Secret deal give private firm control of public roads, even free lanes

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Cibolo Council approves secret deal to give private toll firm control of free lanes, too 
Agreement kept from public prior to council vote

(Cibolo, TX - Wednesday, March 1, 2017) In a stunning betrayal of open government, the Cibolo City Council voted 6-0 to approve a 50 year development agreement with Texas Turnpike Corporation (TTC), granting it the exclusive right to build, operate and maintain what's been dubbed the Cibolo Parkway - a tollway linking I-35 to I-10 through mostly rural farmland northeast of San Antonio. The agreement was negotiated behind closed doors and was kept secret from the public until it was approved last night. TTC has never successfully built a single road project, and the company was chased out of east Dallas two years ago by angry landowners when it proposed the Blacklands/Northeast Gateway tollway from Garland to Greenville.

Even worse, the city council gave TTC the rights to develop a project the taxpayers have already paid for, the expansion of FM 1103, the city's primary connection to I-35. By doing so, they've granted a private corporation a virtual monopoly over the existing non-toll competitor to its private toll road. TTC can intentionally slow down the free option to force more cars onto its for-profit toll road by manipulating speed limits, access points, and stop lights. It's a developer's dream and a commuter's worst nightmare.

The city tried to reassure residents there is no non-compete clause, prohibiting or penalizing the city from building any competing free roads. The agreement may still bind the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) and the county from expanding free roads. But who knows since no member of the public could see it before the council voted on it? So while the city touts it's protected taxpayers from a non-compete provision, it handed TTC control of the adjacent competing free lanes of FM 1103, achieving a form of a non-compete out the gate.

The agreement offers no way out for the city, except an eventual buy out opportunity after the road gets built. But those buy out agreements are just as thorny as these complex development contracts. Most private toll road developers require the public entity to pay them for any future loss in toll revenue, often making it more expensive to buy them out than the original cost to build it.

One has to wonder how any elected official could green light approval of a project before a toll feasibility study has been performed, the environmental review complete, or final route selected. It's worse than putting the cart before the horse, it's putting special interests above the public interest. The company insisted on having an irrevocable agreement in place with the city before it invested $10-$12 million for the feasibility study. Nice work if you can get it, but what about the taxpayer?

No formal public hearings were hosted by TxDOT to notify residents of the proposed project, so unless you happen to look at the city council agenda every two weeks, a resident had no way of knowing what just happened, much less have the ability to stop it since the majority of it was done behind closed doors with a private entity.

Throwing landowners under the bus
Cibolo has become a bedroom community of San Antonio, but before homes stacked the landscape, Cibolo's roots were decidedly agricultural with farming and ranching dating back to Texas' days as a republic. The mayor and council weren't afraid to show their intentions when public discussion about this possible private toll road began to surface last year. Their primary interest is in economic development, which is code for flipping farmland into a commercial tax base. The city acted so desperate for new economic development, it signaled to TTC that it would sell out its current residents for the promise of a higher tax base from its new ones.

The southern boundary of the city that was most recently annexed occurred over the objection of many landowners. Now their worst fears have been realized as a private developer who cozied up to the mayor and council got himself an iron clad contract to mow them over and change their way of life. Roads are disruptive to the native landscape and often split farms in half. Many will not be able to continue farming or even have the ability to access the other side of their property without an overpass (built at the developer's expense, which isn't going to happen in most cases). That's the city's intent - to drive out the farmers and welcome in big box stores generating lots of sales tax for it to spend. New residents, more traffic, and, they hope, more riders for the toll road.

Eminent domain for private gain
The city has agreed to use eminent domain to take land from its residents and confer it to a private entity for private gain, not for a legitimate public use. While the road is open to the public (so is a mall or restaurant) if they pay a toll, this arrangement is for a private toll road whose corporation will use the city's police force to become its private toll collector and speed enforcer.

While the politicians argued eminent domain would only be used as a last resort, that's the club TTC's CEO John Crew needs to get landowners to sign over their land in negotiated settlements. We've seen it used prolifically - sign on the dotted line for the amount we're offering or we'll take it with eminent domain and pay you even less.

Numbers don't add up
In town of just 25,000 residents, it's hard to conceive of how any toll road could be profitable. The city must be banking on literally hundreds of thousands of new residents to make the numbers work. Cities with populations over a million and lots of urban congestion have toll roads that can't pay for themselves. It just doesn't add up that this little city will provide enough users to pay back $125 million plus interest, plus profit over 50 years. No elected official has any control over the eventual toll rates that will be charged. So there is no cap or limit. While the consultants tried to say the free market would keep rates in check, roads by their very nature are a monopoly. Just ask the residents in Ft. Worth and Dallas who are paying a private Spanish firm in excess of $20/day in tolls to get to work if they think that's market rate or reasonable.

But numbers and data don't matter. The city council seems to think they're getting something for nothing - even if the toll road goes bankrupt, they get it back at a fire sale price. But the private company knows how to make money even when a toll road goes bankrupt. They put in very little of their own money and borrow the rest. The developer makes their money on the front end so that when it goes south, it's the bond holders who are at risk, not the developer. If the road goes into bankruptcy, the road will remain operational, but control then gets handed to the bond investors in bankruptcy court where a bunch of the debt gets written down and off the books and the investors hire another operator, starting the process all over again. Control does not revert back to the public or the city. Only if the city exercises its buy out option would the residents get it back under public control.  

