments tacked on by various legislators. He declined to say what amendments, if any, are causing problems.

The loophole that Lois Kolkhorst fixed was spotted by the grassroots organization, Corridor Watch, and dealt with something called a facility agreement, which is a sub-agreement to a comprehensive development agreement.

The eager beavers over at TxDot have already entered into a comprehensive development agreement with Cintra to develop the Trans-Texas Corridor, but the legislation didn’t specificially address these facility agreements. Watchdogs fear that without the amendment, TxDot would continue full steam ahead on the TTC.

Ricky’s been threatening to hold a special session. And that might not be a bad idea, given that billions of dollars are at stake and these toll roads will affect commuters for the next 50 years.

If legislators don’t deal honestly with this hot-button issue now, they may find themselves on the griddle during the next election cycle. Various citizens’ groups are promising a jihad if the legislators don’t reign in these private toll-road deals. “We’re not going to walk away. We’re going to keep the grassroots fire burning,” says Terri Hall of the San Antonio Toll Party.

Chinese to enter private toll equity/infrastructure market

Link to article here.

First, the Chinese join forces with Walmart to expand the port in Larazo Cardenas, Mexico to facilitate the transport of its cheap goods into the U.S., then it gets a share in the tracking technology for cargo for the Trans Texas Corridor trade route (including the tracking of unintended consequences), now they're buying up shares in the actual private equity/private toll infrastructure market that the Spanish believe is the new El Dorado paved with gold (which translates into fleecing the American taxpayer to drive on roads we've already built and paid for).

Beijing to buy Blackstone stake for $3bn

By Francesco Guerrera in New York
Financial Times
May 20, 2007

The Chinese government is to use $3bn of its vast foreign exchange reserves to buy a 9.9 per cent stake in Blackstone, the US buy-out fund, in an unprecedented move that underlines Beijing’s desire to tap into the private equity boom.The investment will coincide with Blackstone’s landmark $40bn stock market listing, expected in the next few months, and will allow the private equity group to nearly double its original target of raising $4bn.
 

Stephen Schwarzman, Blackstone’s chief executive, hailed the deal – the first time Beijing has invested its foreign reserve in a commercial transaction – as an “historic event that changes the paradigm in global capital flows”.

Under the terms of the deal, which is believed to have been agreed in just a few weeks, the Chinese government has taken the unusual step of giving up its voting rights associated with the stake in Blackstone.

The move appears aimed at defusing any US political opposition to the deal at a time of tension between Washington and Beijing over the renminbi.

The US Treasury pointed out that it had decided last week to allow the Chinese to invest more in foreign stocks and was working to create “opportunities for US financial services firms like this”.

The announcement comes just before Tuesday’s visit to the US by Wu Yi, China’s vice-premier, to discuss bilateral trade relations.

The investment – announced on Sunday – will come through a new Chinese agency charged with managing part of the country’s $1,200bn in foreign reserves.

The price of the stake to be sold to Beijing will be at a slight discount to the one paid by investors in the initial public offering. Beijing has also agreed to keep the stake for at least four years.

It is understood that China’s foreign reserve agency has agreed not to invest in rival private equity groups for 12 months. A number of Blackstone’s rivals, including Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, Texas Pacific Group and Apollo are exploring listings or private placings.

China’s decision to buy a stake in Blackstone’s IPO rather than in one of its buy-out funds, which are more volatile and risky, is a sign of Beijing’s cautious approach to private equity.

The Chinese government has been looking to diversify its foreign exchanges reserves away from low-yielding US Treasuries.

However, buying into Blackstone’s listed entity may deprive the Chinese government of some of the large returns earned by its buy-out funds.

In its prospectus, Blackstone warned that its priority was to return cash to the private investors in its funds, rather than to pay dividends to shareholders.

Over the past two years, private equity has been one of the best performing asset classes, as private equity funds have exploited favourable debt market conditions to buy ever-larger companies.

However, there are growing fears the private equity cycle may be nearing its peak, as takeover prices and debt levels reach record levels.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007

Grassroots amend bill to close corridor loophole

The House got its chance to vote on the Governor's compromise bill. When the good guys stepped into the House chambers this afternoon to deliberate SB 792, the Governor's compromise bill, they were ready to defeat SB 792 that spit in the face of Texans. THEN, the grassroots actually managed to stage a coup of its own...

Trans Texas Corridor expert and grassroots hero, David Stall of Corridor Watch, found a loophole in both HB 1892 and SB 792 that WOULD HAVE ALLOWED TXDOT TO EXPLOIT the language to CONTINUE THE TTC! Since TxDOT already signed the CDA private toll contract for the Trans Texas Corridor, they then moved to use a different type of contract to actually build each segment called a "facility agreement." Unless this type of agreement was explicitly laid out in the moratorium language, we would have all thought we had a moratorium that covered the Trans Texas Corridor but didn't, leaving the Governor and TxDOT a gaping LOOPHOLE that would have fooled everyone!

So in order to make certain the Trans Texas Corridor was IN FACT PART OF the moratorium, Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, original author of the moratorium bill, passed an amendment to fix it. Once she did, now the only way to prevent the TTC was to support SB 792 since HB 1892 didn't stop the corridor.

Now that said, there was a HEAP of HORRIFIC provisions in SB 792 that we still attempted to fix. The BIG WIN was Rep. Joe Farias adding an explicit amendment (not just an intent dialogue like we did with HB 1892 since Wentworth left the door open to tolling 1604) to ensure both 281 AND Loop 1604 are INCLUDED in the moratorium.

