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...

Who are the tollers in the Texas primary?

What a time to be a Texan! This year we have MANY hotly contested primary races and an opportunity to THROW THE BUMS OUT like never before. It's time to hold our politicians ACCOUNTABLE for their REFUSAL to listen to us about nixing these DOUBLE TAX toll roads!

There's a wave of FRESH, GRASSROOTS candidates that have filed to challenge the incumbent status quo politicians that have run Texas fiscally aground. Texans are now over $35 billion in debt for roads. According to federal stats, Texas is #1 in the nation in road debt! Most of it has been to subsidize toll roads with tax dollars while charging us AGAIN to use the road -- a DOUBLE TAX! The debt is unsustainable and irresponsible. There are not enough Texans who can afford to pay this extra tax on driving just to get to work. We need to reverse course & FAST!

Here's just a few of the key races involving tollers:

TEXAS SENATE DIST. 25
Toss PRO-TOLL JEFF WENTWORTH
DONNA CAMPBELL is the ONLY ANTI-TOLL candidate in the race!

Jeff Wentworth has voted for every toll road bill that ever came across his desk in the Senate, ditto at the MPO.
 
Another candidate in the SD 25 race is Elizabeth Ames-Jones. Both Jeff Wentworth and Elizabeth Ames-Jones have voted to toll our roads. Wentworth, more times than I can count, but here are the major ones: HB 3588 (2003), HB 2702 (2005), SB 792 (2007), SB 942 (2009), SB 1420 (2011) & HB 563 (2011).
 
Ames-Jones voted to toll 281, 1604, I-35 and most of San Antonio's local roads in July 2004 when she was a State Rep. and sat on the MPO.
 
Wentworth and Ames Jones had the unmitigated gall to lie to a San Antonio Republican Club and say they were against the toll toads, when the two of them are the REASON we're still facing toll roads all over San Antonio (57 toll projects are in the current MPO plan!).
 
Wentworth's law firm represented Zachry when Spain-based Cintra and partner, locally owned Zachry, slapped that unsolicited bid on TxDOT's desk to takeover and toll 281& 1604 in 2005, and Wentworth blocked that contract from being subjected to the moratorium on those foreign-owned toll roads back in 2007. It wasn't until we went on radio to expose the connection that Wentworth backtracked and we got 281 & 1604 yanked from Cintra. He's totally ingratiated himself with the highway lobby and pro-tollers his entire career (his campaign finance reports show the money trail). There is NO WAY he should be allowed to make such a claim and get away with it!
 
Wentworth also received an 'F' for the disastrous 82nd legislative session last year, voting for all of the worst, most anti-taxpayer, anti-property rights, pro-toll legislation since 2003.

By contrast, Campbell will fight to STOP ill-conceived toll projects, for ELECTED leadership at TxDOT, and to END road tax diversions! Candidates like Donna Campbell will need our help to defeat the well-funded, well-connected Jeff Wentworth and Elizabeth Ames-Jones who are awash in special interest money. You can contact Campbell's campaign to donate and/or volunteer today!

TEXAS HOUSE DIST. 121
Want a NEW House Transportation Committee Chair?
One that will listen to the PEOPLE & let our bills out of Committee?
Oust JOE STRAUS!
MATT BEEBE is the only anti-toll candidate in this race!

Another HOT race is right here in San Antonio. Matt Beebe is challenging State Representative and Speaker of the Texas House, Joe Straus, in Dist. 121. Matt is neck-to-neck with Straus and has a REAL chance of OUSTING Straus!

As Speaker, Straus is responsible for appointing EVERY Committee Chair as well as the members of each committee. So he controlled all the toll legislation for the last two sessions. Straus is responsible for the disastrous 82nd legislative session this year orchestrating some of the worst, most anti-taxpayer, anti-property rights, pro-toll legislation since 2003.

Beebe will fight to STOP ill-conceived toll projects, for ELECTED leadership at TxDOT, and to END road tax diversions! Candidates like Matt Beebe will need our help to defeat the well-funded, well-connected Joe Straus who's awash in special interest money. You can contact Beebe's campaign to donate and/or volunteer today!
 
SENATE DIST. 3
Toss PRO-TOLL Senator ROBERT NICHOLS
TAMMY BLAIR the only anti-toll candidate in the race!

Not only did Robert Nichols vote for the Trans Texas Corridor TTC-69 to move forward (SB 792, HB 300), he was the architect of an amendment to ensure the private toll operators would never lose money on the deal (SB 17, HB 300 in 2009).

Nichols is so pro-toll he's fine with slapping tolls on existing free lanes, like Hwy 59, and leaving us nothing but access roads as the free lanes -- which is a DOUBLE TAX to charge toll taxes to use lanes we've already paid for. He even voted to allow property taxes to subsidize toll roads (HB 563). East Texas taxpayers can't afford another term with Robert Nichols as their Senator.

Tammy Blair will fight to STOP ill-conceived toll projects (including every last vestige of the Trans Texas Corridor), for ELECTED leadership at TxDOT, and to END road tax diversions! Candidates like Blair will need our help to defeat the well-funded, well-connected Robert Nichols who's awash in special interest money. You can contact Blair's campaign to donate and/or volunteer today!

AUSTIN MAYOR
LEE LEFFINGWELL voted to toll MoPAC!
BRIGID SHEA is the anti-toll candidate in the race

Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell and the CAMPO Board want to use $130 million in our gas taxes to build toll lanes on MoPac. They initially wanted to hand it over to a private corporation in a sweetheart deal, using a public private partnership, until TxDOT's $2 billion windfall came along.

Brigid Shea is challenging Leffingwell and will fight to STOP tolls on MoPac and bring greater accountability at TxDOT, CAMPO, and the toll authority -- the CTRMA. Candidates like Shea will need our help to defeat the well-funded, well-connected Lee Leffingwell who's awash in special interest money. You can contact Shea's campaign to donate and/or volunteer today!

Visit CitizensForABetterAustin.com and sign the petition to STOP tolls on MoPac in Austin!

HAYS COUNTY COMMISSIONER, Pct. 3
SAM BRANNON wants to oust PRO-TOLL WILL CONLEY

Sam Brannon is making a strong run against the Chair of the Austin MPO (known as CAMPO), Will Conley, for Hays County Commissioner Pct. 3.  Conley orchestrated the current round of toll roads hitting Hays & Travis County commuters, including slapping tolls on MoPac.

Part of Brannon's platform is local decision making, and not simply rolling out regional road plans without thorough local consideration. Since Hays County is currently creating its 2012 Transportation Plan, Hays County's Pct. 3 voters need to ensure their voices are heard regarding toll roads. Conley has already shown he REFUSES to listen to the will of the PEOPLE. It's time for a change!

Brannon will fight to STOP ill-conceived toll projects, for ELECTED leadership at TxDOT, and to END road tax diversions! Candidates like Sam Brannon will need our help to defeat the well-funded, well-connected Will Conley who's awash in special interest money. You can contact Brannon's campaign to donate and/or volunteer today!

***************************************

Many of you asked for an analysis of how your Texas legislators voted on transportation, infrastructure, and eminent domain-related legislation in the 82nd legislative session in 2011, so we produced a Report Card. See if your Texas legislators voted pro-taxpayer, pro-property rights on transportation legislation.

Download the TURF Report Card here.


(NOTE: The TURF Voter Guide is separate from the Report Card. The TURF Report Card is the record of the CURRENT INCUMBENTS in the Texas State Legislature; whereas, the TURF Voter Guide is the rating determined based on the answers candidates gave to transportation-related questions. The Voter Guide will be released this weekend in time for Early Voting!)

Dallas Mayor caves to pro-toll interests on Trinity Toll Road

Link to article here.

Six questions on Rawlings’ support of the Trinity

By MICHAEL A. LINDENBERGER
Transportation Writer
Dallas Morning News
02 May 2012 11:38 PM

Now that Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings has lined up with his predecessors to support the Trinity River toll road, one minor mystery associated with the project has been answered. But there are still plenty of unanswered questions and unresolved hurdles.
How soon can the project begin? The Federal Highway Administration could issue a decision on the road — whether and where it can be built — by January. That would put the issue squarely in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ lap, which must then approve two separate permits. That could take much of next year. Construction, under the best of circumstances, won’t begin before 2016, with the road open by 2019.

What about the money? The tolls on the road aren’t expected to produce anywhere near the amount of money needed to pay back debt needed to pay for the road, which will cost $1.8 billion (in 2016 dollars). Rawlings said that doesn’t bother him, in part because he’s confident that once the case is made for the road in Austin and elsewhere, and the regulatory hurdles are overcome, the money will be found.

Is it important to identify the funding soon? If all goes well, the federal highway agency could be ready to issue its final approval in January. But it won’t do so unless the city produces a plan that shows how the project will be funded. Here’s how the spokesman for the highway agency in Washington put it Wednesday: “In its financial plan, the project must demonstrate that funding is reasonably available for the completion of the project — which doesn’t necessarily mean the funding needs to be in hand at the ROD [record of decision] signing.”

So there is wiggle room. But the government means it when it says the funds have to be real. Assistant City Manager Jill Jordan conceded Wednesday that the city is nowhere close to having the funding reasonably certain.

Does the city have much time? Not if it doesn’t want to delay the project. Jordan stressed that final federal highway agency approval will be delayed anyway until the corps makes its decisions about the road and the other components of the project that are within the floodway. But the highway agency said that’s simply not the case.

Spokesman Doug Hecox said the agency does not expect to wait on the corps. “FHWA is on track to have its record of decision before the Army Corps of Engineers finishes its [evaluation],” he said.

Does Rawlings’ support for the road mean more waiting for the rest of the project? He said he has demanded the opposite, namely that the city have on his desk a plan for fast-tracking lakes and some other elements by June. Construction, he said, could be finished by 2015.

However, for as long as the city is relying on the road construction to provide the means to dig out the lakes, work on the lakes won’t begin until after approval for the road is issued. And that won’t come until after the money for the road is found.

In that sense, Rawlings’ support for the road keeps the lakes tied to the prospects of the toll road.

Will Rawlings’ support push the project over the hump? It’s tremendously important. His support by no means makes the approvals any easier and isn’t required in any fashion by the federal government. But had he opposed the road, or continued to keep his peace about it, his lack of support would have been heard loudly, not just by the federal officials but also by the North Texas Tollway Authority, local officials and residents in general.

LaHood backs off federal ban of cell phone use in cars

Link to article here.

US Transportation Secretary Disavows Cell Phone Story
US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood denies promoting federal cell phone ban legislation.
The Newspaper.com
May 4, 2012

Sec. Ray LaHoodUS Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is distancing himself from reports that he called for a federal law banning all cell phone use behind the wheel. The former Illinois congressman was in San Antonio, Texas speaking at a distracted driving summit. According to a widely cited Reuters report, "LaHood called on Thursday for a federal law to ban talking on a cell phone or texting while driving any type of vehicle on any road in the country." Not so, said a spokesman for the department.

"I can tell you that the Reuters report claiming the secretary announced a new push for a national distracted driving ban is inaccurate," LaHood's press secretary, Justin Nisly, wrote in an email. "The secretary has said for several years now that he is supportive of efforts in Congress to incentivize states to pass anti-texting and driving legislation, similar to the approach taken to prevent drunk driving and promote seat belt use. In the meantime, however, we're focused on our education and awareness efforts, as well as encouraging states to pass laws on their own."

A 2008 survey by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration concluded driver distraction, not violating the speed limit, was the most common cause of collisions (view report). Likewise, the UK Department for Transport found similar results from its analysis of accidents on the roads of Great Britain (view report).

President Obama's fiscal 2013 budget proposed $8 million in taxpayer funds to continue LaHood's crusade to get states to adopt cell phone ban legislation at the state level. So far, the Governors Highway Safety Association counts ten states that ban drivers from using cell phones without a hands-free headset. Thirty-one states ban novice drivers from picking up a phone. Thirty-seven states specifically prohibit text messaging behind the wheel.

Accident statistics fail to show a benefit to laws authorizing police to issue tickets for cell phone use behind the wheel. Connecticut and New York both have banned the use of cell phones and text messaging. In 2010, the fatal accident rate (adjusted for traffic volume) increased 4.6 and 43.7 percent respectively. By comparison, some of the states without any specific text messaging or cell phone use laws saw decreases in accidents. Arizona's fatality rate dropped 5.4 percent, Florida dropped 4.3 percent, Missouri dropped 8.7 percent, Montana dropped 15 percent and South Carolina decreased 9.3 percent.

At the same time that the US Department of Transportation is pushing laws to ban in-car cell phone use, it is promoting the "511" government program that encourages drivers to dial 511 for information on traffic conditions instead of tuning in to a traffic reports on AM radio.

Canseco molested by TSA agents AGAIN

Link to article here.

I-TEAM: Congressman Canseco says he was assaulted during TSA pat-down


by Brian New / KENS 5

Posted on April 24, 2012 at 5:30 PM

Updated today at 12:18 PM

 

U.S. Rep. Francisco Canseco said he was assaulted by a TSA agent at the San Antonio International Airport.

The Texas Congressman said the security agent went too far during a pat-down earlier this month.