Taxpayer money in play
The city manager and its lawyers bragged the city had no financial risk in the deal, yet, ironically, the city had to hire extra legal and engineering consultants to review the agreement, which is, of course, at taxpayer expense. There's more to come since next up is negotiating the formal operating agreement. Policing of this private toll road will also be done by city police. While the developer is supposedly responsible for paying to hire the extra personnel, who is responsible for those public employees' pensions, benefits, etc.? I'd bet money it's the taxpayers. Who will collect the tolls and what enforcement does the private company have access to? If it's anything like the SH 130 tollway, TxDOT does the toll collection and state law allows a user's vehicle registration to be blocked for failure to pay tolls, even when it's for a private toll road.

The city, like TxDOT, loves to claim the road and right of way is still technically owned by the city and hence the public, but that's only so the private toll company can use the public's policing and enforcement powers for its for-profit toll enterprises. For tax purposes, these corporations show ownership and depreciate it like an asset.

Then there's the tax money it would take to buy out the private developer at some point in the future. No matter how you slice it, Cibolo residents just got sold out by their elected officials. They've lost control of FM 1103, the ability to determine the toll rates, the route, the exits, the overpasses, the toll collection procedures, and a whole bunch more. Taxpayers will be paying for extra consultants and legal haggling for the foreseeable future. Accountability at the ballot box will now be your only recourse. Sadly, there are no remaining pain-free options.
###

Big win for high speed rail opponents

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 20, 2016
CONTACT: Desi Burns Porter
EMAIL: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
TEXAS CENTRAL IS NOT A RAILROAD, DOES NOT HAVE EMINENT DOMAIN AUTHORITY
MAJOR HIGH SPEED RAIL OPPOSITION VICTORY

(Jewett, Texas) Texas Central Railroad & Infrastructure’s motion to be declared a railroad with eminent domain authority denied by Harris County judge. Last Friday, landowner Calvin House and Texans Against High Speed Rail delivered another devastating blow to Texas Central’s ill-advised Dallas to Houston High Speed Rail project. In Harris County, on Texas Central’s home court, where it has sued more than 20 landowners – the Court denied Texas Central’s motion for summary judgment “in its entirety.”
Read more: Big win for high speed...

Anti-toll groups celebrate bankruptcy of SH 130

IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: Terri Hall,
Founder/Director
Texans Uniting for Refrom and Freedom
(210) 275-0640
Anti-toll groups celebrate Cintra bankruptcy on SH 130   
     
(Austin, TX - Wednesday, March 2, 2016) Anti-toll groups Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF) and Texans for Toll-free Highways (TTH) release the following statement on Cintra's bankruptcy on SH 130 segments 5 & 6:

It's appropriate on Texas Independence Day that Texans get to formally declare independence from its bondage to a tremendously unpopular, anti-liberty public private partnership (P3) contract (known as a Comprehensive Development Agreement  or CDA in Texas) as a result of Cintra's bankruptcy on SH 130 (segments 5 & 6, the southern 41 miles of the 86-mile tollway). It's been four years too long that former Governor Rick Perry's grand toll road experiment began on this stretch of highway.

TURF called for a boycott of Texas' first foreign-owned toll road when it opened back in 2012. SH 130 has long been the poster child of Rick Perry's failed toll road policies. At one point, the state-operated part of the tollway was so empty a distressed plane landed on it during peak hours. Many citizens expressed relief and a desire to move on and get this phase of Texas highway history behind them. Governor Greg Abbott's new vision and his new leadership at the helm of the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) promises to usher in a new pro-liberty, pro-taxpayer mobility plan that benefits and is accessible to ALL Texans.

The lists of outrageous anti-taxpayer provisions in the contract or as a result of the contract include: 

* Taxpayer-backed loan guarantees and state funds ($438 million federal TIFIA loan and other state funds).
* Non-compete agreement prohibiting the expansion of free routes in the entire counties of Caldwell and Guadalupe for 50 years (see Exhibit 17 here).
* A guaranteed 12% annual profit, courtesy of Texas taxpayers.
* Manipulation of speed limits on free routes in order to force drivers onto Cintra's tollway. This included increasing the speed limit on SH 130 to 85 MPH while simultaneously lowering the speed limit on the adjacent Highway 183 from 65 MPH down to 55 MPH for which TxDOT was paid $100 million concession fee by Cintra for the privilege (see Exhibit 7 here). This required a change in state law to allow the maximum speed limit to rise to the fastest in the country to 85 MPH, a speed forbidden by many trucking companies.
* Provisions that put Texas taxpayers on the hook for any uncollectable tolls, including those unpaid tolls by Mexican drivers.
* Dual designation of I-410, I-10, and Loop 1604 in Bexar County as SH 130 to entrap the motorists using those freeways into using Cintra's tollway once they're out in the middle of a rural area with no way north except the expensive SH 130 toll road.
* Tens of millions in taxpayer subsidies that make all Texas taxpayers pay to reduce the truck toll rates on SH 130 to incentivize truckers to divert from the heavily congested I-35 over to SH 130 (at a cost of $20 million per year).
* Fueled talk of swapping I-35 with SH 130 making I-35 a tollway and SH 130 in order to get more cars off of I-35.
* Cost Texas taxpayers $210,000 in advertising for the foreign-operated tollway, and a good portion of the $19 million in legal fees to negotiate the contract with Cintra as part of the controversial Trans Texas Corridor.