Rep. Nathan Macias (backed up by our San Antonio delegation and many rural reps) tried to defend open government by preventing a clause that made toll feasibility studies and financial forecasts CONFIDENTIAL. We realized both HB 1892 and SB 792 made these studies that are currently PUBLIC, CONFIDENTIAL. Of course, Mike Krusee stood up to defeat it along with some North Texas legislators who were more concerned about getting this compromise bill to the Governor than passing a bill that promotes open government and transparency. Every rep who voted AGAINST open government ought to pay a price!

Many reps shared our concerns about the market valuation provisions, but at the end of the day, they preferred getting a bill through that the Senate (who suddenly made nicey nice with a detested Governor rather than grow a back bone) and Governor would accept. There were technical problems with HB 1892 that North Texas wanted to fix and it was clear they were pulling their support from HB 1892 (with the help of Senator Jeff Wentworth who worked the House floor the ENTIRE debate!). Also, the TTC was not under the moratorium in that bill, so we directed our reps to support the amended SB 792, in spite of it being gutted. We shouldn't have to hold our noses to get what the PEOPLE clearly want. I particularly applaud our San Antonio reps for being willing to stick with us AGAINST SB 792, but for the sake of the TTC, we asked them to vote FOR it.

There's plenty in SB 792 to claim victory, but it presents even more BAD provisions we'll have to tackle next session when both TxDOT and CDAs will sunset. Victories include getting the TTC, 281/1604, and El Paso under the moratorium, much tighter CDA provisions like limiting non-competes for the contracts NOT under the moratorium, end to ALL CDAs in 2009, doubling TxDOT's bonding capacity, and requiring public disclosure of toll rates and other financial information PRIOR to any contracts being signed.

The bill passed 145-2, with Rep. Macias and Rep. Riddle protesting the bad provisions and due to their colleagues rejecting their attempted reforms. Macias said, "I didn't want to look back 4 years from now and regret voting for such a bad bill."

Let's remember...if the Governor signs SB 792, we will have achieved a private toll moratorium on 281/1604 and the TTC that NO ONE thought possible only 5 months ago! It's still a MAJOR victory for the grassroots....we killed $106 billion total in private toll deals currently on the table that would have given a foreign company access to our wallets for 50+ years!

Harris County pulls out of Alliance 69

Just days after Alliance 69 asked the Governor to veto the county powers/private toll moratorium bill, HB 1892, at a press conference last Friday, the Harris County Commissioners shot back by withdrawing their membership from Alliance 69 due to them taking a position advocating a private toll CDA Trans Texas Corridor approach to getting interstate 69 built. Harris County is against the Trans Texas Corridor and believes I-69 should be built as an interstate as originally planned, not as a toll road. Yesterday's move by Harris County is quite a blow to the pro-CDA, pro-toll "yes" men in Alliance 69.

May 15, 2007
County lawmakers vote to drop out of I-69 alliance

By BILL MURPHY and RAD SALLEE
Copyright 2007 Houston Chronicle

Commissioners Court voted today to withdraw the county's membership in the Alliance for I-69 Texas, an organization that has long supported converting U.S. 59 through East and South Texas into an interstate highway.

Harris County has paid $50,000 in annual membership fees to the alliance, a coalition of counties, towns, chambers of commerce and others.

"It has always been my position that we spend too much money on membership fees and get no real value for the dollars we spend," said Commissioner Sylvia Garcia.

The vote on County Judge Ed Emmett's motion to withdraw from the organization was unanimous.

The county is at odds with the I-69 alliance over its request that Gov. Rick Perry veto a state transportation bill because it includes a two-year moratorium on long-term contracts between the state and private firms to build and operate toll roads for profit.


The county wants the bill signed into law because another largely unrelated provision would empower the Harris County Toll Road Authority to build toll roads on Texas Department of Transportation right of way.

Emmett said the I-69 alliance, acting on advice from state highway officials, appears to have given up on building Interstate 69, and now supports constructing a Trans-Texas Corridor toll road roughly parallel to the existing U.S. 59.

The Trans-Texas Corridor system, pushed by Perry, would be a network of toll roads, railways, and pipelines contained within wide rights of way crisscrossing the state. The Texas Department of Transportation contends that funding the state's future highway needs, including one along U.S. 59, requires the public-private partnerships that the moratorium would temporarily suspend.

"The alliance's interests have changed since Harris County joined it," Emmett said. "The original intent was to upgrade U.S. 59 to an interstate."

John Thompson, I-69 alliance chairman and Polk county judge, said I-69 will remain a viable project so long as lawmakers do not ban the private-public contracts that may be needed to build it.

The moratorium and related provisions, however, would have been "devastating" to I-69 plans, Thompson said.

He said the only part of the House bill that the alliance objected to was the moratorium on these contracts. It did not object to the provision relating to TxDOT and the Harris County Toll Road Authority.

Even if a tolled corridor is built parallel to U.S. 59, Thompson said he still favors converting the present road into an interstate through East Texas, with the toll road being used mainly by heavy trucks going long distances.

On Monday, the state Senate unanimously passed a compromise bill that might satisfy both sides. The bill, SB 792, is expected to be fast-tracked in the House for a possible vote Thursday.

A TxDOT spokesman said the department does not comment on pending legislation.

I-69, sometimes called the NAFTA Highway (for North American Free Trade Agreement) was conceived as a corridor connecting Mexico and Canada with the U.S. heartland. The Texas segment would be 800 to 1,000 miles long and skirt suburban Houston.

Whatever plan ultimately emerges, completion of the project would cost billions of dollars and take decades.

Giuliani ties to TTC in MAJOR conflict of interest

We sent out a press release with this information, and it's finally seeing some ink! Seems all roads keep leading to Texas, literally. The Trans Texas Corridor and NAFTA Superhighways is fast becoming an issue in Presidential politics.