"The agent was very aggressive in his pat-down, and he was patting me down where no one is supposed to go,” said Canseco.  “It got very uncomfortable so I moved his hand away.  That stopped everything and brought in supervisors and everyone else."

Canseco told the KENS 5 I-Team the agent said he too was assaulted when Canseco pushed his hand away.
 
According to TSA, neither man was cited.

A week later when going through the San Antonio International Airport, Canseco was once again selected for a pat-down.

"I did not see it as a coincidence,” he said.  “I asked them why are you going to pat me down again, so we discussed it further and after discussing it further, they patted me down."

However, before the discussion was over, San Antonio Police Department officers were called to the security check point area.

Again, no one was cited.
TSA issued the I-Team the following statement about the incident:

"TSA incorporates random and unpredictable security measures throughout the airport. Once a passenger enters the screening process, they must complete it prior to continuing to a flight or secure area."

Canseco said his experience illustrated changes in the airport security are needed.

"It is very important that Americans feel safe and secure as they travel in our nation’s airways - safe and secure from acts of terrorism and all that.  But, I also think that TSA sometimes gets too aggressive, and it's not just about me. It's about every American that goes through those TSA scanners."

The I-Team requested video from TSA of both incidents.  A TSA spokesperson said our request is being reviewed.

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

UPDATE 4/25

TSA issued the following statement:

TSA has been contacted by the Congressman's office and will respond to them directly. Once a passenger enters the screening process, they must complete it prior to continuing to a flight or secure area.

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...

Keystone company bullies landowners, condemns land in Texas, despite no permit

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Keystone XL pipeline company bullies landowners, condemns Texans' land, despite denial of pipeline permit

Texas private property rights threatened by Keystone XL Pipeline

(San Antonio, TX - February 13, 2012) - Today a new statewide coalition of groups and advocates for private property rights has announced its support for landowners along the path of the Keystone XL pipeline in Texas. The groups charge that TransCanada, the company proposing to build the pipeline, has used eminent domain to bully landowners and condemn private property.

Despite a presidential permit denied to TransCanada for the Keystone XL project just weeks ago, the company continues to pressure landowners along the Texas pipeline route.

The controversial Keystone XL pipeline would carry tar sands crude more than 1,900 miles through six states including Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.  In Texas, the pipeline crosses eighteen counties, from Paris to Port Arthur.  

Groups with landowners near the cities of Paris, Winnsboro, and Wells joined in press events held in Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, and Houston to ask for support from agencies and officials on the continuing plight of landowners who would be impacted by the pipeline.

"Texas, we have an eminent domain problem," said Terri Hall, Executive Director of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF). "There is absolutely zero oversight for pipeline companies that want to take private property from Texans - all you have to do is check the right box on a form and declare yourself a common carrier, no questions asked."

Supreme Court sides with landowners
The form Hall refers to is a T4 permit application filed with the Texas Railroad Commission. In a recent Texas Supreme Court case, Texas Rice Land Partners, Ltd. and Mike Latta vs. Denbury Green Pipeline-Texas LLC , the court effectively revoked the eminent domain authority of the pipeline builder, holding that "Private property cannot be imperiled... by checking a certain box on a one-page government form."  

In order to be a common carrier, a company needs to satisfy the question if it is purposed for public use.  The pipeline company in the Denbury Green case did not meet the criteria of 'common carrier,' as it was merely a private company transporting product to one of its own subsidiaries; therefore, it did not meet the criteria of operating for public use or for the public good.  There is a real question as to whether the private entity, TransCanada, meets that same criteria.

The ruling has been hailed as a major victory for private property rights in Texas. Advocates like Hall and former Republican gubernatorial candidate Debra Medina say that conservative politicians have campaigned on the issue, but have done too little for property owners.

"Texas politicians talk tough on eminent domain, but with Keystone we have a private pipeline company acting as a 'common carrier' and bludgeoning private property owners with eminent domain while many of our Republican leaders cheer from the sidelines," said Medina who is also Executive Director of We Texans.

"Despite the fact that this permit has been denied and there technically is no permit for TransCanada, the company continues to bully and pressure Texas landowners," Medina noted.  "And we would all like to ask, by what authority does this company have to continue insisting that landowners settle with them when there is no permit?"

Linda Curtis of Independent Texans, who helped coordinate groups in 2006 supporting Carole Strayhorn's independent gubernatorial bid and the anti-Trans-Texas Corridor (TTC) efforts said, "A similar statewide grassroots movement is waiting in the wings on this issue because the problems are way too familiar to East Texans who fought to stop the land grab for the TTC."

Medina and Hall held press events in Houston and San Antonio respectively, standing with landowners who say they've been bullied by TransCanada. Former DISH, TX mayor Calvin Tillman hosted a similar event in Dallas, and in Austin, Independent Texans Director Linda Curtis and Jessica Ellison of Texans for Accountable Government spoke.

Property owners forced to settle or be condemned
Landowners attending the events have property condemned or are being pushed into negotiated settlements and claim their story has not been told. Landowners say theirs are among more than 80 cases in Texas where TransCanada, a private foreign pipeline company, condemned private property belonging to Texans.

"At this moment my property is condemned and legally TransCanada can lay that pipeline and pump undisclosed chemicals through it, even though we've never even been before a judge," said Julia Trigg Crawford of Lamar County. "I think most Texans would be stunned to find out that there is no process for challenging the use of eminent domain by private pipeline companies until after your land has already been condemned."

Crawford is challenging TransCanada's common carrier status and its use of eminent domain in her case.  TransCanada's representatives indicate they want to settle with the Crawfords out of court.  However, they insist on retaining the right to begin construction/trenching as soon as March 1, 2012.

"We need our officials to stand up and help these landowners," commented Tillman.  "Currently the Railroad Commission and other state agencies are passing the buck, claiming they have no authority over Keystone wanting to build a segment from Cushing to the Texas coast.  Where are our legislators?  Where are the authorities to protect Texas landowners from private companies like TransCanada?"

The group also pointed out that the company misled landowners in other situations, telling property owners the pipeline had all necessary permits and repeatedly telling individual landowners that they were the last holdouts, making the pipeline seem inevitable and securing more favorable terms for the company.

FURTHER CONTACT INFO:
Debra Medina -  512.663.8401, We Texans    
Calvin Tillman - 940.453.3640, former Mayor of Dish    
Linda Curtis - 512.657.2089, Independent Texans        
Jessica Ellison - 512.653.9179, Texans for Accountable Government
Julia Trigg Crawford - 713.443.8789 , Landowner , Paris, TX
Eleanor Fairchild - 903.857.2284, Landowner, Winnsboro, TX

TURF is a non-partisan, grassroots, all-volunteer group defending citizens' concerns with Agenda 21, toll road policy, public private partnerships, and eminent domain abuse. TURF promotes pro-taxpayer, pro-freedom, & non-toll transportation solutions. For more information or to support the work of TURF, please visit www.TexasTURF.org.

Grassroots declare victory & issue warning over election results

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Grassroots celebrate defeat of Prop 4,
issue warning about Prop 2

(AUSTIN, TX - November 10, 2011) In reflecting upon the mixed results of yesterday's Constitutional Amendment election, grassroots groups We Texans, Independent Texans, and Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF) are celebrating victory over the defeat of Prop 4 and gearing up to take the opposition to the mat to defeat any attempt at a Trans Texas Water heist by the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) through its newfound revolving bond authority.

"Rather than providing solutions to the water needs facing Texas, the additional debt imposed on Texans by Prop 2 compounds the problem," warned Debra Medina, Founder, We Texans. "InfrastructureTexas.org put out information playing on voters' fears about the drought and wildfires. Many Texans believed this money was going to fund needed water projects with no cost to them. H204Texas PAC put out an email saying Prop 2 would cost the taxpayers NOTHING. But we know better and we'll be watching TWDB's every move to ensure taxpayers and Texans' water rights are protected."

Politifact.com concluded H2O4Texas' claim was a half truth.

It states: "The group's claim sidesteps the fact that taxpayers of jurisdictions benefiting from the bonds will face bond-related costs. And while the additional bond authority sought in the proposition would not cost state taxpayers--up front--state lawmakers could still exploit their standing authority, as before, to spend state revenue on related debt."

"We're encouraged by the near defeat of Prop 2 -- a big giveaway to Rick Perry's water boys on the Texas Water Development Board.  Citizens are wising up to the fix between large-scale developer friends of the Governor,  and Republican and Democratic politicians who are in on these deals," notes Linda Curtis, Founder of Independent Texans. "Democratic State Senator Kirk Watson got a taste of what is to come last week, when he faced suspicions of otherwise supportive citizens in Bastrop when he was pushing Prop 2 at a water forum.  When politicians on both sides come together, so must we citizens.  The Texas water war -- a transpartisan phenomenon like the fight to stop the TTC --  is now officially on."

Texas voters said a resounding 'NO' to expanding Tax Increment Financing (TIF) and Transportation Reinvestment Zone (or TRZ) authority to counties by defeating Prop 4 November 8. The Constitutional Amendment HJR 63 authored by Rep. Joe Pickett (D - El Paso) would have allowed counties to use property taxes and sales taxes collected in a TRZ to build toll roads. So the defeat of Prop 4 is also a defeat of Rick Perry and the Texas Legislature's plan to slap tolls on virtually all new lanes to Texas roads.

"Using gas taxes to build toll roads is bad enough, but trying to nab property taxes to build toll roads is beyond the pale," says Terri Hall, TURF Founder. "It's refreshing to see the voters reject this anti-taxpayer and anti-property rights amendment. Let's see if lawmakers in Austin listen -- Texans don't want their tax money used to build roads and then have to pay again, through tolls, to drive on them."

The defeat of Prop 4 also signals a rejection of government abuse of property rights for Kelo-style economic development. Prop 4 would have given the government more power to decide whose private property it wishes to "redevelop." The ballot wording was vague and misleading. It failed to even mention tax increment financing, transportation reinvestment zone, or even the word 'transportation.' TURF launched a statewide campaign to educate voters about the amendment. We Texans, Texans for Fiscal Responsibility, and Independent Texans also opposed the measure.

Cities already have TIF and TRZ authority. TRZs are as much about "economic development" as it is financing transportation projects, and means those who live in a zone will have their property taxes go up due to higher property values from the government-encouraged development. Property taxes aren't going to go down once a county sells bonds dependent on ever increasing property tax appraisals.

The amendment was also linked to HB 563, authored by Pickett, which would have granted counties broad new authority, even to grant tax breaks to special interests in the zone and to use surpluses as a slush fund for virtually anything.

STATE OUTSOURCING TAX INCREASES
TRZs are a way for STATE legislators to punt on their responsibility to build and maintain STATE highways and their responsibility to end diversions of the gas tax to non-road uses. It allows them to outsource tax increases for roads by passing it down to the LOCAL level. By using appraisal increases to pay for transportation projects, it takes that revenue away from what cities and counties usually use that money to fund. So it would likely necessitate further property tax increases in order to make up for the shortfall in city and county services that will be diverted to transportation.

TURF does victory lap over defeat of Prop 4

TURF celebrates victory over Prop 4

(SAN ANTONIO, TX - November 8, 2011) Texas voters said a resounding 'NO' to expanding Tax Increment Financing (TIF) and Transportation Reinvestment Zone (or TRZ) authority to counties by defeating Prop 4 November 8. The Constitutional Amendment HJR 63 authored by Rep. Joe Pickett (D - El Paso) would have allowed counties to use property taxes and sales taxes collected in a TRZ to build toll roads. So the defeat of Prop 4 is also a defeat of Rick Perry and the Texas Legislature's plan to slap tolls on virtually all new lanes to Texas roads.

"Using gas taxes to build toll roads is bad enough, but trying to nab property taxes to build toll roads is beyond the pale," says Terri Hall, TURF Founder. "It's refreshing to see the voters reject this anti-taxpayer and anti-property rights amendment. Let's see if lawmakers in Austin listen -- Texans don't want their tax money used to build roads and then have to pay again, through tolls, to drive on them."

The defeat of Prop 4 also signals a rejection of government abuse of property rights for Kelo-style economic development. Prop 4 would have given the government more power to decide whose private property it wishes to "redevelop." The ballot wording was vague and misleading. It failed to even mention tax increment financing, transportation reinvestment zone, or even the the word 'transportation.' TURF launched a statewide campaign to educate voters about the amendment. We Texans, Texans for Fiscal Responsibility, and Independent Texans also opposed Prop 4 as well.

Cities already have TIF and TRZ authority. TRZs are as much about "economic development" as it is financing transportation projects, and means those who live in a zone will have their property taxes go up due to higher property values from the government-encouraged development. Property taxes aren't going to go down once a county sells bonds dependent on ever increasing property tax appraisals.

The amendment was also linked to HB 563, authored by Pickett, which would have granted counties broad new authority, even to grant tax breaks to special interests in the zone and to use surpluses as a slush fund for virtually anything.

STATE OUTSOURCING TAX INCREASES
TRZs are a way for STATE legislators to punt on their responsibility to build and maintain STATE highways and their responsibility to end diversions of the gas tax to non-road uses. It allows them to outsource tax increases for roads by passing it down to the LOCAL level. By using appraisal increases to pay for transportation projects, it takes that revenue away from what cities and counties usually use that money to fund. So it would likely necessitate further property tax increases in order to make up for the shortfall in city and county services that will be diverted to transportation.