Cronyism and corruption
The SH 130 project, the first and only leg of the Trans Texas Corridor to ever be built, was shrouded in cronyism and corruption from the very start. Dan Shelley, lobbyist for Cintra, landed a job in Perry's office as his legislative liaison in 2003, got his former employer, Cintra, the development rights to the Trans Texas Corridor contract, then went back to work for Cintra after doing the dirty deed.

Texans should celebrate being released from this bad deal and breathe a breath of fresh air now that we're under new leadership with Governor Abbott having campaigned against toll roads and who continues to make a concerted effort to start eliminating toll roads across Texas.

Melissa Cubria, Director of Texas Public Interest Research Group (TexPIRG) and early critic of private toll road deals, echoes TURF’s sentiments, ”It is important to note. All private toll arrangements absent public safeguards - and not a single deal inked in this state contains a meaningful public safeguard - are nothing more than budget gimmicks that enable lawmakers to claim they've balanced the budget without raising taxes.

"In reality, lawmakers saddled Texas taxpayers with billions in debt and they hid it from the normal, open, public budgetary process. In other words, Texas lawmakers have balanced the budget, in part, because they have issued billions of taxpayer backed subsidies for private toll road companies while hiding the costs from taxpayers and increasing costs and risks for taxpayers in the long term.

"It's really hard not to say we told y'all so."

Will SH 130 become free?
TURF and TTH have advocated to have tolls come off the road once it's paid for three legislative sessions. Last year, the concept finally managed to take a step forward with passage of HB 2612 that commissioned a study to remove tolls from state-funded toll projects. House Transportation Committee Chair Joe Pickett strongly pushed removing tolls from the state-operated northern segments of SH 130 in order to immediately get some traffic relief on I-35 through downtown Austin. Today's announcement of Cintra's bankruptcy may just hasten that plan.

###

TURF releases 2015 Report Card for 84th Legislature

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Anti-toll group releases Report Card for 84th legislature
More anti-toll stars than ever

(Austin, TX, September 9, 2015) With voters overwhelmingly embracing a move away from toll roads by electing Greg Abbott as the new Texas Governor, many voters want to know how their elected leaders did in delivering on their promises. Anti-toll and property rights watchdog group Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF) just released its Report Card from the 84th Legislature today. Over 75 anti-toll bills were filed. Combined with property rights legislation, the total came to 96.

Nine lawmakers achieved the distinction of earning an A+. Those legislators are: Jeff Leach, Matt Rinaldi, Scott Sanford, Matt Shaheen, Jonathan Stickland, and James White in the House, and Bob Hall, Don Huffines, and Lois Kolkhorst in the Senate.

“Having this many anti-toll champions in the legislature is a big improvement over last session when only Rep. Jonathan Stickland achieved the top grade of A+ with just three others achieving ‘A’s. However, there’s lots more work to be done and many lawmakers have a lot of room for improvement. Most anti-toll and property rights bills were watered down or never even got to the floor. That’s got to change in order to protect taxpayers from rampant double and triple taxation,” related Terri Hall, Founder/Director of TURF.
Read more: TURF releases 2015...

TxDOT tracks drivers to mine data without their consent

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

TxDOT tracks drivers to mine data without their consent
Bluetooth reader used to stalk motorists' travel patterns 
    
(San Antonio, TX - Tuesday, June 2) At a recent stakeholders meeting on the I-35 bypass study, it came to light that a consultant hired by the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) used a Bluetooth reader to collect the trip origination and destination data involuntarily from innocent travelers. Such data mining by government invades a motorist's privacy and violates one's Constitutional rights.

"Whether it was TxDOT or its consultant doesn't matter, it's all being done with taxpayer dollars and for a government agency. Didn't they learn from the NSA wiretapping scandal how much Americans detest government spying on the private lives of innocent, law-abiding citizens?" notes Terri Hall, Founder and Director of Texans for Toll-free Highways and Texas TURF.
Read more: TxDOT tracks drivers to...

Commissioners approve tolls for northside of San Antonio

Watch what happened on Fox 29 here.
(Note: The reporter mistook the agenda item where citizens' comment known as 'Citizens to be Heard' as the name of our group.
)


IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Commissioners approve tolls
for northside of San Antonio

Reaffirm tolls on US 281, I-10 despite
more road money coming to fix non-toll

(San Antonio, TX - Tuesday, January 17, 2015) Today, Bexar County commissioners passed a resolution brought by Kevin Wolff to 'reaffirm' what's been dubbed the $825 million 'Super Toll Plan' for toll lanes on US 281 (from Loop 1604 to the county line) and I-10 (from Loop 1604 to Boerne), and the initial non-toll expansion of Loop 1604 W (though tolls are coming from Bandera Rd. to I-35).
Read more: Commissioners approve...

Can TxDOT use gas taxes to support toll roads? Kolkhorst asks AG for opinion on Prop 15

IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: Terri Hall, Founder/Director,Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom,
(210) 275-0640
Kolkhorst asks for Attorney General opinion on use of gas taxes to build, support toll roads
Seeks clarity over Prop 15 controversy from 2001

(Austin, TX, November 14, 2014) With voters overwhelmingly embracing a move away from toll roads with the election of anti-toll Greg Abbott as the new Texas Governor, there remains an open question about whether or not the voters approved the use of the state gasoline tax, and any other money available to the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), for toll roads when they approved Proposition 15 back in 2001. Some state leaders believe the voters approved the use of gas taxes to build toll roads with passage of Prop 15, but the ballot language never mentions a word about gas taxes nor all funds available to TxDOT being used for toll roads - which is a double tax.