PREMEDITATED MERGER

Rudy Giuliani tied to 'superhighways'

Law firm represents consortia funding NAFTA-related routes

Posted: May 15, 2007
1:00 a.m. Eastern
By Jerome R. Corsi
© 2007 WorldNetDaily.com



Rudy Giuliani
Questions are being raised over Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani's policy on terrorism, after a report revealed he has strong ties to two foreign investment consortia working to own or lease U.S. toll roads, including the Trans-Texas Corridor 35, which is identified as part of the I-35 "NAFTA Superhighway."

Although he opposed NAFTA in 1993, Giuliani recently declined to call for building a fence on the United States border with Mexico, and he has supported a guest-worker program.

Columnist Michelle Malkin also has documented that while mayor of New York City, Giuliani kept the municipality a sanctuary city for illegal aliens, adhering to a policy first established by Mayor Ed Koch in 1989.

Now comes a new report about Giuliani's involvement with public-private-partnership projects that include NAFTA Superhighway funding and his open borders record on immigration questions, all of which could undermine his otherwise tough policy on terrorism that has resulted from the 9/11 role Giuliani played in managing New York City's response to the attacks on the World Trade Center.

 

Giuliani's Houston-based law firm, Bracewell & Giuliani, is identified by the Texas Department of Transportation as the sole law firm representing Cintra Concesiones de Infraestructuras de Transporte, S.A., the Spanish investment consortium that has joined with Zachry Construction Company in San Antonio on the TTC project.

WND previously reported that TTC-35 is the new four-football-fields-wide car-truck-train-pipeline corridor to be built parallel to the existing I-35 as the Texas segment of the emerging Mexico-to-Canada I-35 NAFTA Superhighway.

Bracewell & Giuliani also has advised Cintra on the completion of the Comprehensive Development Agreement negotiated with Texas to develop State Highway 121 into a toll road through Collin and Denton counties.

The state highway department also gave Cintra a 50-year concession to operate SH 121 as a toll road, with Cintra agreeing to pay $2.1 billion upfront and annual lease payments totaling $700 million.

In addition, Bracewell & Giuliani successfully negotiated a $1.3 billion deal with TxDOT for Cintra-Zachry to build the remaining 40 miles of State Highway 130 as a toll road.

WND also has reported that Giuliani Capital Advisors was acquired in March by Macquarie, an Australian investment consortium which has also been involved in leasing and operating U.S. toll roads.

Further, the Federal Highway Administration has created a public-private-partnerships website on which both Cintra and Macquarie are featured as joint venture partners in the 2005 deal involving $1.83 billion paid to the City of Chicago to operate the Chicago Skyway under a 99-year lease.

The FHWA website also discloses that Cintra and Macquarie partnered in the $3.85 billion 2006 deal to operate the Indiana Toll Road on a 75-year lease.

WND has previously reported EuroMoney Seminars, a UK-based company, is holding seminars to teach state and local governments in the U.S. how to lease a wide range of public assets – from highways to water departments, to prisons and schools – to international and foreign investment groups.

Just this month, independent journalist Diane Grassi first broke the story of Giuliani's involvement with the NAFTA Superhighway, writing that, "All negotiations for Cintra were and are presently handled by the law firm, Bracewell & Giuliani, LLP, of which Republican Presidential candidate, Rudolph Giuliani, has been a senior executive partner since March 2005. His law firm is the exclusive legal counsel for Cintra."

The New York Sun also earlier reported that an October 2002 contract between Mexico City and Giuliani Partners, a Giuliani consulting firm, to reduce crime was a failure.

Giuliani began the project in January 2003 with a fanfare initial tour of Mexico City that included a motorcade of a dozen bulletproof SUVs, 400 officers, and a helicopter.

Still, the Sun reported that Giuliani Partners ended up being paid less than the full $4.3 million contract price tag, despite some 20 trips to Mexico City booked by Giuliani associates over a 10-month period.

In December 2004, Bernard Kerik, the former New York City police commissioner, resigned as CEO of Giuliani-Kerik, a law enforcement-oriented subsidiary of Giuliani Partners, amidst the various scandals that developed following Kerik's nomination by President Bush to head the Department of Homeland Security.

CONTACT YOUR REPS & DEWHURST, LAST CHANCE TO STOP THE TTC!

ACTION ALERT!

CALL YOUR REPRESENTATIVE RIGHT NOW and ask them respectfully but firmly to:

We THE PEOPLE REJECT "market valuation" that amounts to a backdoor CDA and ask that Amendment 13 be RETAINED (to stop the corridor) in SB 792. We want the Trans Texas Corridor IN the moratorium and a REAL moratorium that stops selling our highways to the highest bidder!

Find out who your reps are here.

You may contact each representative by calling the Capitol switchboard: (512) 463-4630 or email by using this formula:

For senators...
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (ie - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)
For representatives...

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THEN, CONTACT DEWHURST!

He wants to be Governor and he alone has the power to pressure these senators to keep Amendment 13 in the bill. He thought, as we all did, that HB 1892 included the Trans Texas Corridor in the moratorium. So please ask him to ensure the TTC IS in the moratorium as our legislators, including Dewhurst, intended!

"Please INSIST that the Trans Texas Corridor unquestionably be INCLUDED in the moratorium as you all intended by RETAINING Amendment 13 in SB 792! We're counting on you TO MAKE THIS HAPPEN!"

Dewhurst contact info:
Via web mail form: http://www.ltgov.state.tx.us/Contact/#email
(512) 463-0001 (his voicemail is already full, but keep trying!)
We've come so far, we cannot let the special interests win now...