TURF is a non-partisan, grassroots, all-volunteer group defending citizens' concerns with Agenda 21, toll road policy, public private partnerships, and eminent domain abuse. TURF promotes pro-taxpayer, pro-freedom, & non-toll transportation solutions. For more information or to support the work of TURF, please visit www.TexasTURF.org.


# # #
  ___________________________________________________________________________ Link to article here.

Texas voters reject proposal to give counties the same authority as cities in issuing bonds

The Associated Press
Published:08 November 2011

AUSTIN— Texas voters have rejected a constitutional amendment that would have given counties the same bonding powers as cities and towns, while passing a measure to allow cities and counties to enter contracts with one another without creating a new tax district.
Also, the governor will have new powers to grant pardons, elected officials will have more time to resign before running for another office and there is a new way to issue funds for student loans after Texas voters approved changes to the Texas Constitution.

Under Proposition 4, Texas counties would have been given the same authority that cities and towns have to issue bonds to finance the development of unproductive, underdeveloped or blighted areas, while pledging repayment with property tax revenues. Critics argued that the amendment would expand transportation reinvestment zones to counties, which could clear the way for new toll roads.

Proposition 5 authorizes the Legislature to allow cities and counties to enter into contracts with other cities and counties without triggering a property tax.

Proposition 9 allows the Texas governor to grant a pardon, reprieve or commutation of punishment to a person who completes a sentence of deferred adjudication. But the court records could only be cleared on the written recommendation and advice of the Board of Pardons and Paroles.

Under Proposition 10, local elected officeholders would get an extra 30 days before triggering automatic resignation if they become a candidate for another office.

The Higher Education Coordinating Board can now issue bonds for low-interest student loans now that voters have approved Proposition 3.

TURF urges voters to defeat Prop 4 on Nov 8

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

TURF urges voters to defeat Prop 4 on Nov 8
Prop 4 allows counties to raise property taxes
and give tax breaks to their buddies

(SAN ANTONIO, TX - October 17, 2011) On November 8, Texas voters will decide whether or not to amend the Texas Constitution by approving 10 new ballot propositions passed by the 82nd Texas legislature, and TURF along with We Texans and Independent Texans, are urging voters to defeat Prop 4, which is based on the Constitutional Amendment HJR 63 authored by Rep. Joe Pickett (D - El Paso). Prop 4 would expand Tax Increment Financing (TIF) and Transportation Reinvestment Zone (or TRZ) authority to counties. Cities already have TIF and TRZ authority.

The amendment is also linked to HB 563, authored by Pickett. The Texas Attorney General has indicated that the TRZ authority granted to counties in HB 563 is not sufficient to withstand legal challenge, so he recommended a Constitutional Amendment (HJR 63/Prop 4) in order for counties to exercise this authority. So if voters say 'NO' to Prop 4, counties will not have the authority to establish TRZs.

Prop 4 ballot wording:
"The constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to permit a county to issue bonds or notes to finance the development or redevelopment of an unproductive, underdeveloped, or blighted area and to pledge for repayment of the bonds or notes increases in ad valorem taxes imposed by the county on property in the area. The amendment does not provide authority for increasing ad valorem tax rates."

Prop 4 would give counties the authority to:
-Increase property tax (through higher property valuations) to pay for STATE transportation projects
-To use and/or increase sales tax (in the zone) for transportation projects without coming to voters
-To use property taxes to build TOLL roads (a DOUBLE tax) or ANY transportation project (transit, light rail)
-Enter into bond debt without coming to the voters
-Grant tax breaks to their buddies (special interests) in the zone (causing residential taxpayers to pay more)
-Use TRZ surpluses as unaccountable slush funds

The ballot wording is vague and misleading. It fails to even mention tax increment financing, transportation reinvestment zone, or even the the word 'transportation' on the ballot. However, it does reveal one of the purposes of the amendment which is to give the government more power to decide whose private property it wishes to "redevelop."  TRZs are as much about "economic development" as it is financing transportation projects, and means those who live in the zone will have their property taxes go up due to higher property values from the government-encouraged development.

TRZs allow local governments to use your property taxes to back bonds for transportation (or other) projects, WITHOUT COMING TO THE VOTERS.

"Your property taxes aren't going to go down once your city (which already has this authority) or county (who will get this authority if you vote 'yes' on Prop 4) sells bonds dependent on ever increasing property tax appraisals," said Terri Hall, Founder of TURF.

STATE OUTSOURCING TAX INCREASES
TRZs are a way for STATE legislators to punt on their responsibility to build and maintain STATE highways and their responsibility to end diversions of the gas tax to non-road uses. It allows them to outsource tax increases for roads by passing it down to the LOCAL level. By using appraisal increases to pay for transportation projects, it takes that revenue away from what cities and counties usually use that money to fund. So it's likely to necessitate further property tax increases in order to make up for the shortfall in city and county services that will be diverted to transportation.

TRZS CAN FUND TOLL PROJECTS
TRZs heist property tax appraisal increases within the designated zone to pay for transportation projects, including to subsidize toll roads (which would be a DOUBLE TAX). HB 563, would allow this zone to fund a pass through toll agreement with a private entity under Sec 222.107 (b) (which refers to Sec 222.104). Sec 222.104 (c) states: "(c)  The department may enter into an agreement with a private entity that provides for the payment of pass-through tolls to the department as reimbursement for the department's design, development, financing, construction, maintenance, or operation of a toll or non-toll facility on the state highway system that is financed by the department." Such deals begin to look an awful lot like public private partnerships that Texans have repeatedly rejected.

Also, in this legislation it states that any revenue collected in a TRZ that's over and above the amount needed to cover the bond debt on transportation projects can be used as a slush fund for politicians, without ever having to come to the voters again. Transportation Code Chapter 222.107 (h-1) states: "Any amount received from installment payments of the assessments not pledged or assigned in connection with the transportation project may be used for other purposes associated with the transportation project or in the zone" (which could mean virtually ANYTHING!). In addition section (k-1) says the boundaries of the zone can be expanded/amended at ANY time without the permission of the voters.

ROAD UTILITY DISTRICTS
Counties could also establish road utility districts under the TRZ law (Sec. 222.107 (i)) even if Prop 4 doesn't pass WITHOUT coming to the voters. However, the Texas Attorney General has determined counties would invite legal challenges because such authority is not expressly granted in the Texas Constitution. Counties can use ANY funds above the cost of the transportation project in a road utility district established under this section for ANY purpose (Sec 222.107 (k)).

TAX BREAKS FOR THEIR BUDDIES
Counties can also elect to grant tax abatements to ANY property owners in the zone (exceptions for their buddies) under Sec. 222.107 (h) which says: "The commissioners court by order or resolution may enter into an agreement with the owner of any real property located in the transportation reinvestment zone to abate all or a portion of the ad valorem taxes or to grant other relief from the taxes imposed by the county on the owner's property..."

INCREASE SALES TAX WITHOUT VOTER APPROVAL
Counties will also be able to grab sales taxes to fund transportation projects in the zone without coming to the voters, and possibly to raise sales taxes under the language. Section 222.110 (b) says: "The governing body of a municipality or county may determine, in an ordinance or order designating an area as a transportation reinvestment zone or in an ordinance or order adopted subsequent to the designation of a zone, the portion or amount of tax increment generated from the sales and use taxes imposed by a municipality under Section 321.101(a), Tax Code, or by a county under Chapter 323, Tax Code, attributable to the zone, above the sales tax base, to be used as provided by Subsection (e)."

Texans celebrate repeal of Trans Texas Corridor

(AUSTIN, TEXAS - October 16, 2011) - For the first time since the 80th legislative session in 2007, all the grassroots groups that took on Texas Governor Rick Perry to stop the Trans Texas Corridor (TTC) and place a moratorium on public private partnerships (or P3s) gathered at the AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center in Austin, Saturday, October 15, to celebrate their collective victory in finally achieving the complete repeal of the Trans Texas Corridor from state statute (Kolkhorst's  HB 1201 was signed into law June 17, 2011).

Several current and former state representatives gave emotional acceptance speeches saying they were "honored" to received awards at TURF's 'Stars of Texas' award luncheon. The event recognized and celebrated the work of Texas State Rep. Lois Kolkhorst and former State Rep. David Leibowitz to repeal the Trans Texas Corridor (TTC), former State Rep. Jim Dunnam and Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Adkisson's efforts to keep tolls off existing roadways and stop the sale of Texas roads to private corporations, and Rep. David Simpson's work to rein-in invasive searches by the TSA that impede freedom to travel.

Rep. Kolkhorst has introduced legislation to repeal the TTC for the last three sessions. This year, it finally passed. The pie-in-the-sky, 4,000-mile, 1,200 foot wide network of toll roads, rail, utilities, telecommunications, etc. that would confiscate 580,000 acres and displace 1 million Texans on TTC-35 alone is DEAD. However, in SB 1420, 14 Texas road projects remain eligible for P3s that will cost urban commuters dearly, 75 cents per mile, and still pose sovereignty, eminent domain, and monopoly concerns.

Terri Hall, Founder of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF) noted, "So taking a line from the movie Princess Bride, the Trans Texas Corridor is 'mostly dead.' Regardless of the final status, the TTC has been officially repealed, which is cause for our celebration today. We put the proponents in serious retreat, yet we will remain vigilant."

Hall pointed out that by its own admission, the highway department (TxDOT) plans to break-up the TTC in smaller pieces and do the project using the original road or loop name like, SH 130, and Loop 9 around DFW. However, the size and scale will be greatly diminished, which Hall thinks is a tremendous victory for property rights and Texas landowners.

Kolkhorst teared up as she listened to Hall recount the stories that lead up to the repeal of the TTC. As she accepted her award she remarked, "How could we even think of selling off our infrastructure to foreign companies? Shame on us, shame on us for thinking about it. I will fight any Republican, any Democrat, anyone who wants to take our state from us."

"I don't know how you did it. The deck was so stacked against you...You inspire me, you will inspire other generations. God bless Texas and may it always stand as a free and sovereign nation," Kolkhorst concluded at the end of her emotional speech.

Simpson in typical form, brought a hush over the room as he spoke, "Civil government has destroyed many lives. What is fundamental to property or to working is the movement of our bodies, in a sense, transportation. I'm encouraged by the people who are waking up and listening who are holding coffees, holding town hall meetings, looking at voting records."

Simpson described the proper role of government, which should be limited to just two things: enforcing the rules between individuals and punishing the wrongdoer who harms his neighbor and beyond that, government should "get out of the way," a statement which drew hearty applause. "The role of force should be very limited. The role of force has not made Texas great, it has not made America great, freedom has made Texas great."

Leibowitz praised the grassroots who worked together toward a common goal to slay the TTC, "This really is a very special group you have put together. Many different political philosophies, different walks of life, urban, rural, people that have come together for a common cause. People that come forward and work together to get something accomplished, they do end up, in fact, literally moving mountains."

Then he noted that he was unusual in the legislature in that he didn't have a lot of photos of himself alongside notable figures hanging in his office, like the many dignitaries and celebrities that visit the Texas Legislature while its in session, but "I will in fact cherish this" (referring to his 'Star of Texas' Award).

Attendees roared after viewing a video clip of Dunnam's exchange with TxDOT's Phil Russell over private toll roads that could best be described as a body slam that left Russell reeling and ultimately killed the P3 re-authorization in the special session of July 2009 that lead to the expiration of P3s a month later.

Dunnam said the "danger we have today in all levels of our government is that certain people 'own' it...the people stood up and stopped these toll roads in my district. It was all about the money, all about money for private interests making money off the government."

He went on to assert that elected officials are afraid to stand up to the money, "but, fortunately, they're also afraid of y'all" (pointing to Hall).

In his usual style, Adkisson recounted the history of Bexar County from the Battle of Alazan to the Battle of the Alamo to express that they've never been a bunch to back away from a fight. Adkisson has been in a battle royale trying to stop tolls on existing roads in San Antonio for 6 years.

"We ran the king out of town in 1776 and established our freedom as Americans and then we proceeded to establish big, private money as a modern monarchy. They're at work on a regular basis, and your elected officials are constantly tugged at by these people and they're trying to figure out if they're going to agree with you or the big money boys. I salute you because the dream of American democracy and American freedom is one that's made possible by your daily efforts."

"Never ever believe there are just Republicans or Democrats in this process, there's a marbling of commonality that runs throughout our democracy. We are Americans today and we are Americans forever," Adkisson concluded and received a standing ovation. In fact, every elected official honored received rousing standing ovations throughout the awards ceremony.


David and Linda Stall, founders of Corridor Watch and the couple that ignited the firestorm of opposition to the TTC, gave impassioned speeches about what motivated them to continue on in the face of great odds against them. "We could move somewhere else and do our jobs, but the neighbors I could see out of every window made their living off the land and this corridor would have not only taken their land, it would have destroyed their livelihoods," Linda Stall acknowledged.

In addition to paying tribute to a roomful of honorees, Hall was sure to give credit to Austin Toll Party and Texas Toll Party Founder Sal Costello for the movement's success.