“It’s important for lawmakers to know heading into the next session whether or not TxDOT is authorized to subsidize toll projects that can’t pay for themselves with taxpayer money,” points out Texas State Rep. Lois Kolkhorst who Chairs the House Health Committee, and has been a long-time champion for taxpayers on transportation.

Kolkhorst submitted a request for an Attorney General opinion on Prop 15 last week. She authored the legislation to repeal the controversial Trans Texas Corridor, and she’s currently running for the Texas Senate seat, SD 18, vacated by Glenn Hegar who was just elected State Comptroller. Chairwoman Kolkhorst believes the ballot language for Prop 15 was less than forthcoming about the full implications of the amendment to the Texas Constitution in 2001, and she wants to protect taxpayers from double taxation.
Read more: Can TxDOT use gas taxes...

Passage of Prop 1 opens door to fix 281 without tolls

Link to this release as an article here.

IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Terri Hall, (210) 275-0640

With passage of Prop 1, time to fix US 281 without tolls

(San Antonio, TX - November 5, 2014) It’s been a long battle, more like a ten year war, over converting US 281 in San Antonio into a tollway, but with passage of Proposition 1 shifting $1.7 billion in oil and gas severance taxes immediately into the state highway fund, the ‘we’re out of money’ excuse to toll this freeway just got chucked.

Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff and Sen. Donna Campbell sent a letter to the Texas Transportation Commission in May asking for more non-toll lanes on US 281 should Prop 1 pass. Now Wolff still wants one transit-toll-HOV ‘managed’ lane each direction regardless of having the money to fix it completely without tolls, but Campbell, who represents the corridor, has stated unequivocally that she wants expansion and wants it all to be without tolls.
Read more: Passage of Prop 1 opens...

Anti-toll candidates snatch key positions in Texas

Link to this release as an article here.

IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Terri Hall, (210) 275-0640

Anti-toll candidates sweep key races in Texas

(Austin, TX - November 5, 2014) Texas taxpayers have been tormented for more than a decade when it comes to transportation and toll roads, and their torment is finally coming to an end tonight. With the strong win by Greg Abbott, Texans will soon have a new governor who actually campaigned against toll roads. It’s a welcome departure from the agony of living under the current governor, Rick Perry, who crippled Texans with unsustainable, exorbitantly expensive, insolvent toll roads. Texans also overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure, Proposition 1, to dedicate half of the state’s oil and gas revenues to the state highway fund with 81% of the vote. The new revenue cannot be used for toll roads. 

Other big wins include Dan Patrick for Lt. Governor, Ken Paxton for Attorney General, and a strong anti-toll grassroots win for Konni Burton who took back Wendy Davis’ senate seat, Senate District 10, for the GOP in Ft. Worth. Tony Tinderholt is another big anti-toll pick-up replacing pro-toll incumbent Diane Patrick in House District 94 in Arlington. Rodney Anderson’s win in House District 105 in Irving and Grand Prairie replaces a key pro-toll member of the Transportation Committee, Linda Harper-Brown, whose penchant for public private partnership corporate toll roads and bike and pedestrian facilities also played a role in her ouster. Anti-toll Matt Rinaldi replaces pro-toll Bennett Ratliff in House District 115, representing the Carollton area.
Read more: Anti-toll candidates...

Citizens ask cities & counties to oppose Blacklands private toll road

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT: Bryan Slaton, (469) 585-2686, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Grassroots coalition blitzes cities & counties to go on record opposing private Blacklands tollway

(Greenville, TX - Tuesday, October 14, 2014) Opposition to the controversial private Blacklands-Northeast Gateway Toll Road from Garland to Greenville east of Dallas prompted concerned citizens to hold a press conference outside the Hunt County Commissioners Court meeting in Greenville today, and do a full court press to pressure remaining cities and counties to pass resolutions opposing the toll road. Cities that have passed resolutions include: Fate, Josephine, Lavon, Nevada, Rockwall, Sasche, and Wylie. Josephine just passed theirs last night, bringing the total count to seven. The Rockwall County Democratic Party also passed a resolution opposing the tollway.

The public's outrage over a private company wielding the power of eminent domain has gotten officials to take notice. Stiff opposition forced Texas Turnpike Corporation (TTC) to cancel its series of ‘informal’ meetings, and the Regional Transportation Council (RTC) postponed its vote to adopt the tollway into its official plans. But without formal action nixing the project, concerned citizens continue to unite to put a stop to it.
Read more: Citizens ask cities &...

Election victory represents power shift that will benefit anti-tollers

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT: Terri Hall, Founder/Director, TURF & TTH (210) 275-0640

Election victory: Power shift to benefit anti-toll cause

(Austin, TX - May 27, 2014) It was another great night for the anti-toll cause in Texas. Today was the Republican primary run-off election and voters toppled the incumbent David Dewhurst, replacing him with tea party favorite State Senator Dan Patrick for the powerful Lt. Governor seat. The campaign got downright nasty with Dewhurst hurling mud about Patrick's past mental health challenges that dated back forty years into the past, drudging up Patrick's attempted suicide to try to win votes. It clearly didn't work. Patrick beat Dewhurst 65%-35%.