Perry vetoes HB 1892, says amended compromise bill also unacceptable

Dictator Mr. 39% is predictable in his tyrannical temper tantrums. As promised (the only kind he keeps pertain to transportation and the Trans Texas Corridor), the most unpopular Texas Governor in modern memory vetoed the PEOPLE'S private toll moratorium bill! He said he didn't veto the HPV vaccine bill since the bill had so much legislative support behind it. Maybe Perry needs some glasses because HB 1892 had the combined support of 166 legislators! He's either got short term memory loss or he's a hypocrite.

With his compromise bill SB 792 now also deemed "unacceptable" due to the taxpayer protections put in it by Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, can we expect that bill to die as well? Perry wants Kolkhorst's amendments struck from the bill before he'll sign it, which means a moratorium on the Trans Texas Corridor would have no other veto-proof legislative avenues this session.

More to come on how the grassroots plan to UNLEASH VOTER FURY on Perry's cronies in the Senate...will the Senate have the GUTS to override Perry's veto now that their "compromise" efforts are likely to fail (if they strike the Trans Texas Corridor moratorium amendment)? Will they stand with the PEOPLE of Texas, or with the special interests pulling Perry Puppet's strings?


Perry vetoes HB 1892

By Ben Wear | Friday, May 18, 2007, 04:55 PM

Gov. Rick Perry, with SB 792 remaining in the limbo of a House-Senate conference committee, this afternoon vetoed HB 1892, the legislation that the Senate bill would supplant.

Perry released this veto message at 4:55 p.m.:

“House Bill No. 1892 jeopardizes billions of dollars of infrastructure investment and invites a potentially significant reduction in federal transportation funding. Projects important to fast-growth communities would be placed on hold without alternative financing mechanisms to get them constructed. Even more egregiously, the bill serves to break up the state highway system by permitting local control over state assets.

“While I support greater local decision-making authority over transportation planning, I do not support turning over state assets to local entities. By allowing local entities to seize state right-of-way at any moment, H.B. No. 1892 prohibits the Texas Department of Transportation’s ability to issue any road-based debt instrument, such as toll revenue bonds, comprehensive development agreements, and pass-through financing deals. As a state that grows by 1,200 people each and every day, we must consider every viable option that will allow Texas to build a strong transportation infrastructure to support present and future growth.

“I am grateful that legislators are working with me in subsequent legislation to address these concerns I have expressed about H.B. No. 1892 and look forward to receiving Senate Bill No. 792 without delay.”

SB 792 about summer break, not passing a good bill

The REAL truth behind today is that Governor Perry called the Legislature's bluff. He successfully did what he did to win re-election...he got North Texas and Harris County to drink his poison pill last weekend (remember that three extra days he bought himself for arm-twisting by refusing to accept HB 1892), which was evidenced by the unanimous vote of the Senate Monday.

This is why veto overrides are so rare. The whole thing was a ruse. The Senate used HB 1892's vote margins as leverage to get Perry to the table. They never intended to override him. Harvey Kronberg was right! The rest of this was a foregone conclusion ever since. Our San Antonio guys were ready to vote against this disastrous "compromise," but voted for it since HB 1892 had a loophole for the corridor. So SB 792 with all it's horrific flaws was the only means to get a moratorium that also included TTC 35. San Antonio roads were already in both (even stronger language made it into SB 792).

However, there are so many exceptions to this moratorium, that of all the CDAs currently being negotiated, only TTC 35, San Antonio, and El Paso are in it. The moratorium does stop TxDOT from signing more. So here we are again in yet another session where a last minute omnibus transportation bill where the good stuff gets watered down and the bad stuff gets rushed through with people voting on things WITH NO DEBATE. They had a shell of a debate with foregone conclusions at the outset. It ended up being like what happened to Senator Robert Nichols who was sandbagged and brought in and asked for his opinion on the bill AFTER they had the votes to outnumber him.


Word in the "back room" today was follow Wayne Smith. The leadership said if he votes for something, follow. If he votes against, follow. That's what the Governor wants. So it went something like this: thumbs up, thumbs down, that's our ticket out of town. They had a special room off to the side of the House floor with TxDOT arm twisters...they defeated Macias' amendment to restore open government and allow PUBLIC access to toll feasibility studies....they shut down EVERYTHING. In fact, Smith said he would testify in favor of Macias' amendment to keep toll studies OPEN to the PUBLIC, then he turned on him at the last minute. Smith couldn't look Macias in the eye afterwards...what a TRAITOR! That's what they were being told would avoid a special session.

I love how these sorry excuses for human beings sleep at night when they worry more about missing summer vacation than passing a good bill (stripping this "market valuation" language) or doing what the citizens ask. Don't get mad at our San Antonio reps who heard you loud and clear; they asked us how to vote...we did the best we could given the circumstances. At least we could get the TTC 35 fixed. It's the North Texas and Harris County reps that sold the rest of the state out.

If you want to take out your venom on someone, it's the Senate. John Carona's office assured us "no compromises" on the key provisions like the buy-back clauses. They said they were pushing to get the equivalent of HB 1892 or better. I beg to differ, it's worse, far worse! This bill kicks the teeth out of the killer clause that would have chased off private operators for good. Instead, they're just crippled. We could have knocked it out of the ballpark, but our representatives acted more like politicians than public servants. That market valuation language will bury this state under oppressive tolls if we don't beat that door down next session. The Senate set the example of caving into the pressure so the House followed suit. They didn't have the guts to take this Governor down and override his veto. They wanted summer break more than fighting FOR the citizens of Texas. Even worse, the motivation to avoid special sessions is tied to our politicians' ability to fundraise. Every day they're in session, they cannot accept campaign contributions.