Hall said Costello had a knack for marketing, he was edgy, and one of the most effective advocates against the toll roads and TTC in the state. He used the online petition to gather his email list that not only riled politicians but grew his army to over 50,000. Costello mastered how to use alternative media, like blogging, before blogging gained legitimacy.

"I stand on his shoulders. The information and techniques I learned from him were absolutely invaluable, though he moved on and lives in Illinois, I know he's here in spirit today," Hall remarked.
2011 Stars of Texas
TURF Founder Terri Hall with Truth Be Tolled filmmaker William Molina

Award-winning filmmaker William Molina, also an honoree, condensed footage from his four films in the Truth Be Tolled series to share with those gathered as a finale -- bringing attendees through the full gamut of emotions, anger, tears, and even laughter as the film montage ended to the tune Trans Texas Corridor Blues.



Complete list of honorees below.




The 'Stars of Texas' Honorees:

The Honorable Texas State Representative Lois Kolkhorst, Brenham
The Honorable Former Texas State Representative David Leibowitz, San Antonio
The Honorable Former Texas State Representative Jim Dunnam, Waco
The Honorable Texas State Representative David Simpson, Longview
The Honorable Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Adkisson, San Antonio

Hank Gilbert, Co-founder of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom
David & Linda Stall, Founders, Corridor Watch
William Molina, Filmmaker, Storm Pictures
Ralph & Marcia Snyder, Eastern Central Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission (ECTSRPC)
(Also accepting awards on behalf of the Honorable Mae Smith, Mayor of Holland, TX, President of ECTSRPC & Dan & Margaret Byfield, American Stewards of Liberty)
David Van Os, Attorney, Advocate
Melissa Cubria, Texas Public Interest Research Group
Agnes Voges, Blacklands Coalition (Also, accepting an award on behalf of Chris Hammel, Blacklands Coalition)
Trey & Jennifer Duhon, Citizens for a Better Waller County
Linda Curtis, Independent Texans
Martha Estes, Working for Accountable Government
Judith McGeary, Farm & Ranch Freedom Alliance
Don Dixon, Citizen Advocate
Gina Parker Ford, TURF Board Member, Eagle Forum, Advocate

State Dept holds hearings on controversial TransCanada Keystone pipeline

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Connecting the dots: Tar sands oil pipelines part of Trans Texas Corridor concept
Eminent domain threat remains

(Austin, TX - September 28, 2011) Though the Trans Texas Corridor statute was officially repealed on June 17, 2011, the tar sands oil pipelines are part and parcel of the original Trans Texas Corridor concept that lives on. The TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline, the subject of a public hearing conducted by the U.S. State Department today in Austin, is just one of two tar sands oil pipeline routes that will affect over 20,000 acres of private property in 6 different states either by eminent domain or by the threat of eminent domain to directly benefit a foreign corporation.

The other identified tar sands pipeline will also connect Texas with Alberta, Canada through the Ports to Plains corridor, formerly one of the Trans Texas Corridors. According to the Great Plains International Trade Corridor Assessment Report done by Cambridge Systematics for the Texas Department of Transportation in 2008, Ports to Plains is “an important economic link between the three countries (United States, Canada, & Mexico)....consequently, NAFTA has elevated the importance of intermodal infrastructure connecting the trading partners” and explains that one of the major emerging oil extraction areas of the world is the Athabasca Tar Sands area of Northeastern Alberta. The report states that oil & gas pipelines are part of this trade corridor and that truck transportation of fuel oils is expected to increase 329% in 2035.

“...Oil exploration and extraction activities could increase truck traffic in the corridor as oil pipelines transporting oil from Canada to points south for refining reach capacity.”

“The people of Texas have been crystal clear on this issue - they DO NOT want ANY form of the Trans Texas Corridor or eminent domain for private gain, nor will they tolerate these foreign companies who masquerade as a common carrier to get eminent domain authority, when in fact, their pipelines are for a private purpose, not a legitimate public use,” emphasizes Terri Hall, Founder/Director of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom.

On August 26, 2011, the Texas Supreme Court ruled in the Texas Rice Land Partners v Denbury Green Pipeline Case that “transporting gas solely for the benefit of a corporate parent or other affiliate is not a public use of the pipeline.” On page 10 it states: "To qualify as a common carrier with the power of eminent domain, the pipeline must serve the public. As explained above, extending the power of eminent domain to the taking of property for a private use cannot survive constitutional scrutiny.”

TransCanada’s pipeline cannot qualify as a common carrier pipeline under Texas law and therefore ought not threaten landowners with eminent domain.

“If it wants to build this pipeline, it must do so without the use of eminent domain and TransCanada must pay willing landowners a price they’re willing to sell for if they want to come after Texas property,” contends Hall.

TURF also notes that there are legitimate environmental and safety concerns that were not accurately nor adequately studied in the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Keystone XL pipeline, and it is the duty of our government to protect the public from the dangers of contamination and exploitation of our water supply, especially on projects of this magnitude. The EIS also failed to sufficiently study the impacts of the projected 329% increase in truck traffic needed to transport the oil nor the strain that places on Texas roadways at a time when highway dollars are scarce. Nor did the EIS sufficiently study the cumulative impacts of multiple tar sands oil pipelines running from Alberta, Canada to Texas.

The public can submit comments through October 9 here.

For more information on the Keystone Pipeline with points made by both Trans Canada as well as its critics, go here.

TURF Report Card for 82nd Legislative Session in 2011

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

TURF releases Report Card for 82nd Legislative Session
Rick Perry, Dewhurst, Straus get failing grade, Phillips gets dishonorable mention

(Monday, September 12, 2011) Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom released its Report Card for the 82nd Session of the Texas Legislature today. The Report Card reflects what TURF Founder and Director, Terri Hall calls “the worst legislative session since the dawn of the Trans Texas Corridor and Rick Perry’s version of toll roads in 2003.”

According to TURF, the 82nd regular session contained some of the most anti-taxpayer transportation and infrastructure-related bills ever conceived, including SB 1048 which spreads public private partnerships to every kind of public infrastructure beyond roads and SB 19 which grants toll entities that exercise their development rights, ownership of our state and federal highways in perpetuity (which gives them the ability to keep tolls in place in perpetuity).

The passage of SB 1048 and SB 1420 means eminent domain for private gain will continue. SB 18, that lawmakers call a property rights bill, specifically allows eminent domain for private gain, for economic development, and for blight, despite the opposition of a coalition of property rights groups, as long as the project is in the name of a listed “public use,” like a road. TURF contends the bad far outweighs the good from bills like the repeal of the Trans Texas Corridor, HB 1201, by Rep. Lois Kolkhorst.

All the bills used in the Report Card became law (listed in detail under “Methodology” on the Report Card). Larry Phillips gets a special dishonorable mention for authoring the bill, HB 3789, that would have resurrected the Trans Texas Corridor without limitations, public protections, or expiration (Phillips pulled it down thanks to the grassroots backlash). He also authored some of the most damaging, anti-taxpayer, pro-industry, pro-big government bills and amendments of the session.

Phillips led the charge to tack on the amendment that makes fourteen Texas roads eligible for public private partnerships (PPPs) that sell- off Texas sovereign land/public roads to private, even foreign, entities in 50 year monopolies. PPPs use taxpayer subsidies including gas taxes, contain non-compete clauses that penalize or prohibit the expansion of surrounding free routes, and put the power to tax in the hands of private corporations, that have resulted in toll rates as high as 75 cents per mile (like adding $15 to every gallon of gas you buy).

SB 1048, written by a British firm, Balfour Beatty, will also allow all public buildings, nursing homes, hospitals, schools, ports, mass transit projects, ports, telecommunications, etc. to be sold-off to corporations in deals without a time limit (could be 100 years or more), where the entity can charge “user fees” to gain access to public facilities or charge “lease payments” as a means of compensation, where the taxpayers secure the private entity’s debt, where the entity gets access to loans of taxpayer money through the State Infrastructure Bank, and where the private company gets to profit off the land taken through eminent domain that surrounds the public facility in a virtual government-sanctioned monopoly over critical public infrastructure.

Tolling existing freeways legal or not?

“Texans deserve protection from the DOUBLE TAXATION of converting freeways into tollways. Perry is dead wrong to imply Texans are protected in state law. They’re not, and the legislature once again failed to act,” Hall emphasized. “Add to that, fourteen Texas road projects are currently eligible to be become foreign-owned toll roads through the public private partnership amendment added to the TxDOT sunset bill, SB 1420 (Amendment #90 by Phillips & Perry signed the bill). When toll rates for such projects are as high as 75 cents PER MILE, Perry’s claim that he’s against selling America to foreign creditors and that he’s kept taxes low is a FARCE!”

Questions still loom about whether or not it is legal to convert free highway lanes into toll lanes in the state of Texas, despite Perry’s claim that it is illegal during the January 29, 2010 Republican gubernatorial debate.

Hall notes, “Not only are they planning to toll existing lanes, they're misleading the public about what they’re doing. The feds are not only aware of the plans to toll existing highway lanes on US 281 in San Antonio in particular, they had already granted clearance until we sued to stop them.”

Perry's insists that the Texas legislature passed a bill in 2005 prohibiting the conversion of free lanes to toll lanes. However, the bill, HB 2702, tells precisely how TxDOT can LEGALLY convert existing highway lanes into toll lanes through 6 exceptions, one that TxDOT claims allows a conversion of free lanes by simply downgrading the free lanes to access roads adjacent to the tollway.

Though the language doesn’t specifically use the term “access roads” to refer to the relocating of free lanes adjacent to the tollway, TxDOT has consistently interpreted the law to mean it has the authority to downgrade freeway lanes to access roads without triggering a public vote based on HB 2702. See the two-part discussion of this law before the Sunset Commission in 2008 here and here. Part-two shows former TxDOT Executive Director Amadeo Saenz stating TxDOT’s interpretation of HB 2702 allows highway lanes to be downgraded to access roads.

The bill also contains a gaping grandfather clause that exempts virtually all the toll projects currently on the table (because they were designated as toll roads in MPO plans prior to September of 2005), so no public vote would be triggered for the dozens of grandfathered toll projects.

“Perry's elitist ‘you can eat cake’ attitude is this: if you can't afford the toll lanes, you can sit in congestion on the stop-light ridden access roads. He thinks replacing free highway lanes with access roads is acceptable and his highway department is doing it all over Texas,” says Hall.

The citizens’ fight to stop the conversion of existing FREEway lanes into toll lanes on US 281 and Loop 1604 in San Antonio and 290 West in Austin, has languished precisely because of the loopholes in HB 2702.

TURF worked in the last session to fix these loopholes. Sen. Robert Nichols has introduced a bill to eliminate some of those loopholes every session during his tenure in office. TURF wants all of the loopholes nixed and believes Nichols’ version adds a new one. Nichols’ bill, SB 730, passed the Senate and Rep. George Lavender carried it in the House, but the bill didn’t make it out of Calendars Committee. It was clear in the House Transportation Committee that members felt frontage roads were NOT an acceptable replacement for highway lanes.

###


Link to blog here.

Rabblerouser Roundup

A: Roads and Property
Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Terri Hall, whose Texans United for Reform and Freedom helped lead the fight against the Trans-Texas Corridor a few years back, has never been a fan of Gov. Rick Perry, godfather to Texas toll roads. Not surprisingly, she’s just as un-enamored these days of the Texas Legislature. TURF issued a release this week calling the recent disaster in Austin “the worst legislative session since the dawn of the Trans-Texas Corridor.” Static could not agree more except perhaps to amend it to “since the dawn of time.”

NO-TTCvinyl-175Hall’s group presented their list of the worst of the worst — the baddest ol’ bills that the Legislature passed this summer — topped, not surprisingly, by a bill that opens the door to selling off everything the state owns, down to hospitals and schools, to private for-profit corporations, in the name of “public-private partnerships.” Then there were the bills that will allow private companies, including foreign corporations, to keep ownership of Texas toll roads in perpetuity and perhaps move all “free” traffic off some highways — so that even if your big wide Texas freeway has already been paid for with your tax dollars, you won’t be allowed to drive on any of its main lanes without paying hefty tolls. No sir, frontage roads will be good enough for the likes of most of us. If only Perry’s presidential campaign could be moved to the frontage road, perhaps re-routed to some bumpy dead-end. Next to some farm whose owner has lost half her land to a toll road …

Coalition protests Grand Pkwy tollway gas tax subsidy

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Misplaced priorities: $350 million subsidy to road for ExxonMobil
Grand Pkwy poster-child of all that's wrong with road policy in Texas

(Austin, TX, May 25, 2011) - As TxDOT hosts its final public hearings on its Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP), a broad coalition of groups are protesting the misplaced priorities of the highway department that's choosing to allocate scarce resources to funding Grand Parkway around Houston ahead of all 100 most congested roads throughout the state. The Texas Transportation Commission voted on April 28, 2011 to make Grand Parkway Segment E a statewide "priority" and assigned ~$350 million of statewide discretionary funds toward the project that's being pushed ahead of other projects because ExxonMobil want to build its headquarters there. Construction of Segment E is slated to begin this summer.

Grand Parkway in its entirety has also been designated to become a privatized toll road using a Comprehensive Development Agreement or CDA (which is currently in the TxDOT Sunset Bill SB 1420). Over 100 grassroots groups have gone on record opposing CDAs (also known as public private partnerships) and such public subsidies that benefit private corporations.