Two more tea party favorites also won statewide office easily, perhaps on Patrick coattails: Ken Paxton beat Dan Branch for Attorney General and Sid Miller beat Tommy Merritt for Agriculture Commissioner. Newcomer and tea party leader Konni Burton cleaned up the senate seat vacated by Democrat Wendy Davis in Senate District 10, which if she wins in November, is a pick-up for the GOP. Burton was also one of the top anti-toll candidates tonight.

A remarkable race to watch this election night was the nail biter between incumbent State Senator Robert Deuell versus dark horse tea party candidate Bob Hall in District 2. At one point, there was only one vote separating these two and no clear winner as of 10 PM. Deuell also used dirty tactics misrepresenting the court record in Hall's divorce case from decades earlier, accusing him of being a wife beater when, in fact, the court exonerated him from all charges made by his ex-wife. Expect a recount in that race.

But there were notable losses, too. Newcomer Ryan Sitton beat former State Representative conservative Wayne Christian for Railroad Commission, which regulates the oil & gas industry. John Wray edged out grassroots favorite TJ Fabby by just 5-percentage points in the open seat vacated by State Representative and powerful Appropriations Committee Chair Jim Pitts in House District 10.

Conservative sweep
What does all this mean to taxpayers? New conservative leadership in the Senate. Typically, the Texas House is more conservative than the Texas Senate, and conservatives counted on the House to stop bad bills. Now the roles may be reversed. The wild card is whether State Rep. Scott Turner will prevail in the Speaker's race when the legislature comes into session next year, which would make both chambers decidedly conservative and a total political upset against the GOP-crony capitalist establishment.

Under Dewhurst's leadership, Texans experienced a massive shift away from an affordable gas tax funded freeway system to a reliance on tolling (just about everything that moves). The Perry-Dewhurst regime brought us the Trans Texas Corridor, quick take eminent domain, tolling existing freeways, handing our public roads to private toll corporations who charge Texans 95 cents a mile to drive, and using gas taxes and a host of public money to subsidize and guarantee the loans on toll roads.  They took Texas from zero debt for roads to now the highest road debt in the nation at $31 billion (in principle and interest).

Closing this chapter of Texas' transportation history is a Texas-sized step in the right direction. Though Patrick has a poor voting record on transportation, he reached out to anti-toll groups like Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom, which gave him an 'F' on their Report Card. But he managed to earn a 'B' in their Voter Guide, and Patrick signed onto their legislative agenda and promised to work with the grassroots to make things right. He also managed to earn Texans for Toll-free Highways endorsement in the race.

With many new, more conservative senators joining Patrick in his inaugural session as Lt. Governor, like Van Taylor moving over from the House to fill the seat vacated by Paxton and possibly stalwart anti-toll hero Lois Kolkhorst in the seat vacated by Glenn Hegar who won Comptroller, 2015 may well be the year of transportation in the Texas legislature.

Road funding is heading off a fiscal cliff when the Texas Department of Transportation's budget that has been propped up with mounds of debt disappears. The state's gas tax has been frozen at 20-cents/gallon for 20 years and revenues have remained flat even with 1,000 new residents moving to Texas per day. Current House Speaker Joe Straus just announced his plans to introduce a budget to end the 80-yr raid of gas tax for non-transportation purposes. But other diversions like the 25% of gas tax that goes to education ($750 million/yr) and the vehicle sales tax ($3.3 billion/yr) that goes to general revenue still remain. These diversions need to be addressed in order to ensure Texas' public road system is sufficiently funded.

If Patrick goes on to win in November, who he assembles as his committee chairs and transportation team will signal whether or not he's serious about reforms and righting this ship that's been run aground by his predecessors. Despite the grassroots gains from this election cycle, all politicians, regardless of party, must be held accountable for their campaign promises. Our freedom to travel, cost of goods, cost of living, and quality of life depend on it.

###



Obama seeks to lift ban on tolling existing freeways

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

TURF & Texans for Toll-free Highways opposes Obama proposal to lift ban on tolling existing interstates

(San Antonio, TX - April 30, 2014) It’s official. Yesterday, the Obama administration announced the president’s support of lifting the ban on tolling existing interstates. But the two leading grassroots organizations fighting for toll-free highways in Texas, Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF) and Texans for Toll-free Highways (TFF), vehemently oppose such a proposition.

“Slapping tolls on existing toll-free highways is highway robbery and double taxation. We’ve already paid for these roads, and now Obama wants us to pay for them again by charging us a toll for every mile we drive on them. We’re not going to stand idly by and let the president steal our freeways and impose such a confiscatory tax scheme without our consent,” promises Terri Hall, Founder and Director of both groups.
Read more: Obama seeks to lift ban...

Krier's conflicts of interest pose problem for council seat

Link to Examiner article here.

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact:
Terri Hall, Director, Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom and Texans for Toll-free Highways
Phone:
(210) 275-0640

Krier’s conflicts of interest should keep him out of District 9 seat
Chairs board of Cintra's SH 130 tollway

(San Antonio, TX - Monday, April 28, 2014) With Wendy Davis on the hot seat for conflicts of interest representing the North Texas Tollway Authority while a sitting senator on the Senate Transportation Committee, San Antonio voters need to be aware of similar conflicts brewing in their own backyard before they head to the polls. When deciding who should fill the San Antonio City Council District 9 seat vacated by Elisa Chan, they need to know about some serious red flags with Joe Krier. Krier worked for the law firm Bracewell & Giuliani, which happens to be Spanish toll road mega giant, Cintra’s, U.S. law firm. Krier also serves as Chairman of the Board for Cintra’s SH 130 tollway.