Guess Senator Carona's concerns about high tolls only applies when they're going to Cintra instead of his tolling authority. Both fleece the taxpayer, except under the PUBLIC toll road fleecing they justify it this way: "at least those high tolls go to build more roads." Goodie! Are these Republicans we're talking about here? Because this sounds like tax and spend if I've ever heard it.

We did get an amendment that PUT 281/1604 UNDER the moratorium (stronger than previous intent language)...but our REAL problem now is Perry's NEW language that allows the same "market value" poison to be inflicted on us through PUBLIC tolling entities...we only stopped CDAs, not the toll train. They get you coming and going...

Market valuation just opened a new can of worms. TTC 69 is still on the table though support for it as a CDA is already starting to crack. The best medicine? VOTE the rascals out.

Perry is poison for this State and no one will go up against him even though we handed them the golden opportunity for a showdown with this Governor. Even Rep. Joe Pickett voted with KRUSEE!!!

All we truly got today was TTC 35 in the moratorium...everything else just got worse. The Governor beat them with his billy club and they said Uncle inside of 30 seconds without a whimper. Like Lee Iacocca says in his new book, Where have all the Leaders Gone?

Look, at this Ben Wear story (below)...today was all about making it acceptable to the Governor, and turf battles over the pot of money they can extract from "market-based" highways rather than about the PEOPLE of TX that have to pay for these horrific decisions for generations (with interest!)!

________________________________

Hitchhikers bogging down toll road bill
House treating Senate legislation as vehicle to move other stalled measures.

By Ben Wear
AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
Thursday, May 17, 2007
Senate Bill 792's sprint through the Legislature has run into some head winds.

On Wednesday, odds appeared increasingly slim that the key toll road bill will make it to Gov. Rick Perry's desk in time to avert a veto on another bill that SB 792 would replace.

And when it does get there, it probably will be carrying a fair amount of baggage.

SB 792, which passed the Senate unanimously Monday and then shot through bill sponsor Rep. Wayne Smith's County Affairs Committee that evening, is on today's House calendar.

A growing number of House members, according to Smith's office, have begun to regard the must-pass toll road legislation as a handy vehicle on which to hang dead or dying bills.

By one estimate, there could be several dozen suggested amendments offered when the bill comes up today.

"I would hope that we could pass 792 without amendments, but that's not likely," Smith, a Baytown Republican, said Wednesday. "I hope that the members understand that their amendments should fit the spirit of the bill."

Translated, that means: Don't try to put anything on there that Perry wouldn't like.

Given the rowdy nature of the House, and public pressure about toll roads, that might be asking too much.

For instance, Rep. Harvey Hilderbran, R-Kerrville, said Wednesday that he couldn't support the bill without an amendment saying that no Trans-Texas Corridor projects would be built west of Interstate 35. Given that the Trans-Texas Corridor plan of cross-state tollways, railroads and utility lines is Perry's centerpiece transportation policy, that amendment is not likely to sit well with the governor.

"We could end up with another bill on the governor's desk that he'll veto" if members push too far with changes, Smith said.

Perry's office said he has until Friday at 11:59 p.m. to sign or veto House Bill 1892, or let it become law without his signature.

That bill contains many of the same elements as SB 792 — a partial moratorium on private toll road contracts, new limits on the terms of such contracts, sections giving local toll road agencies first shot at turnpikes in their areas — but was judged lacking by Perry.

He made it clear he would veto the bill and raised the specter of calling the Legislature into special session this summer if HB 1892 wasn't replaced with a bill to his liking.

Senate Bill 792, which began life this session as HB 1892's twin, became that vehicle.

Senators, the governor's office and the Texas Department of Transportation spent several days working out the compromise passed by the Senate on Monday. Perry pronounced himself satisfied with that version.

Supporters hoped to run the bill through the House unchanged this week in time for Perry to sign it Friday, before the veto deadline for HB 1892. Under that scenario, HB 1892 would then be recalled from Perry by a legislative resolution and laid to rest.

But the sudden effusion of amendments, along with unease among House members about getting a complex, significant bill late in the session, slowed the process.

To address this, Smith's office took the unusual step Wednesday of setting up a legislators-only room in a conference room behind the House chamber, complete with maps, the 64-page bill and other educational materials, so lawmakers could go by and learn how it might affect their House district.

At midafternoon, despite a desultory pace of legislating on the House floor, no members had yet visited the room.

If SB 792 does not get final passage in the House until Friday, and is loaded with amendments, it could be difficult to quickly reach accord with the Senate on a final bill. That in turn would force Perry to veto HB 1892, something that Smith and legislators working on the alternative bill have hoped to avoid.

Might they vote to pull HB 1892 back from the governor's desk even before SB 792 is fully cooked?

No, Smith said. "I think the members would revolt if we withdraw 1892 before the governor signs 792."

Harris County pulls out of Alliance 69 because it pushed a private toll contract vs. interstate

Just days after Alliance 69 asked the Governor to veto the county powers/private toll moratorium bill, HB 1892, at a press conference last Friday, the Harris County Commissioners shot back by withdrawing their membership from Alliance 69 due to them taking a position advocating a private toll CDA Trans Texas Corridor approach to getting interstate 69 built. Harris County is against the Trans Texas Corridor and believes I-69 should be built as an interstate as originally planned, not as a toll road. Yesterday's move by Harris County is quite a blow to the pro-CDA, pro-toll "yes" men in Alliance 69.