Two press events were held by the coalition, one in Austin and one in Houston, to bring attention to what it feels is the poster-child of the bad road policy in Texas, Grand Parkway. Among the grassroots groups opposed to public subsidies for private toll roads are: Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF), Citizens Transportation Coalition, Texas Public Interest Research Group (TexPIRG), Independent Texans, Central Texas Republican Liberty Caucus, Texans for Accountable Government, Houston Tomorrow, and Sierra Club along with over 100 more groups that signed onto an Open Letter opposing public private partnerships and such public subsidies.


STIP revisions include advancing funds both to engineer and construct portions of SH-99 Segment E. Refer to the STIP quarterly update for details (SH-99 projects begin on page 17): http://ftp.dot.state.tx.us/pub/txdot-info/tpp/stip/rev/fy_11_14/highway/houston_hwy_072510.pdf

"So TxDOT can come up with $350 million for the Grand 'Porkway,' a greenfield project to nowhere to benefit developers and ExxonMobil, but can't fix the highly congested Hwy 290 without making Texans pay toll taxes 'cuz we're out of money to fix our roads'? Truth is TxDOT has plenty of money to subsidize toll projects to benefit their buddies, but refuses to fix our freeways and keep them free because of their political agenda to pick winners and losers,” contends Terri Hall, Founder, Texans Uniting for Reform & Freedom, “These misplaced priorities are obvious to anyone with a pulse. It's public money for private profits and it's this sort of piracy of the public's assets that has caused the public to mistrust TxDOT and the elected officials who allow this abuse of public funds to continue."
 
“Five of the top 10 most-congested roads in the state (35 of the top 100) are in Harris County, but TxDOT would rather waste our tax dollars building a new toll road across the Katy Prairie,” notes Robin Holzer Board Chair of Citizens Transportation Coalition (CTC) in Houston, "TxDOT's unelected Commissioners have 'found' billions for a speculative toll road that will destroy the Katy Prairie in order to subsidize a few private land developers. Meanwhile, a quarter million taxpaying commuters will sit in traffic on US-290 indefinitely. TxDOT's gross misallocation of our tax dollars is appalling.”

“The Grand Parkway is a giveaway to special interests,” said Melissa Cubria, Advocate, Texas Public Interest Research Group (TexPIRG). “According to TxDOT officials, ExxonMobil’s consideration to build its headquarters outside Houston is contingent upon the completion of portions of the Grand Parkway. So TxDOT has declared the Grand Parkway a high priority, using scarce resources to pay for its construction, while Texans remain stuck in traffic and thousands of unsafe bridges are left to crumble.”

Linda Curtis of Independent Texans is already looking ahead, focussing on holding lawmakers accountable for these decisions made by them and a rogue agency they refuse to clean-up, "Texans made a big mistake giving one party super-majority control of both chambers. The ‘Porkway’ sausage we're supposed to eat is just the topping on an unpalatable cake cooked up by the Governor and mega-special interests.  Truly independent Texans must come out of the shoot next week ready to clean house in upcoming elections.”

###

_____________________________________________________________________________________

MEDIA ADVISORY
For immediate release

May 24, 2011
Contact:  Robin Holzer, Board chair


Misplaced priorities:  $4.8 billion to advance SH-99 while US-290 commuters sit in traffic
Coalition to protest Grand Parkway as poster child of all that's wrong with Texas transportation policy

(Houston, TX) - As TxDOT hosts the final public hearings on its Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) Wednesday, a broad coalition of groups will hold press events in two locations to challenge the misplaced priorities of the transportation agency.

While Harris County commuters suffer on 34 of the 100 most-congested roadways in the state, including US-290, the Texas Transportation Commission will squander our scarce tax dollars to fund the entire proposed 180-mile Grand Parkway around Houston.

TxDOT's Commission voted on April 28, 2011 to make Grand Parkway Segment E a statewide "priority" and assigned ~$350 million of statewide discretionary funds to expedite construction. This April allocation increases TxDOT's planned expenditures to more than $4.8 billion for the Grand Parkway over the next four years. The 41 planned  expenditures affect all  project segments (B, C, D, E, F1, F2, G, H, I1, and I2) except for A. The 180-mile project will skirt largely uninhabited and environmentally-sensitive areas. TxDOT's John Barton described the Grand Parkway as "an opportunity to open up areas for development" in Northwest Harris County, subsidizing private land development, and inducing more new roadway congestion.

In contrast, TxDOT's plan includes one-tenth that amount for US-290 projects, or just $468 million of the $2.3 billion needed for improvements TxDOT outlined in the US-290 Final Environmental impact Statement (FEIS). According to the Texas Transportation Insitute, US-290 is the 11th most-congested highway in the state, affecting more than 230,000 Houston-area commuters daily. Other than some initial work on the US-290/IH-610 interchange, TxDOT will mostly leave these taxpayers waiting for relief.

"TxDOT's unelected Commissioners have 'found' billions for a speculative toll road that will destroy the Katy Prairie in order to subsidize a few private land developers. Meanwhile, a quarter million taxpaying commuters will sit in traffic on US-290 indefinitely. TxDOT's gross misallocation of our tax dollars is appalling," says Robin Holzer, board chair of the Citizens' Transportation Coalition (CTC).

For more on this misallocation and how TxDOT could better use our tax dollars, see David Crossley's recent oped, "Let's tell TxDOT where to spend its $350 million"

"So TxDOT can come up with $350 million for the Grand 'Porkway,' a greenfield road to nowhere to benefit developers and ExxonMobil, but can't fix the highly congested Hwy 290 without making Texans pay toll taxes 'cuz we're out of money to fix our roads'? Truth is TxDOT has plenty of money to subsidize toll projects to benefit their buddies, but refuses to fix our freeways and keep them free because of their political agenda to pick winners and losers. These misplaced priorities are obvious to anyone with a pulse. It's public money for private profits and it's this sort of piracy of the public's assets that has caused the public to mistrust TxDOT and the elected officials who allow this abuse of public funds to continue," contends Terri Hall, Founder, Texans Uniting for Reform & Freedom.

###


TxDOT to solicit input on May 2011 STIP revisions
From TxDOT's meeting notice:

The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) will conduct a public meeting tomorrow to solicit public comments and input to the Fiscal Year (FY) 2011 May Revisions to the 2011-2014 Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP). The STIP is a mechanism used by TxDOT and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to fund projects for the next four years and includes all federally funded projects. The FY 2011 STIP amendment for May 2011 may be viewed on line at http://www.txdot.gov/business/governments/stips.htm or at any TxDOT District Office prior to the meeting.

What:  TxDOT public meeting to solicit input on May 2011 STIP revisions
When:  Wednesday, May 25, 2011 from 4:00 pm to 6:00 pm
Where:  TxDOT - Houston District Auditorium, 7600 Washington Ave., Houston, 77007 (map)

The meeting will be informal and all interested citizens are invited to attend and express their views on the program.

Written comments may be submitted to: Texas Department of Transportation, Attention: Lori Morel, 118 East Riverside Drive, Austin, Texas, 78704, or by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..   

Comments must be received by 5:00 p.m. (CST), Monday, June 6, 2011.

Texas for Sale? Lawmakers push litany of bills to sell-off TX to private corps

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Texas for Sale?

Litany of bills would sell-off Texas to the highest bidder,
Granddaddy of them all up for vote Monday

(Austin, TX - May 23, 2011) - A steady stream of bills to sell-off Texas infrastructure to private corporations have flooded the pipeline during the 82nd Session of the Texas Legislature with a key bill, SB 1048, up for a vote in the Texas House on Monday that would privatize virtually every kind of public infrastructure (except roads) and charge user fees or lease payments for the public to access its own buildings: schools, hospitals, nursing homes, water supply facilities, ports, mass transit, libraries, even telecommunications and pipelines.

Chair of the House Transportation Committee Larry Phillips authored the most sweeping public private partnership (PPP) bill pertaining to roads (HB 3789 that never even got a hearing in Committee when the grassroots got wind of it), with Rep. Bill Callegari (HB 2729 passed both chambers) and Rep. John Davis carrying bills (HB 2432 the companion to Sen. Mike Jackson's SB 1048) for other types of civil works projects. In total, more than 30 bills to privatize Texas infrastructure were filed this session.

"Apparently Texas is for sale, and this bill would be Katie-Bar-the-Door on selling off virtually everything not nailed down," commented Terri Hall, Founder/Director of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom, "The priorities of this legislature are crystal clear. It's not ending diversions of road taxes to non-road uses. It's not cleaning up the highway department. It's not getting all of Texans' gas taxes back to Texas (HB 3390 has effectively died in the Senate Transportation Committee). It's not reining in the $31 billion in road debt (the House caved in conference committee adding $3 billion more in Prop 12 debt to the budget). It's selling off Texas to the highest bidder, which is the MOST expensive, anti-taxpayer method of funding infrastructure."

TURF along with over 100 grassroots groups just delivered an Open Letter (note: this version of letter includes only the list of groups, not individuals, due to file size) with 2,000 signatures (collected in just one week) to Governor RIck Perry and every single legislator putting them on notice about PPPs, yet it seems the GOP-dominated legislature is ignoring the public opposition. The bill was written by British infrastructure firm, Balfour Beatty, which doesn't sit well with a plurality of Texans who don't like the idea of foreign ownership of our public infrastructure. Unlike the 52 year cap on road PPPs, SB 1048 gives no limit on the length of time a PPP can last (one example given in Austin was for 100 YEARS) or whether such broad authority expires.

Two anti-taxpayer provisions in SB 1048 are the fact taxpayers secure the private entity's debt (2267.061 (f)) and it authorizes public subsidies for private profits by raiding taxpayers' money through loans from the State Infrastructure Bank, which is currently NOT authorized in law (Sec. 2267.060 (2)). The House already voted for Rep. Lois Kolkhorst's amendment to the TxDOT Sunset Bill, SB 1420, to ensure the Phillips' Amendment regarding the State Infrastructure Bank could not lend taxpayer money to private entities. Will the House insist on the same protection in SB 1048?

Eminent domain for private gain
PPPs represent eminent domain for private gain, which is what caused much of the backlash to the Trans Texas Corridor, where PPPs were the financing mechanism that grants these private entities the control of not just the facility, but the right of way/surrounding property where they make a killing on concessions. SB 1048, in Sec. 2267.001 (10) (a), grants the private entity rights to apurtenance, which the legal definition given by Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of Law is “property (as an outbuilding or fixture) or a property right (as a right of way) that is incidental to a principal property and that passes with the principal property upon sale or transfer.”

In Sec. 2267.002, SB 1048 also uses “public purpose” (which could mean a shopping mall) as opposed to the stricter “public use” (to ensure the taking through eminent domain is for a legitimate public necessity). Texans hold private property rights sacred, and these bills will throw gasoline on the Trans Texas Corridor fire that lawmakers are attempting to convince constituents has been extinguished. Kolkhorst's TTC repeal bill, HB 1201, has passed both chambers.

New authority granted
The bill analysis for SB 1048 specifically says it GRANTS AUTHORITY to local units of government to enter into PPPs. The bill's supporters claim cities and counties are already entering into PPPs (which they apparently lack the legal authority to do) so they believe the Legislature needs to give guidelines or try to impose some limitations on them because right now, it's sky's the limit.

"The Legislature should be banning PPPs altogether not granting authority to enter into them and make the 'guidelines' permissive. So we're basically granting them a blank check," contends Hall.

Sweetheart deals, government-sanctioned monopolies
The bill requires entities to use a design build method of procurement which eliminates low bid competitive bidding and replaces it with "best value" bidding, rife with abuses and favoritism.

Michelle Malkin has called PPPs corporate welfare. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were PPPs, which required massive taxpayer bailouts.

"We're not willing to bet this crap shoot will favor the public interest. PPPs socialize the losses and privatize the profits. They're horrible public policy and are sweetheart deals that grant government-sanctioned monopolies with guaranteed profits to the well-connected," argues Hall.

Public interest not protected, kept secret
Under the trade secrets and financial records exception in SB 1048 (Section 2267.067 (1)(B)(c) & (g)), these contracts can be negotiated in SECRET, without financial disclosures (like financing, the structure of the ‘user fees’ or lease payments, viability studies, public subsidies, or whether or not it contains non-compete clauses or other gotcha provisions).

The only oversight is by the Comptroller and only periodically, not EVERY contract and not prior to signing it. The Partnership Advisory Commission is NOT required to review the contracts included as riders in the budget (nor would it have veto power if it’s determined that the contract is not in the public interest), and it simply exists to advise the governmental entities outside the public purview.

Sec. 2267.057 allows a private entity “to collect lease payments, impose user fees." This means a private entity will have the power to levy a tax.

"The public cannot pressure nor hold accountable a private corporation if the 'fee' or 'tax' is too high. A private entity ought NEVER to have the power to tax our citizens! It’s the marriage of the corporation with the state and grants monopolies to private entities for a private benefit," noted Hall, "PPPs violate the public trust and the fiduciary duty of lawmakers to Texas taxpayers. It’s piracy of the public’s assets."

Texas TURF is a non-partisan, grassroots, all-volunteer group defending Texans’ concerns with toll road policy, Trans Texas Corridor-style projects like public private partnerships, and eminent domain abuses. TURF promotes non-toll transportation solutions.