Both of these positions create major conflicts of interest for Krier as San Antonio faces imminent toll projects all over the north side on US 281, Loop 1604, I-10 and 1-35 (and eventually the entire city). If that’s not enough, Krier also served as Chair of the San Antonio Mobility Coalition (or SAMCo), the largest transportation lobby group in the Alamo city which lobbies for toll roads and multi-modal transportation (think street cars/light rail) as well as the President of the Greater Chamber of Commerce. His coziness with big business interests like Cintra and Zachry that want to takeover control of our public highways in long-term contracts designed to extract the highest possible tolls (up to 95 cents a mile in DFW), subordinates the taxpayers and the public interest to special interests.
Read more: Krier's conflicts of...

TURF prevails, lawsuit moves forward, allows depositions of TxDOT’s top brass

IMMEDIATE RELEASE


TURF prevails as Judge grants continuance, allows discovery
TURF attorneys may depose top TxDOT officials

Austin, TX – Thursday, October 18, 2007 - In Travis County District Court today, Judge Orlinda Naranjo granted Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF) a continuance allowing TURF to move to the discovery phase and depose top Transportation Department (TxDOT) officials, including Transportation Commission Chairman Ric Williamson himself. Allowing discovery is vital for TURF to force TxDOT to hand over key documents that they’ve been withholding via Open Records requests. TURF is seeking to immediately halt the illegal advertising campaign and lobbying by TxDOT (read petition here).

The State was attempting to throw us out of court with their favorite “get out of jail free” card (called the plea to the jurisdiction), but TURF’s attorneys, Charlie Riley, David Van Os, and Andrew Hawkins outmaneuvered Attorney General counsel Kristina Silcocks to file a motion for a continuance to allow TURF to move to the discovery phase to gather evidence to show TxDOT’s top brass broke the law with the Keep Texas Moving (KTM) ad campaign and lobbying Congress to buyback interstates.

“This is a great victory for Texas taxpayers!” an elated Terri Hall, TURF’s Founder and Executive Director proclaimed. “This egregious misuse of $9 million of taxpayer money by a rogue government agency is one MAJOR step closer to being stopped.”

The tide seemed to turn when Riley showed the affidavit by TxDOT’s Helen Havelka was false. TURF uncovered this August 13, 2007 memo by Coby Chase (read it here) through an Open Records request showing the Keep Texas Moving campaign was not over and in fact it has multiple phases planned with the next one fashioned to influence the upcoming Trans Texas Corridor TTC-69 NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) hearings planned for early 2008.

With a clear attempt to mislead the court by causing Judge Naranjo and the public to believe the KTM Campaign was over when in fact it isn’t, the State’s credibility and case went downhill from there.

“I wonder what TxDOT’s top brass is saying tonight as they’re being informed they’ve now been added as defendants and may be deposed under oath about their lobbying and ad campaign activities,” pondered Hall. “My guess is the phones are ringing and the paper shredders may just get fired-up."

This lawsuit is brought pursuant to § 37, Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code. TxDOT’s expenditure of public funds for the Keep Texas Moving campaign is illegal, and an injunction prohibiting any further illegal expenditures in this regard.TxDOT has violated § 556.004 of the Texas Government Code by directing the expenditure of public funds for political advocacy in support of toll roads and the Trans Texas Corridor, and have directly lobbied the United States Congress in favor of additional toll road programs as evidenced in its report, Forward Momentum.

On Monday, September 24, Judge Naranjo did not initially grant a temporary restraining order (TRO). TxDOT unearthed a law that says they can advertise toll roads (Sec 228.004 of Transportation Code) and the citizens invoked another that says they can’t (Chapter 556, Texas Government Code). The burden to obtain a TRO is higher than for an injunction.

“TxDOT is waging a one-sided political ad campaign designed to sway public opinion in favor of the policy that puts money in TxDOT’s own coffers. School Boards cannot lobby in favor of their own bond elections, and yet TxDOT cites its own special law to line their own pockets at taxpayers’ expense,” says an incredulous Terri Hall, Founder/Director of TURF.

Hall also notes that TxDOT’s campaign goes beyond mere advertising, “It’s propaganda and in some cases, the ads blatantly lie to the public! In one radio ad, scroll down to radio ad “continuing maintenance”), it claims it’s not signing contracts with non-compete agreements in them and yet last March TxDOT inked a deal with Cintra-Zachry for SH 130 (read about it here) that had a non-compete clause (which either prohibits or financially punishes the State for building competing infrastructure with a toll road).”

On August 22, 2007, TURF filed a formal complaint with Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle to investigate TxDOT’s illegal lobbying and asked him to prosecute TxDOT for criminal wrongdoing. See the formal complaint here. The petition seeks immediate injunctive relief in a civil proceeding.

Amended petition

Motion for continuance

Request for production

Supplemental affidavit

Response to plea to the jurisdiction

-30-

The tide seemed to turn when Riley showed the affidavit by TxDOT’s Helen Havelka was false. TURF uncovered this August 13, 2007 memo by Coby Chase (read it here) through an Open Records request showing the Keep Texas Moving campaign was not over and in fact it has multiple phases planned with the next one fashioned to influence the upcoming Trans Texas Corridor TTC-69 NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) hearings planned for early 2008.

With a clear attempt to mislead the court by causing Judge Naranjo and the public to believe the KTM Campaign was over when in fact it isn’t, the State’s credibility and case went downhill from there.