May 15, 2007
County lawmakers vote to drop out of I-69 alliance

By BILL MURPHY and RAD SALLEE
Copyright 2007 Houston Chronicle

Commissioners Court voted today to withdraw the county's membership in the Alliance for I-69 Texas, an organization that has long supported converting U.S. 59 through East and South Texas into an interstate highway.

Harris County has paid $50,000 in annual membership fees to the alliance, a coalition of counties, towns, chambers of commerce and others.

"It has always been my position that we spend too much money on membership fees and get no real value for the dollars we spend," said Commissioner Sylvia Garcia.

The vote on County Judge Ed Emmett's motion to withdraw from the organization was unanimous.

The county is at odds with the I-69 alliance over its request that Gov. Rick Perry veto a state transportation bill because it includes a two-year moratorium on long-term contracts between the state and private firms to build and operate toll roads for profit.

The county wants the bill signed into law because another largely unrelated provision would empower the Harris County Toll Road Authority to build toll roads on Texas Department of Transportation right of way.

Emmett said the I-69 alliance, acting on advice from state highway officials, appears to have given up on building Interstate 69, and now supports constructing a Trans-Texas Corridor toll road roughly parallel to the existing U.S. 59.

The Trans-Texas Corridor system, pushed by Perry, would be a network of toll roads, railways, and pipelines contained within wide rights of way crisscrossing the state. The Texas Department of Transportation contends that funding the state's future highway needs, including one along U.S. 59, requires the public-private partnerships that the moratorium would temporarily suspend.

"The alliance's interests have changed since Harris County joined it," Emmett said. "The original intent was to upgrade U.S. 59 to an interstate."

John Thompson, I-69 alliance chairman and Polk county judge, said I-69 will remain a viable project so long as lawmakers do not ban the private-public contracts that may be needed to build it.

The moratorium and related provisions, however, would have been "devastating" to I-69 plans, Thompson said.

He said the only part of the House bill that the alliance objected to was the moratorium on these contracts. It did not object to the provision relating to TxDOT and the Harris County Toll Road Authority.

Even if a tolled corridor is built parallel to U.S. 59, Thompson said he still favors converting the present road into an interstate through East Texas, with the toll road being used mainly by heavy trucks going long distances.

On Monday, the state Senate unanimously passed a compromise bill that might satisfy both sides. The bill, SB 792, is expected to be fast-tracked in the House for a possible vote Thursday.

A TxDOT spokesman said the department does not comment on pending legislation.

I-69, sometimes called the NAFTA Highway (for North American Free Trade Agreement) was conceived as a corridor connecting Mexico and Canada with the U.S. heartland. The Texas segment would be 800 to 1,000 miles long and skirt suburban Houston.

Whatever plan ultimately emerges, completion of the project would cost billions of dollars and take decades.

U.S. House Transportation Committee warns taxpayer protections needed before privatization

Press Release

Committee Leaders Warn States Against Rushing into Public-Private Partnerships Involving National Highways


Committee Chairman Jim Oberstar and Highways Subcommittee Chairman Peter DeFazio object to highway ventures involving public private partnerships, also known as PPPs.

May 14, 2007

By Jim Berard

The Chairmen of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and the Subcommittee on Highways and Transit are warning states against rushing into public-private partnerships involving national highways.

In a letter sent to governors, state legislators, and state transportation officials on Friday, Committee Chairman James L. Oberstar (Minn.) and Subcommittee Chairman Peter A. DeFazio ( Ore. ) said many such arrangements, also called PPPs, do not protect the public interest.

“Although we invite all financing options to be on the table as we evaluate opportunities to increase investment in our nation’s infrastructure, we strongly caution you against rushing into PPPs that do not fully protect the public interest, the integrity of the national system, and which do not constitute a sustainable national system of transportation financing,” the Chairmen wrote.

The letter expressed strong concerns over states and local authorities leasing toll facilities to private operators.

“These deals make good business sense to the companies that are investing in the projects, but we have serious concerns about whether these transactions offer a net balance of benefits for the American public,” it read.

The letter further cited the Bush Administration’s efforts to promote highway PPPs, to the point of drafting model legislation for states to adopt. The Committee is preparing a discussion paper to present its concerns in more detail and answer the Administration’s claims.

The Chairmen advised the states that the Committee could take action against some PPPs in the next surface transportation bill, due in 2009.

"The Committee will work to undo any state PPP agreements that do not fully protect the public interest and the integrity of the national system,” the letter read.


See letter from House Transportation Committee Chairman James Oberstar and Vice Chair Peter DeFazio here.

Compromise bill injects “market value” into PUBLIC toll projects = highest possible tolls!

If Governor Perry and his buddy, Transportation Commission Chairman Ric Williamson, can no longer write their own ticket on private toll contracts (CDAs) due to the moratorium bill HB 1892, they decided to make PUBLIC toll entities just as insidious as private ones with a provision in the "compromise" bill SB 792. That provision is called "market valuation." It essentially allows the PUBLIC toll entity to view the toll project as an asset (Ric Williamson's stated goal) on the open market like these private companies do, and would handle the project like a private toll contract and determine an upfront payment to be paid to the government based on its determined worth. This is just like Cintra offering Dallas officials $2.8 billion up front for Hwy 121 in exchange for the right to collect tolls for 50 years.

In short, "market valuation" translates into the HIGHEST POSSIBLE TOLLS for our citizens, which is one of the primary complaints of using these private toll contracts.