STOP tolls in PERPETUITY


IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Bills to allow Robin Hood perpetual tolls near passage

HB 1112 & SB 19 give toll agencies unlimited power to tax, SJR 13 makes Constitutional change

(Austin, TX, May 20, 2011) - Three bills are making their way through the Texas Legislature that represent a huge policy shift away from traditional turnpikes where the toll comes off the road when it's paid for to granting authority to keep tolls in place to fund other projects. HB 1112 by Rep. Larry Phillips allows toll entities, in effect, to toll in perpetuity and use borrowed money to secure more borrowed money, the same multi-leveraging methods that caused the subprime mortgage crisis.

"It's like building roads with credit cards," maintains Terri Hall, Founder, Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom. "The fact that this risky multi-leveraged debt also means Texans will be tolled in perpetuity by un-elected boards makes these anti-taxpayer bills that much more egregious."

SB 19 by Sen. Robert Nichols, on the General State Calendar in the House for tomorrow, is known as the 'primacy' bill giving toll entities the right of first refusal on all toll projects in its jurisdiction. However, when toll entities exercise a right of first refusal, under Nichols' bill, they also get development rights for ALL future segments of the project. SB 19 also grants toll entities ownership of the road in perpetuity. This virtually guarantees tolls will be charged in perpetuity and that these projects will be never become non-toll roads. Hall believes this bill gives far too much power to these UN-elected toll entities.

'System financing' code for Robin Hood perpetual tolling
Some have dubbed this practice known as 'system financing' as Robin Hood since it steals toll taxes from one corridor and pledges it to another corridor (that those same users may not use). It can also involve increasing the toll on one segment to gain 'surplus revenue' to pledge to another project and so on, making it impossible to take tolls off the original road. The Texas Constitution currently prohibits perpetuities in Art I, Sec. 26.

However, if SJR 13 by Sen. Chris Harris, which has already passed the Senate and is currently in the House Calendars Committee, becomes law, Texans could lose their Constitutional protection from perpetuities since it, too, allows surplus toll revenues to be committed to other projects (potentially keeping tolls in place after the debt is retired).

"They worded SJR 13 in such a way as to hoodwink voters into thinking the amendment is about dedicating toll revenues to transportation projects, when it likely means tolls will be charged beyond when the road is paid for to fund new projects. It wouldn't even have to be road projects, 'transportation projects' could mean light rail or transit," notes Hall.

During some questions on the back mic on third reading of HB 1112 in the House, it was claimed HB 1112 does not mean tolls in perpetuity. But according to testimony by Sen. Steve Ogden in the Senate Transportation Committee March 9 while laying out his bill SB 363 that would make tolls cease when a road is paid for, it is: “I’m here to atone for my sins, and to make sure the innocent don’t pay for the guilty and to make sure we have truth in taxation. SB 363 addresses an issue in current law where the length of time a tolling entity is authorized to collect tolls on a project is not specified. SB 363 removes the authorization of all tolling entities from using surplus toll revenue to fund other toll projects. SB 363 also adds that once acquisition and construction costs for a toll road have been paid for then the collection of a toll ceases and the road becomes part of the state highway system which TxDOT maintains...

“But what we have in this state right now is perpetual tolling. And I don’t think it is truth in taxation...What I’m trying to do is to make tolls truly a fee for use rather than a general tax that gets spent by entities that really voters have not voted for or approved...I’m positive if you ask the public do you think tolls should go away if the road is paid for it’d be an overwhelming 'yes.'”

"So these bills would grant permission for toll entities to toll our citizens in perpetuity and make tolls no longer a user fee, but a perpetual, hidden tax; whereas right now, the law is not specific. A vote for these bills is a vote for PERPETUAL taxation in the hands of UN-elected bureaucrats," affirms Hall.

HB 1112 is in conference and may come up for a vote ANYTIME in either chamber.

Gives toll agencies lock on roads, assures higher road taxes
The implications of SB 19 could be widespread. Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) have been forced, due to persistent funding shortfalls, to designate most every road project as tolled in order to keep projects in its plans and moving forward, using the toll designation, essentially, as a placeholder. But due to primacy and the language in SB 19, a toll entity can exercise primacy over the project at any time once an MPO adopts ANY toll project into its plan, when locals may wish to revert that project back to a non-tolled project at a later date. SB 19 does not give them the flexibility to do so.

"The initiation process and re-initiation process coupled with the flawed MPO financially constrained mandates all but guarantee a huge portion of road projects will be tolled FOREVER. Plus, a project could be jockeyed back and forth over whether to toll or not and who will do it, indefinitely. There is no end to this process clearly spelled out in the bill," notes Hall.

The bill also allows toll entities to conduct its own environmental studies.

"Under no circumstances should a toll entity be able to conduct its own environmental studies -- this practice makes it certain that a tolled outcome will always be churned out as the 'preferred alternative' under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which violates the requirement of an unbiased review of all reasonable alternatives, including non-toll options," Hall reports.

Texas TURF is a non-partisan, grassroots, all-volunteer group defending Texans’ concerns with toll road policy, Trans Texas Corridor-style projects like public private partnerships, and eminent domain abuses. TURF promotes non-toll transportation solutions.

Grassroots unite against Perry's privatized toll road deals

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Over 100 grassroots groups say NO to private toll roads, multi-leveraged debt
Coalition says YES to elected leadership, ending diversions

(Austin, TX - May 11, 2011) Over 100 grassroots groups and 2,000 individuals have signed onto an Open Letter (click here for abbreviated version with the list of grassroots groups without the 70 pages of individual signatures) to the Governor and state leaders on transportation issues, which includes a strong message against the Governor's agenda of selling off our public roads to private corporations.

The letter, hand delivered to the Governor, Lt. Governor, Speaker and every legislator, comes just in time to inform lawmakers in no uncertain terms what the grassroots want and don't want on transportation policy as a conference committee decides what stays in and what comes out of the loaded-up TxDOT Sunset Bill, SB 1420.

"We've watched a litany of anti-taxpayer transportation bills come through the pipeline this session, and most of them got hitched to the TxDOT Sunset Bill. This sends a strong message to the conferees and lawmakers that the grassroots don't want them to sell-off our roads to the highest bidder in these sweetheart deals that will cost Texans 75 cents a mile to use our public roads. Putting the power to tax in the hands of a private corporation whom the taxpayers can't hold accountable isn't just runaway taxation, it's tyranny," asserted Terri Hall, Founder of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom.

The letter contends with privatizing Texas roads using public private partnerships (PPP), non-compete agreements, ‘innovative financing,’ multi-leveraged debt, and road tax diversions, and demands accountability measures at the highway department like elected leadership to head the agency and a complete financial audit of the Texas Department of Transportation.

Texans of all political persuasions have untied against PPPs, but it's particularly notable that PPPs, the brainchild of Libertarians, have come under increasing criticism from within its own ranks. It’s rankled conservatives as well, with Michelle Malkin calling them 'corporate welfare.'

“Texas politics has degenerated into how the rich and powerful become more rich and powerful. Libertarians oppose socialist boondoggles like these so-called 'public-private partnerships,' which are the worst of both worlds. Profits flow to Wall Street, losses fall on Main Street, and our sovereignty has been sold for a pittance," observed Kathie Glass, Libertarian Party of Texas 2010 Nominee for Governor, State Executive Committee, District 7.    

"These bad transportation bills take the onerous Trans Texas Corridor concept and spread it all over the state.  This push is fueled by special interests who quite frankly do not care how much citizens have to pay for transportation. We are actively fighting these bills because they put the power to tax in the hands of private tolling companies and give these unelected people the power to set the tolls. On top of that, these unelected toll authorities can keep the tolls in place into perpetuity.Texans don't need, don't want, and don't deserve unelected bureaucrats running state transportation!” confirmed JoAnn Fleming, Chair, Advisory Committee to the Texas Legislature's Tea Party Caucus and Executive Director, Grassroots America - We the People.

"Rarely are efforts to undermine the popular will so clear as the swarm of private toll road bills passed by both the House and Senate," said Melissa Cubria, Advocate, Texas Public Interest Research Group (TexPIRG).

"The public has protested privatized toll roads for years now, though nearly a decade after Governor Perry first announced plans to build the Trans-Texas Corridor (TTC), lawmakers are pushing through legislation to advance at least 20 private toll road deals in Texas. None of the private toll road bills passed this session protect against private toll road companies seizing ordinary Texans land for economic development purposes nor does the eminent domain ‘reform’ bill passed by both chambers."

Grassroots leaders want to be sure lawmakers are put on notice about key transportation policies as major bills begin hitting the floor at the conclusion of the session.

"With all the focus on redistricting, the budget, and other big ticket items like immigration, we want lawmakers to know transportation is also a big issue. It effects every mile we drive, and with gas at $4/gallon, adding 75 cents a mile in tolls in the hands of a private corporation is unsustainable.  We will hold them accountable for the tax decisions they're making that will impact generations to come," Hall added.

TxDOT Sunset run amok - revives Trans Texas Corridor

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

TxDOT Sunset runs amok: Little reform to be found
Toll road, Trans Texas Corridor, special interest lovefest


(Austin, TX - April 29, 2011) Today, the Texas House will consider the Sunset Bill, HB 2675, for the Texas Department of Transportation. Judging by the pre-filed 77 amendments, the priority of this Legislature is not fixing an agency run amok, but rather handing Texas’ roads to private, foreign corporations and increasing taxes (corporate toll road rates of 75 cents a mile, and vehicle registration and gas taxes hikes in certain areas).

At least three other major pieces of controversial legislation were drafted as amendments, one that’s a special interest giveaway (design-build contracts that eliminate low bid, competitive bidding with “best value” bidding rife with favoritism, abuses), and two that involve multi-leveraging of taxpayer money being loaned for both public and private toll roads for which the taxpayer will pay back their own money with interest through tolls!

HB 2255, in amendment form with four more projects added to the mix, by Larry Phillips would privatize and toll 11 different Texas highways from DFW to the Valley, and George Lavender and Eddie Lucio III’s amendments would revive segments of the Trans Texas Corridor TTC-69/I-69 in Bowie County and down in the Valley. The authors of the other bills to privatize Texas roadways are Tan Parker and Linda Harper-Brown.
Particularly with Hwy 183 (Rep. Harper-Brown's amendment), TxDOT has telegraphed in an Austin Statesman article that this project will be 100% paid for with ALL Texans’ gas taxes (so this is NOT a ‘local’ issue, as lawmakers argue, when it uses ALL Texans' money) then handed to a private concessionaire to be a toll collector for the next 50 years on a road that’s PAID FOR!

Read it here and scroll to the bottom of the story.

"The fact that a road will be 100% paid for by Texas taxpayers and then handed over to a private corporation to gouge our citizens with oppressively high toll taxes at 75 cents a mile for a HALF CENTURY is a piracy of the public's assets. It is what Michelle Malkin said it is, corporate welfare. Texans oppose tolling existing roads because it's a double tax. How much more egregious when the road is 100% built with gas taxes as our existing roads are, then handed over to a private company in a sweetheart deal kept SECRET from the public, that will in-debt generations, heist private property and hand it to a private corporation for private gain, increase taxes on driving, increase our cost of goods, impede our freedom to travel, and ensure our free roads remain congested for our lifetimes. Texans are outraged by this, whether they’re residents of Irving or not, these are STATE highways and have implications across Texas!" notes an outraged Terri Hall, Founder of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom.

The vast majority of these proposed amendments represent some of the very worst, anti-taxpayer public policy we’ve ever seen,” fumes Hall, “it demonstrates a total lack of respect for the Sunset process that supposed to be about eliminating waste and duplication and increasing efficiency to save the taxpayers money -- keep the size of government in check.  

“What do half of these pieces of legislation thrown in here have to do with reforming TxDOT? They don’t. Instead, the bill has become a vehicle for lawmakers to pig pile every controversial piece of legislation onto the proverbial legislative Christmas tree.”

The Sunset Committee Advisory Report said: “The Sunset review of the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) occurred against a backdrop of distrust and frustration with the Department and the demand for more transparency, accountability, and responsiveness. Many expressed concerns that TxDOT was “out of control,” advancing its own agenda against objections of both the Legislature and the public. Sunset staff found that this atmosphere of distrust permeated most of TxDOT’s actions and determined that it could not be an effective state transportation agency if trust and confidence were not restored. Significant changes are needed to begin this restoration; tweaking the status quo is simply not enough.”

Yet the current Sunset bill has a status quo Commission (the same five appointees of the Governor), and a status quo reporting structure for top management, along with the controversial, special interest design build contracts that eliminate, low bid competitive bidding.

“This coupled with a scathing 628 page management audit that revealed deep-seated, structural problems in every department division with TxDOT, it’s inexplicable that our legislators are essentially giving this agency a free pass to keep putting the screws to the taxpayers with their unpopular privatized toll road network that are rife with eminent domain abuse and a loss of sovereignty over Texas infrastructure that will cost Texans dearly to move about this state.

“The abuse of property rights, the punitive level of taxation, the reckless disregard for the public interest just to get a road built, and the special interest giveaways are simply staggering,” stated Hall.