“I wonder what TxDOT’s top brass is saying tonight as they’re being informed they’ve now been added as defendants and may be deposed under oath about their lobbying and ad campaign activities,” pondered Hall. “My guess is the phones are ringing and the paper shredders may just get fired-up."

This lawsuit is brought pursuant to § 37, Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code. TxDOT’s expenditure of public funds for the Keep Texas Moving campaign is illegal, and an injunction prohibiting any further illegal expenditures in this regard.TxDOT has violated § 556.004 of the Texas Government Code by directing the expenditure of public funds for political advocacy in support of toll roads and the Trans Texas Corridor, and have directly lobbied the United States Congress in favor of additional toll road programs as evidenced in its report, Forward Momentum.

On Monday, September 24, Judge Naranjo did not initially grant a temporary restraining order (TRO). TxDOT unearthed a law that says they can advertise toll roads (Sec 228.004 of Transportation Code) and the citizens invoked another that says they can’t (Chapter 556, Texas Government Code). The burden to obtain a TRO is higher than for an injunction.

“TxDOT is waging a one-sided political ad campaign designed to sway public opinion in favor of the policy that puts money in TxDOT’s own coffers. School Boards cannot lobby in favor of their own bond elections, and yet TxDOT cites its own special law to line their own pockets at taxpayers’ expense,” says an incredulous Terri Hall, Founder/Director of TURF.

Hall also notes that TxDOT’s campaign goes beyond mere advertising, “It’s propaganda and in some cases, the ads blatantly lie to the public! In one radio ad, scroll down to radio ad “continuing maintenance”), it claims it’s not signing contracts with non-compete agreements in them and yet last March TxDOT inked a deal with Cintra-Zachry for SH 130 (read about it here) that had a non-compete clause (which either prohibits or financially punishes the State for building competing infrastructure with a toll road).”

On August 22, 2007, TURF filed a formal complaint with Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle to investigate TxDOT’s illegal lobbying and asked him to prosecute TxDOT for criminal wrongdoing. See the formal complaint here. The petition seeks immediate injunctive relief in a civil proceeding.

Updates to TURF’s petition and supplemental affidavits will be posted soon.

Contact info for TURF's attorneys:
Charlie Riley - 210-225-7236
David Van Os - 210-821-1700
Andrew Hawkins - 512-477-2320
David Rogers - 512-301-4097

-30-

Texas Senate votes to gouge citizens with "market based" tolls

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Texas Senate unanimously votes to fleece motorists with market-based TOLLS

Cave to Governor, off to summer vacation!

Friday, May 25, 2007 – The Texas Senate unanimously passed SB 792 which is a vote to fleece the taxpayers through the HIGHEST POSSIBLE TOLLS. Bottom line SB 792 is a counterfeit moratorium because this Governor snuck in a way to charge us "market rate" on ALL tolls projects from now on. Traditional turnpikes are now off the table. "market-based" tolling has Transportation Commission Chair Ric Williamson's fingerprints all over it, and that will bankrupt the traveling public. SB 792 means the HIGHEST POSSIBLE TOLLS for our citizens.

"It does us no good if 281/1604 are some of the few highways in the private toll moratorium if they can still use our public toll authority to do the same thing. Our victory comes in the power of us sending a shot across the bow to this Governor and TxDOT that they're tricks are no longer under the radar. The jig is up, and they're in for an even bigger fight next session," said Terri Hall, Founder/Director of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom. "There was full disclosure on this bill. We made sure they knew what they were voting on. We know what our senators negotiated in a back room deal and they sold us out. Plain and simple. There will be a price to pay, because paying oppressively high tolls for roads we've already paid for, will not soon be forgotten. We'll take it to the ballot box."

"We will not accept market-based highways and TxDOT demanding concession fees just like Cintra. The PEOPLE'S BILL (HB 1892) was passed with 169-5 combined vote. But our Legislature didn't mean it, especially Senators John Carona, Tommy Williams, and Kim Brimer who simply played the grassroots like a fiddle and used us and our bill as leverage to broker a deal with a detested Governor. Even Ex- Transportation Commissioner Robert Nichols voted for this nightmare. Carona's March 1 hearing (read about it here) was a sham, and he spit in the face of Texans with this bill. They knew HB 1892 would never become law. They cut a deal with the Governor to stab the taxpayers in the back. We're not finished, but some of their political careers are," steams Hall.

"They all whimped out," states Hall. "But 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. "This is NOT over."

Market valuation dollars can 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.

Where have our leaders gone? The way of HB 3588 from 2003. Many legislators opined that they didn't know what they were voting on then, and later realized as Senator Kevin Eltife declared, "we created a monster in TxDOT." Carona and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst expressed an apparently false rage over skyhigh toll rates (read it here) and yet orchestrated a bill that does just that. Rep. Warren Chisum said, "TxDOT is an agency run amok."

"Just like in 2003, completely new language got stuck in a HUGE bill at the end of a session, they voted on it before anyone even read what was in it, and the Governor and his senate friends railroaded it through giving us more cow dung to undo next session," complained Hall.

"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. Yet our senators caved to Mr. 39% voting for a counterfeit bill, SB 792, weakened the power of the Legislature, and likely ended their political careers in so doing," states Hall.

The best independent analysis of the consequences of SB 792 here.