So if this "compromise" bill, SB 792, passes with this language, the moratorium is useless since the PUBLIC toll entities would now function like these private toll companies. Dennis Enright, Public Private Partnership expert who testified at Senator John Carona's hearing March 1, said CDAs cost 50% more and that toll projects should remain in the PUBLIC sector. But inject this "market valuation" scheme, and you end up with the same high toll escalation and increased costs to motorists as the private toll contracts. Williamson actually chided the Legislature for trying to keep the tolls as low as possible with traditional turnpikes. Instead of just selling public bonds to finance the construction of the road and charging tolls until that bond debt is retired like a traditional toll road,  Perry and Williamson (and their road lobby friends) want to siphon our hard earned income into their toll road slush fund.

Our highways belong to TEXANS and they're not "assets" for Perry or Willliamson to maximize the value of. The point of toll projects is to accelerate road projects and provide transportation not to treat them as assets for sale. Our highway system cannot infuse "market" principles. We have a limited government supply of highways; it's not a ubiquitous product in a competitive environment like choosing between the many different types and brands of potato chips. There's only ONE Hwy 281, and only ONE Hwy 121. This "market" approach is more akin to state run capitalism through the granting of monopolies than it is free market as they would have us believe.

Contact your State Representative NOW to ask them to change this bill!

ACTION ALERT!
CALL YOUR REPRESENTATIVE RIGHT NOW and ask them respectfully but firmly to:

"Stand strong in support of the provisions in HB 1892. You need to keep taxpayer protections and strip the 'market valuation' language in SB 792 to make this bill acceptable! Be ready to override any Governor veto."

Find out who your reps are here.

You may contact each representative by calling the Capitol switchboard: (512) 463-4630.

SENATE SOLD US OUT! CALL REPS TO CHANGE SB 792

The Senate SOLD US OUT! Call your Reps to tell them to CHANGE SB 792! We expect the provisions from HB 1892 to become LAW! The Senate voted on an 80 page bill the Governor is pushing without even reading it...SB 792 has an exception for the Trans Texas Corridor I-69 project to move ahead using a private toll CDA and added "market valuation" language that would turn tolling authorities into mini-Cintras! Apparently the senators were more concerned about missing their summer vacations due to the Governor's special session threats than they were about REPRESENTING YOU!

What happened to Senator Kevin Eltife who said "we've created a monster" in TxDOT. What happened to Senator Steve Ogden who said he was righting past sins this session having felt betrayed by toll road legislation author Mike Krusee in 2003? What happened to John Carona and David Dewhurst who warned of sky high toll escalation in the hands of a foreign company? What happened to the 27 senators who voted FOR HB 1892 only to cave to a dictator in less than a week? This Senate just weakened the Legislative branch of government. We're headed for a full throttle dictatorship under a rogue Governor.

It's nothing short of stunning...we need to UNLEASH VOTER FURY and show these guys that they ought to FEAR the voters more than Mr. 39% Perry's veto pen! Flood them with RELENTLESS phone calls and emails! WE ARE the owners of government, not the foreign companies salivating over our PUBLIC highways and the Governor they've got in their hip pocket! We will accept nothing less than the moratorium with needed protections becoming LAW!

We're Texans, now act like it!

ACTION ALERT!

 

CALL YOUR REPRESENTATIVE RIGHT NOW and ask them respectfully but firmly to:

"Stand strong in support of the provisions in HB 1892. You need to keep taxpayer protections and strip the 'market valuation' language in SB 792 to make this bill acceptable! Be ready to override any Governor veto."

Find out who your reps are here.

You may contact each representative by calling the Capitol switchboard: (512) 463-4630 or email by using this formula:

For senators...

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We've come so far, we cannot let the special interests win now...

Transportation Secretary concedes HB 1892 won't threaten federal highway funds

IMMEDIATE RELEASE


Federal Highway Administration backs off thanks to Hutchison

TURF shows Hutchison illegal lobbying by TxDOT against HB 1892


Thursday, May 10, 2007 - Yesterday, Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters sent a letter replying to Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison's letter warning the Federal Highway Administration NOT to insert itself in STATE legislation, particularly in regards to the private toll moratorium, HB 1892. In the ongoing battle over HB 1892, repeated attempts have been made by House Transportation Committee Chairman Mike Krusee and the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) to call in the feds to make threats that passing HB 1892 would jeopardize Texas' federal highway funds.

"We applaud Senator Hutchison. She heard the cry of the people, saw the abuses taking place, and moved swiftly to rectify it. Thanks to the Senator's work on this, the dark cloud the Governor and his highway department have tried to cast over the people's bill has been lifted," says a relieved Terri Hall, Founder/Director of TURF.

In correspondence with the Senator's office, TURF pointed out the illegal lobbying activity by both the Federal Highway Administration and the Texas Department of the Transportation.

"We simply sent Senator Hutchison the LAW, and that sure helped provide some convincing moral clarity to help Ms. Peters see the light…TxDOT, the Governor, and the Federal Highway Administration have been illegally lobbying against state legislation," notes Hall.

Statutes on this post: http://texasturf.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=88&Itemid=1.

Hutchison delivers! Peters letter settles highway funding threats

Hooray! We've been asking for Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison to intervene and call off the dogs at the Federal Highway Administration (called in by the Governor's boy, House Transportation Committee Chair Mike Krusee), and she delivered! Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters concedes in a letter that HB 1892, the toll moratorium, DOES NOT jeopardize Texas' federal highway funds. Senator Hutchison introduced an amendment to prevent the tolling of interstates in 2005 and has spoken out against this toll proliferation ever since. We simply sent Senator Hutchison the LAW, and that sure helps provide some convincing moral clarity on what's been going on to help Ms. Peters see the light...TxDOT, the Governor, and the Federal Highway Administration have been illegally lobbying against state legislation.