“The betrayal of Texans who believe that the Trans Texas Corridor is dead (with the passage of HB 1201) will receive a rude awakening if these amendments that sell Texas to foreign companies, especially the TTC-69/I-69 projects, become law. We simply do not have the words to express our utter disgust with what the TxDOT sunset bill has devolved into.

“God help Texas if any one of these horrible amendments become law!”

TURF is urging Texans to contact their State Representatives to crush these special interest amendments and focus on fixing the highway department.

A comprehensive summary of the proposed pre-filed amendments appear below:

BILL ALERT
HB 2675
TxDOT Sunset Bill
Prepared by Texas TURF
(Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom)

__________________________________________________________________
In alphabetical order -

Alonzo Amendment # 821497

We are AGAINST this amendment because it would allow TxDOT to hire an “emerging fund manager” - we thought we’re supposed to be trimming staff, shouldn’t this have a fiscal note? Emerging Fund Manager includes “PRIVATE EQUITY FUND MANAGERS” [Sec 222.005 (b) (2)], which involves CDAs and public private partnerships (PPPs), which Texans vehemently oppose. TxDOT’s pension funds are already managed by Board of Trustees outside the agency. TxDOT needs to get out “high finance” and back to building  the best roads in the nation. If TxDOT is given this authority, it’s all but guaranteed they’ll hire people.

Alonzo Amendment # 821500

We’d like this amendment CHANGED. When a person’s private property is seized forcibly using eminent domain for a certain public use, they should have a right to purchase their land back, not have the government donate it to someone else, even it’s a charitable cause. Texans fought for this provision in SB 18. We’d like this to be amended to say only AFTER the original landowner is offered the ability to repurchase his/her land and they decline.

Anchia Amendment # 821536

We OPPOSE this amendment. This amendment is a version of HB 1105. The “Complete Streets Policy” is tied to the implementation of the controversial UN Agenda 21 policy, which is anti-car, anti-private property ownership, and attempts to dictate where you can live, how you can live and travel, etc. “Walkable Communities” is a policy initiative tied to Agenda 21‘s Sustainable Development objectives which include: abolishing private property and increasing restrictions on mobility, including public private partnerships.

"Walkable Communities" and "Context Sensitive Solutions" sound innocuous, but according to the fiscal note, it would MANDATE compliance by MPOs and any entity using federal and state funds. There’s already been an example in San Antonio where they took away two lanes open to cars and dedicated them to bikes only, clogging a road that didn’t used to have congestion.

We firmly believe that we need to make our roads safe and friendly to all who need to use them, including pedestrians and cyclists. We need sidewalks where appropriate to make mobility available for EVERYONE, but TxDOT is already required to consider ALL users and modes in its planning so its really redundant.

The bill mandates that road money be taken from roads and given to other modes and mandates compliance. The fiscal note on the bill, HB 1105, says the cost to local governments to implement could be substantial: “Costs may be significant.”


Farrar Amendment # 821541

Restores Sunset Recommendation of a single appointed Commissioner. We want ELECTED leadership...our fear is another ‘Ric Williamson’ type would be appointed!

Gallego Amendment # 821477

We are OPPOSED to ANY gas taxes or registration fees going to SUBSIDIZE an RMA’s toll roads. A well-conceived toll road would be funded by toll revenue bonds where the risk lies of default lies with private bond investors, not taxpayers, and that would pay for itself with the projected toll users without public subsidies. Plus, a vote for this amendment is a vote for a tax hike when Texans can least afford it.

Harper-Brown Amendment # 821556 & McClendon Amendment # 821508

We SUPPORT the CFO reporting to someone other than the Exec Dir. The people of Texas have spoken loudly that they want ELECTED leadership at TxDOT. We’d like the CFO to report to ELECTED Commissioners!

Harper-Brown Amendment # 821557

We are AGAINST this amendment, because we support allocating all of TxDOT’s revenue by formula. Formula funding would go a LONG way in putting objective standards in place for funding allocations to each district, taking the politics out of which projects get built and which ones don’t.

RED ALERT
Harper-Brown Amendment # 821558

We are VEHEMENTLY AGAINST this amendment. We DO NOT support ANY of these controversial CDAs/PPPs that would privatize and toll our TX public roads and eliminate low bid, competitive bidding and replace it with "best value" bidding. The inclusion of CDAs in last session’s Sunset bill is what caused a grassroots revolt to KILL THE BILL!

Particularly with Hwy 183, TxDOT has telegraphed in a Statesman article that this project will be 100% paid for with ALL Texans’ gas taxes (this is NOT a ‘local’ issue when it uses ALL Texans money) then handed to a private concessionaire to be a toll collector for the next 50 years on a road that’s PAID FOR!

Read it here and scroll to the bottom of the story.

The fact that a road will be 100% paid for by Texas taxpayers and then handed over to a private corporation to gouge our citizens with oppressively high toll taxes at 75 cents a mile for a HALF CENTURY is a piracy of the public's assets. It is what Michelle Malkin said it is corporate welfare. Texans oppose tolling existing roads because it's a double tax. How much more egregious when the road is 100% built with gas taxes as our existing roads are, then handed over to a private company in a sweetheart deal kept SECRET from the public, that will in-debt generations, heist private property and hand it to a private corporation for private gain, increase taxes on driving, increase our cost of goods, impede our freedom to travel, and ensure our free roads remain congested for our lifetimes. Texans are outraged by this, whether they’re residents of Irving or not, these are STATE highways and have implications across Texas!

Harper-Brown Amendment # 821559

We are AGAINST this amendment. We encourage an amendment to this amendment that strikes P. 4 Line 25 thru P. 5 Line 2.

At a time of extreme fiscal austerity, the LAST thing we need to be doing is allowing the Department to hire “consultants” on CDAs/PPPs and managing debt with high finance (‘innovative financing’), which in reality means risky, multi-leveraging schemes that caused the subprime mortgage crisis. Shouldn’t this draw a fiscal note on the bill?

Harper-Brown Amendment # 821562

We are AGAINST this amendment. We encourage an amendment to STRIKE SECTION 25 from the bill entirely. This has no business being in a sunset “reform” bill.

While this amendment is an improvement to carte blanche design-build authority, ANY design-build authority is a taxpayer rip-off! The payment to losing bidders, called a ‘stipend’ is reason enough to STRIKE design build from this bill!

We wouldn’t need the cost of all the “independent” inspections and engineers if we used a traditional design-bid-build procurement. This should draw a FISCAL NOTE!

Design build contracts eliminate low bid, competitive bidding and replace with "best value" bidding that is rife with abuse, favoritism, and cronyism (costs taxpayers more for public works projects built using these procurement methods, another industry giveaway). Though it removes a step in the bidding process (the design and the construction bid get combined), it costs taxpayers more and doesn't necessarily save time. These contracts are very controversial and since there's no fixed design done at the time of the bidding (no hard bid, very preliminary design and all the bidders may submit different designs so you're not comparing apples to apples), you don't even discuss price until after the developer is chosen and THEN the developer finishes the design (and the private entities own the design). So the contracts are initially awarded based on intangibles, not price, which tends to open up the process to favoritism and squeeze out the little guy.

Harper-Brown Amendment # 821564

We SUPPORT anything that gives teeth to the Inspector General and that gives them more independence from the agency they watchdog.

Harper-Brown Amendment # 821566

We OPPOSE this amendment since it relates to CDAs/PPPs the BUREACRACY, punitive levels of TAXATION, and LOSS OF SOVEREIGNTY they create. This bill is quickly becoming more about CDAs and toll roads than fixing this broken agency! It’s broken in large part due to the CDAs and toll projects!

We wouldn’t need this section of the bill if you KEEP THE BAN ON CDAs/PPPs in place!  Look at the bureaucracy, time, and legal wrangling we’re creating by all the review of, negotiation of, collection of, and the allocation of TOLL MONEY and handing our PUBLIC ROADS over to private entities.

Harper-Brown Amendment # 821563, McClendon Amendment # 821506, & Pickett Amendment # 821520

We SUPPORT this amendment. The CFO should be a CPA, because CPA have to abide by a certain code of ethics. If there’s anything we need more of in state government, it’s ETHICS, particularly when it comes to the power over the purse! The McClendon Amendment standards for the internal auditor position, which is also needed.

Kolkhorst Amendment # 821530

We SUPPORT this amendment (it appears the numbering may be off, so if this doesn’t replace Section 201.210 and prohibit ALL federal lobbying, we encourage an amendment to this amendment to STRIKE P. 8 lines 8 & 9 altogether). The bill as written opens up a new loophole that weakens the restrictions on lobbying (this language is added and not currently in Chapter 556: (2)  communicate with officers and employees of the federal government in pursuit of federal appropriations and programs. While we understand the need to get every penny of federal money back in Texas, it is NOT the role of our highway department, but rather of legislators to do that. When we've seen TxDOT's $7-9 million PR campaign include the hiring of registered lobbyists (to the tune of $110,000/month!) both to lobby state and federal officials and seen its participation in the Transportation Transformation (T2) lobby group to lobby for PPPs and lax restrictions on them, and TxDOT's lobbying for the TTC and tolling existing interstates (which Texans overwhelmingly oppose), we already know what TxDOT will do with this new language. It'll continue its lobbying full force using taxpayer money to lobby against the taxpayer! Considering TTC-69 will require federal dollars to build, TxDOT could use this money to lobby for yet another version of a Trans Texas Corridor style road using taxpayer money under the guise of pursuing federal appropriations. In short, they can't be trusted with this new authority. It will open up the state to further litigation.

Kolkhorst Amendment # 821537

We SUPPORT this amendment. We totally oppose all CDAs/PPPs, but some still linger out there from prior legislation, and rather than charge taxpayers for the legal time to review these contracts, make the private entities pay. In HB 1, the Attorney General’s office requested 15,000 hours of legal time per year at a cost of $1 million to review CDAs. This is what CDAs reap. Millions in taxpayer money and resources down the drain.

Kolkhorst Amendment # 821539

We SUPPORT this amendment. Again, we OPPOSE all CDAs/PPPs but some still linger, so if they’re such a good deal, an ELECTED OFFICIAL should sign-off on them and certify the contract as a means of ensuring it’s in the public’s best interest.  

Kolkhorst Amendment # 821540

We SUPPORT this amendment. “Programs” is too broad and could encompass lobbying for: toll roads, CDAs/PPPs, a Trans Texas Corridor version of I-69, I-10 and other highways in the Corridors of the Future program that will privatize and toll those interstates, toll credits, TIFIA loans and federal PABs that subsidize PPPs all in the name of a federal “program.”

RED ALERT
Lavender Amendment # 821535

We VEHEMENTLY OPPOSE this amendment and ANY CDA, but especially one that’s the Trans Texas Corridor resurrected! So much for the repeal of the Trans Texas Corridor...it’s B-A-A-C-K! This is a part of what was formerly known as Trans Texas Corridor TTC-69, now using the more innocuous I-69 title. More than 28,000 Texans went on record opposing TTC-69 and they want NO PART OF IT, largely due to the fact it will take Texans’ private property in some families for generations and  hand it over to a private, foreign corporation for a HALF CENTURY in one of these controversial SECRET sweetheart deals (with public subsidies, profit guarantees, non-compete agreements, that eliminate low bid, competitive bidding and replace with "best value" bidding, and  charge extremely high toll rates)! Say ‘NO’ to this amendment!

Lucio Amendment # 821515

We OPPOSE this amendment to raise the gas tax in one of the most economically distressed areas of our state, especially not when they’re paying nearly $4/ gallon already. In light of many of the other transportation bills effecting this region, this increase will be used to borrow money to subsidize toll roads, which they cannot afford to take.

RED ALERT
Lucio Amendment # 821516

We VEHEMENTLY OPPOSE this amendment and ANY CDA, but especially one that’s the Trans Texas Corridor resurrected! So much for the repeal of the Trans Texas Corridor...it’s B-A-A-C-K! This is a part of what was formerly known as Trans Texas Corridor TTC-69, now using the more innocuous I-69 title. More than 28,000 Texans went on record opposing TTC-69 and they want NO PART OF IT, largely due to the fact it will take Texans’ private property in some families for generations and  hand it over to a private, foreign corporation for a HALF CENTURY in one of these controversial SECRET sweetheart deals (with public subsidies, profit guarantees, non-compete agreements, that eliminate low bid, competitive bidding and replace with "best value" bidding, and  charge extremely high toll rates)! A CDA with a Spain-based company ACS and partner Zachry already expired for several of these projects, now these private interests are back wanting YOU to sell Texas to private corporations who will stick it to Texans with oppressive toll taxes, few can afford to pay.  Say ‘NO’ to this amendment!

Martinez Amendment # 821471

We SUPPORT this amendment and anything that would increase transparency, especially as it pertains to private contractors.

McClendon Amendment # 821504

We wholeheartedly SUPPORT a single ELECTED Commissioner! This is what the people of Texas flooded the Sunset Committee asking for -- a single point of accountability that answers DIRECTLY to the PEOPLE of Texas!

McClendon Amendment # 821505

We SUPPORT this amendment. TURF sued TxDOT over it’s illegal lobbying and PR campaign promoting toll roads, PPPs, and the Trans Texas Corridor on the taxpayers’ dime. This bill will make explicit where the line between advertising TollTags/toll roads and seeking to change public opinion lies.