-30-

Anti-toll candidates sweep in many key races

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Anti-toll candidates sweep in many key races across Texas

(Austin, TX - Wednesday, March 5) Not a bad night for anti-toll candidates in Texas. Incumbents Sen. John Carona, Rep. Linda Harper-Brown, Rep. Bennett Ratliff, and Rep. Ralph Sheffield were all beat by their anti-toll challengers Don Huffines, Rodney Anderson, Matt Rinaldi, and Molly White. Several anti-toll candidates made it into run-offs, with one, Bob Hall, taking on a 10-year incumbent, Senator Bob Deuell.

Anti-toll TJ Fabby won the plurality of votes for the open seat in House District 10 and will face John Wray in a run-off. Collin County Commissioner Matt Shaheen also won the plurality of votes for an open seat in House District 66 and will enter a run-off with Glenn Callison. Anti-toll Timothy Wilson made it into a run-off on the Republican side and Tommy Calvert on the Democrat side for an open seat for Bexar County Commissioner Precinct 4. Others with a poor record on tolls and transportation like Rep. Diane Patrick and Rep. Lance Gooden got beat by challengers Tony Tinderholt and Stuart Spitzer.
Read more: Anti-toll candidates...

Public drain for private gain: Prop 6 rural water raid to benefit developers

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT: Terri Hall, Founder, Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF), 210-275-0640


Prop 6 public drain for private gain
Rural water raid to benefit developers, not average Texan

(San Antonio, TX - Monday, October 14, 2013) Have you ever had a kid ask for seconds during a meal before he’s even finished what’s on his plate? Well, that’s what the Texas legislature is asking of voters with Proposition 6 on November 5, pointed out TURF Founder Terri Hall at a press conference Monday at Lion’s Field in San Antonio along with a coalition of groups opposing Prop 6.

Lawmakers want Texans to pass this constitutional amendment to approve more funding for water projects. A similar measure narrowly passed in November 2011 for a $6 billion revolving fund to loan money to local government entities for water infrastructure, outside constitutional debt limitations. Now in 2013, the Texas Legislature is asking voters for permission to raid $2 billion from the state’s emergency fund, known as the Rainy Day Fund, to assist local agencies of government in funding water projects from the state’s water plan.
Read more: Public drain for...

Dirty trick: TxDOT bypasses legislature to enact law using rule change

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Dirty trick: TxDOT bypasses legislature to enact law through 'rule change'
Authorizes unlimited private, foreign-controlled toll roads

(Austin, TX - July 9, 2013) While the Texas legislature is distracted with a second special session, the Texas Transportation Commission is attempting to bypass lawmakers to pass its own law through an administrative 'rule change.' At a recent meeting of the Texas Transportation Commission (the body that governs the Texas Department of Transportation or TxDOT), it proposed a rule change that would, in effect, give the agency a blank check to enter into unlimited numbers of controversial public private partnerships (known as P3s, called Comprehensive Development Agreements or CDAs in Texas).

Indeed, they'd do it using the so-called 'availability payment' model, which they initially tried but failed to get passed as legislation,  House Bill 3650, during the 83rd regular session of the legislature that ended Memorial Day. So it appears TxDOT is attempting to do through a rule change what they couldn't get done legitimately through the legislative process.
Read more: Dirty trick: TxDOT...

Texans ask Perry to veto bill to hand 23 Texas roads to foreign entities

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Texas for Sale: Grassroots ask Perry to VETO bill that hands 23 Texas roads to private, foreign toll operators
SB 1730 includes I-35, Hwy 183, Hwy 290, Loop 1604 & more!  

(Austin, TX, June 10, 2013) - A crucial bill, SB 1730, that will effect the next three generations of Texans sits on Texas Governor Rick Perry's desk awaiting his signature. The bill would authorize the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), or toll entities, to enter into Public Private Partnerships (P3) known in Texas as Comprehensive Development Agreements (CDAs), for more than 20 projects, including rail and three bridges.

Grassroots groups across Texas are asking Perry to veto the bill, despite his avowed support of P3s. TURF, Texas tea parties, the Texas Libertarian Party, and dozens more watchdog and liberty groups, oppose P3s as sweetheart deals and corporate welfare, designed to extract punitively high toll rates from travelers with little choice other than congested free routes. Indeed, conservative columnist Michelle Malkin calls P3s 'corporate welfare' and Rachel Alexander calls them 'double taxation' and state sanctioned-monopolies.
Read more: Texans ask Perry to...

Targeted tax: Residents ask Perry to veto fee hike on Bexar County

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

 Targeted tax on Bexar County: Taxpayers ask Perry to VETO vehicle registration fee hike
New revenues can be used to issue debt to build toll roads - a DOUBLE TAX

(San Antonio, TX, June 5, 2013) - As San Antonians struggle to put gas in their tanks, a bill authored by Rep. Ruth McClendon, HB 1573, to increase Bexar County vehicle registration fees $10 is on Texas Governor Rick Perry's desk and will become law unless he vetoes the bill by June 16. Taxpayers are asking the governor to veto the bill.

Perry has told lawmakers repeatedly that he's opposed to ANY fee hikes, which he and the Texas Republican Party view as equivalent to tax hikes. So Bexar County residents who oppose the bill expect Perry to keep his word. Though several other local fee hike bills passed the legislature (two others in the Rio Grande Valley), HB 1573 is the ONLY fee hike bill that does not require a public vote.
Read more: Targeted tax: Residents...

Donate Now

Help us fight to preserve our rights and freedoms!
Make a secure donation today!
or donate by mail. We cannot do it without you!