§ 556.006. LEGISLATIVE LOBBYING. (a) A state agency may
not use appropriated money to attempt to influence the passage or
defeat of a legislative measure.
(b) This section does not prohibit a state officer or
employee from using state resources to provide public information
or to provide information responsive to a request.

Added by Acts 1997, 75th Leg., ch. 1035, § 86, eff. June 19,
1997. Amended by Acts 1999, 76th Leg., ch. 1498, § 1, eff. Sept.
1, 1999.

AND....

§ 556.001. DEFINITIONS. In this chapter:
(1) "Appropriated money" means money appropriated by
the legislature through the General Appropriations Act or other
law.
(2) "State agency" means:
(A) a department, commission, board, office, or
other agency in the executive branch of state government, created
under the constitution or a statute, with statewide authority;
(B) a university system or an institution of
higher education as defined by Section 61.003, Education Code; or
(C) the supreme court, the court of criminal
appeals, another entity in the judicial branch of state government
with statewide authority, or a court of appeals.
(3) "State employee" means an individual who is
employed by a state agency. The term does not include an elected
official or an individual appointed to office by the governor or
another officer.
(4) "State officer" means an individual appointed to
office by the governor or another officer.

Added by Acts 1993, 73rd Leg., ch. 268, § 1, eff. Sept. 1, 1993.
Amended by Acts 1999, 76th Leg., ch. 1498, § 1, eff. Sept. 1,
1999.

___________________________________

§ 39.02. ABUSE OF OFFICIAL CAPACITY. (a) A public
servant commits an offense if, with intent to obtain a benefit or
with intent to harm or defraud another, he intentionally or
knowingly:
(1) violates a law relating to the public servant's
office or employment; or
(2) misuses government property, services, personnel,
or any other thing of value belonging to the government that has
come into the public servant's custody or possession by virtue of
the public servant's office or employment.
(b) An offense under Subsection (a)(1) is a Class A
misdemeanor.
(c) An offense under Subsection (a)(2) is:
(1) a Class C misdemeanor if the value of the use of
the thing misused is less than $20;
(2) a Class B misdemeanor if the value of the use of
the thing misused is $20 or more but less than $500 ;
(3) a Class A misdemeanor if the value of the use of
the thing misused is $500 or more but less than $1,500;
(4) a state jail felony if the value of the use of the
thing misused is $1,500 or more but less than $20,000;
(5) a felony of the third degree if the value of the
use of the thing misused is $20,000 or more but less than $100,000;
(6) a felony of the second degree if the value of the
use of the thing misused is $100,000 or more but less than $200,000;
or
(7) a felony of the first degree if the value of the
use of the thing misused is $200,000 or more.
(d) A discount or award given for travel, such as frequent
flyer miles, rental car or hotel discounts, or food coupons, are not
things of value belonging to the government for purposes of this
section due to the administrative difficulty and cost involved in
recapturing the discount or award for a governmental entity.

Acts 1973, 63rd Leg., p. 883, ch. 399, § 1, eff. Jan. 1, 1974.
Amended by Acts 1983, 68th Leg., p. 3241, ch. 558, § 7, eff.
Sept. 1, 1983. Renumbered from V.T.C.A., Penal Code § 39.01 and
amended by Acts 1993, 73rd Leg., ch. 900, § 1.01, eff. Sept. 1,
1994.

TxDOT engaging in mutiny over private toll bill

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

TxDOT engaging in mutiny over private toll bill

Threatening all road projects to come to an end in unprecedented interference with lawmakers


Tuesday, May 8, 2007 –  In a letter to Rep. Fred Hill, Executive Director of TxDOT, Michael Behrens proclaims billions in highway projects will halt if the private toll moratorium bill HB 1892 becomes law. In an overt attempt by a state and federal agency to influence the Legislative branch of government and intimidate lawmakers into changing votes in a potential veto override, TxDOT is pulling out all the stops to ensure private companies like Spanish-based Cintra get to feed at the public trough for 50+ years. TxDOT at the direction of this Governor is attempting to lead a legislative mutiny against HB 1892.

With a veto-proof convincing vote to pass HB 1892, 139-1 in the House and 27-4 (final vote 30-1) in the Senate, the representatives of the PEOPLE of Texas have spoken. Yet the Governor who can lawfully veto the bill in protest is reaching beyond the powers given him to unduly influence the legislative process. TxDOT answers to the PEOPLE of Texas, the Legislature, not simply the Governor, and they are strictly prohibited from this sort of behavior. Their job is to implement policy, period.
 
“TxDOT is browbeating our legislators hoping to intimidate them into submission in an outrageous display of heavy-handed coercion that’s unprecedented by our highway department. They’ve called in the feds to threaten loss of federal highway funds, they’ve threatened to cancel even non-CDA (private toll) contracts, they’re pitting regions against one another (like Dallas versus Ft. Worth in this letter), and engaged in all sorts of arm-twisting to have their way,” says an outraged Terri Hall, Founder/Director of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF).
 
“Perry, the Bush Administration, and our highway agencies are more interested in representing the interests of private corporations than they are the taxpaying public. This is outright defiance against everything representative government stands for,” fumes Hall.
 
“With such willful misconduct, it begs the question, will the Legislature cave to the threats, and sell control of our PUBLIC highway system to foreign companies, or will they stand firm with the PEOPLE of Texas, their constituents, who have spoken with a loud, unified voice against it?” asks Hall. ”Buyer beware…the PEOPLE of Texas will not tolerate such mutiny from their ranks. We won’t soon forget paying toll homage to a foreign company for the next 50 years, and we’ll bring our wrath to the ballot box.”