McClendon Amendment # 821507

We SUPPORT this amendment. TxDOT should NEVER be given any wiggle room on lobbying to influence legislation.

McClendon Amendment # 821509

We SUPPORT this amendment since it increases the financial transparency of the agency.

RED ALERT
Parker Amendment # 821301

We VEHEMENTLY OPPOSE this amendment to sell-off a portion of the primary interstate highway in Texas, I-35, to a private, foreign company in a sweetheart deal (with public subsidies, profit guarantees, non-compete agreements, that eliminate low bid, competitive bidding and replace with "best value" bidding, and  charge extremely high toll rates).

The inclusion of controversial CDAs in last session’s Sunset bill is what caused a grassroots revolt to KILL THE BILL!

Texas taxpayers DO NOT want their public roads they rely for daily living handed over to a private corporation to gouge our citizens with oppressively high toll taxes at 75 cents a mile for a HALF CENTURY! It’s a piracy of the public's assets. It is what Michelle Malkin said it is, corporate welfare. These are sweetheart deals kept SECRET from the public, that will in-debt generations, heist private property and hand it to a private corporation for private gain, increase taxes on driving, increase our cost of goods, impede our freedom to travel, and ensure our free roads remain congested for our lifetimes. Texans are outraged by this, whether they’re residents of DFW or not, these are STATE highways, using ALL Texans’ money as subsidies, and have implications across Texas!

Paxton Amendment # 821533

We SUPPORT this amendment and anything that will bring greater transparency to these toll road bureaucracies!

RED ALERT
Phillips Amendment # 821519

We VEHEMENTLY OPPOSE this amendment! This is HB 2255 with 4 additional CDA projects added on. This sells off eleven TX roads to private entities in controversial public private partnerships (PPPs) that eliminate competitive bidding and, in the case of the North Tarrant Express, give the winning private consortium development rights over all future segments (again without competitive bidding). These are sweetheart deals that cost taxpayers punitive toll rates of 75 cents PER MILE (like adding $15 to every gallon of gas you buy). The deals are kept SECRET from the public and elected officials (except the Attorney General), are propped up with massive amounts of public money, have profit guarantees, put the taxpayers on the hook for the losses, contain non-competes that guarantee congestion on free roads, and grant monopolies for a half century at a time!

These are NOT local projects or local decisions as they impact the entire state due to the eminent domain for private gain, public subsidies, and loss of sovereignty over our public infrastructure. With two Committees on State Sovereignty this session, are legislators really going to hand control over Texas roads to foreign toll operators?

RED ALERT
Phillips Amendment # 821518

We OPPOSE this amendment. This is HB 3218 and could be dubbed the "Double Tax & Toxic Debt" Bank Loan Act. This is like building roads with credit cards! It would allow ANY source of revenue given to TxDOT (including gas taxes, general revenue, borrowed money -- Prop 12, Prop 14, Texas Mobility Funds, etc.) to be used to grant loans for toll projects, including loaning our taxpayer money to PRIVATE ENTITIES. In fact, this bill is for the explicit purpose of giving the State Infrastructure Bank the ability to loan money to toll entities as subsidies to prop-up toll projects, including as a means to guarantee loans (their toxic debt).

It's a government recycling program -- use OUR money to lend to private companies to build toll roads that can't pay for themselves, then require us, the taxpayers, to pay it back through tolls, with interest! Conservative Timothy Carney called the idea of a Federal Infrastructure Bank ‘corporate welfare’ for good reason.

In the special session in July 2009, the grassroots rose up to oppose ANY Prop 12 funds from being used to prop-up toll projects that can't pay for themselves (which is a DOUBLE TAX) and they succeeded. This would trample on the people's wishes and change the law to allow DOUBLE TAXATION and borrowed money to be used to secure MORE borrowed money (like using a credit card to pay-off other debt), the same risky lending schemes that brought about the sub-prime mortgage crisis and toxic debt that required a taxpayer bailout of Wall Street.

RED ALERT
Phillips Amendment # 821517

We OPPOSE this amendment. This is HB 2574 granting Design-Build CDA authority to RMAs which gives these toll entities authority to use design build contracts that also eliminate low bid, competitive bidding and replace with "best value" bidding that is rife with abuse, favoritism, and cronyism (costs taxpayers more for public works projects built using these procurement methods, another industry giveaway).

These contracts are very controversial and since there’s no fixed design done at the time of the bidding (no hard bid, all the bidders may submit different designs so you’re not comparing apples to apples), you don’t even discuss price until after the developer is chosen and THEN the developer finishes the design (and the private entities own the design, if the governmental entity decides not to use that team, they pay the private entity for their design, versus TxDOT doing the engineering and owning the design). They also receive a payment for losing the bid, called a “stipend.” This is a slush fund in itself! So the contracts are initially awarded based on intangibles, not price which tends to open up the process to favoritism and squeeze out the little guy.


Pickett Amendment #821523

This would take a few of the appointees out of the Governor’s hands, but the people have made it clear they want ELECTED leadership, not more appointees.

Pickett Amendment # 821524

We like Lines 13-17 which brings much needed fiscal sanity to the lettings, but want to STRIKE P. 1 Lines 27-29 and P. 2 Lines 1-4.

Pickett Amendment # 821525

We OPPOSE this amendment. This is HB 2802 to authorize the use of the Texas Mobility Fund as a revolving fund (code for ‘multi-leveraging’) and to allow Prop 14 and Prop 12 bonds to be used as loans. Revolving fund means to use borrowed money to pay back other borrowed money. Ditto for Prop 12 and Prop 14 money being used as loans since those funds are also BORROWED. This multi-leveraging is risky and is the same scheme that caused the subprime mortgage crisis.

In the bill analysis, it even states that the problem they’re trying to fix is the “instability in the credit markets making it difficult for public toll entities to get financing” and to “mitigate certain project financial risks.” So the taxpayers will be taking on the risk and have their money used to prop-up the toxic debt of toll authorities that the private sector won’t touch (invest in). This bill also allows these monies to be deposited into the State Infrastructure Bank. If HB 3218 passes along with this bill, that means yet more taxpayer money will go to lend money to private corporations. Public money for private profits. Conservative Timothy Carney called the idea of a Federal Infrastructure Bank ‘corporate welfare’ for this reason.

Pickett Amendment # 821568

Transportation Reinvestment Zones stated goal is to redevelop property. Considering the fierce love Texans have for their land and property rights and that most Texans struggle to keep up with their ever increasing property tax bill as it is, and that TRZs represent roads for economic development and ever increasing property tax bills, we OPPOSE this amendment.

Also, in light of HB 1112 passing, TRZ funds can be used to prop-up loser RMA toll projects that can’t pay for themselves. So now we’re using property taxes to subsidize toll roads. Where will this punitive double and triple taxation end?

RED ALERT
Smith Amendment # 821512

We OPPOSE this amendment and ANY design-build contracts. Design build contracts also eliminate low bid, competitive bidding and replace with "best value" bidding that is rife with abuse, favoritism, and cronyism (costs taxpayers more for public works projects built using these procurement methods, another industry giveaway).

These contracts are very controversial and since there’s no fixed design done at the time of the bidding (no hard bid, all the bidders may submit different designs so you’re not comparing apples to apples), you don’t even discuss price until after the developer is chosen and THEN the developer finishes the design (and the private entities own the design, if the governmental entity decides not to use that team, they pay the private entity for their design, versus TxDOT doing the engineering and owning the design). They also receive a payment for losing the bid, called a “stipend.” This is a slush fund in itself! So the contracts are initially awarded based on intangibles, not price which tends to open up the process to favoritism and squeeze out the little guy.

Veasey Amendment # 821468

We SUPPORT this amendment to allow the Legislature to appoint a vacancy of a Transportation Commissioner.

Texas TURF is a non-partisan, grassroots, all-volunteer group defending Texans’ concerns with toll road policy, Trans Texas Corridor-style projects like public private partnerships, and eminent domain abuses. TURF promotes non-toll transportation solutions.

Perry touts eminent domain reform, but his bill tells different story


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE      
                                                           
April 1, 2011                                                                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
                                                                                                            
 Gov. Perry Touting Property Rights Legislation that Does Not Protect Landowners
SB 18 is a Giveaway to Special Interests and Private Toll Road Companies
 
AUSTIN— While House members were debating the appropriations bill on Thursday, Governor Rick Perry was holding a press conference to urge state  legislators to swiftly pass SB 18, property rights legislation which the governor declared an emergency. While the governor and some lawmakers are claiming SB 18 protects landowners, critics of the legislation say the bill is full of loopholes and excessive legalese yielding most protections virtually meaningless.
 
Many organizations and landowners across Texas have been highly critical of the legislation, including the Property Rights Coalition of Texas (PRCT), a coalition of state-wide and national property rights experts, transportation advocates, tax reform groups and landowners. They maintain that SB 18 does not guard landowners against wrongful takings nor does it ensure that property owners will be fairly compensated for their land. They say the bill does not go far enough to protect property owners from eminent domain for private gain and economic development purposes and point to a loophole in the bill’s repurchasing provision, which means a person could lose their property indefinitely—even if the condemning entity doesn’t use the land.
 
“SB 18 does not provide meaningful protections for property owners in Texas,” said Melissa Cubria, Advocate, Texas Public Interest Research Group (TexPIRG) and co-founder of PRCT. “SB 18 will benefit utility companies, the oil and gas industry, real estate developers and private toll road investors before it ever benefit the citizens and landowners of Texas,”
 
 Governor Perry stated Thursday that SB 18 protects landowners by requiring that the condemning entity state specifically the public use for which the land is intended. While this may be true, it does not protect landowners from unlawful takings because it does not include a strong definition for the term “public use,” which is critical to ensure that property is only taken for legitimate purposes.
 
“Without a strict definition for ‘necessary public use,’ private corporations can condemn a landowner’s property, build a private toll road and claim that they did so in the name of public use. After all, the Trans-Texas Corridor (TTC) was packaged as a “Community Development Association,’” said Cubria.  “This poses imminent threats to property owners in Texas as there are close to 30 private toll road bills working their way through the legislature right now, not one of which includes a single safeguard.”
 
"Perry has no credibility on property rights,” notes Terri Hall, Founder/Director of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF) and co-founder of PRCT. “The very bill he's touting as 'reform,' actually enriches private special interests and condemning entities and does nothing to prevent wrongful takings in the name of a 'public use'."
 
Authors of SB 18 admitted on the floor of the Senate that the bill’s weak and inconsistent language would likely lead to more lawsuits for property owners in Texas. The burden of proof is placed on property owners who  may find themselves defending their rights in lengthy, expensive legal battles with well-connected, well-funded special interests and their powerful attorneys— but the legalese of the bill would make that fight nearly impossible to win.
 
Similarly, while Gov. Perry states that SB 18 requires a government entity to make a legitimate, "bona fide" offer at the beginning of the process, the bill defines the term vaguely. The only requirement for a “bona fide” offer is that it be presented to a landowner and that the appraisal be made by any certified appraiser. Under the terms of SB 18, ExxonMobil can use an in-house appraiser to calculate an arbitrary price for the value of the land. If property owners feel they’ve been low-balled they’ll have to go to court to prove it.
 
Supporters of SB 18 are also touting the bill’s buy back provision, which would allow property owners to buy back their property if it goes unused. The only problem is that the provision contains a loophole, which would enable the condemning entity to keep the property indefinitely. According to a bill analysis of SB 18 by Bill Peacock of Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF), who has not formally joined the coalition but who advises PRCT members on property rights issues, “…the “buy-back” provision in SB 18 is at least as bad as current law, and will harm rather than improve property rights in Texas.”
 
“Governor Perry and Commissioner Staples are both correct in noting the dangers of ignoring eminent domain reform,” stated Marc Scribner, land-use and transportation policy analyst at the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), a Washington-based free-market think tank and PRCT coalition member.  “However, like many politicians, words speak far louder than actions. The so-called reforms included in SB 18 do very little to enhance property rights protections in Texas. On the contrary, this bait-and-switch allows government bureaucrats to continue seizing private property for arbitrary reasons while tricking Texans into believing their land and homes are safe. Hopefully, the governor and legislature will support pro-property rights legislation in the near future—to be able to make that leap from mere rhetoric to substantive reform.”
 
“The bill leaves property owners vulnerable to laws governing surplus land,” said Paul Westmoreland, a PRCT coalition member. “Parcels can be labeled as ‘surplus’ by a condemning entity if the land is no longer deemed necessary for the project for which it was taken—one of many problems with the repurchase sections and the combining of parcels. The state can keep surplus land indefinitely, which undermines the already weak repurchase provision in SB 18.”
 
“If Governor Perry wants to deliver on his promise and protect property owners or fixing the state’s broken eminent domain laws than he should be pushing legislation that actually solves the problem instead of making it worse,” concluded Westmoreland.  
 
 
PRCT is calling for provisions that increase transparency, establish due process, ensure landowners are adequately compensated for their property, and make private interests and condemning entities accountable for any egregious practices. PRCT is touting their bill, the Property Rights Protection Act (PRPA), as an example of real eminent domain reform and the bill they think lawmakers should be considering.
 
Click here for more information about the Property Rights Protection Act
 
Members of the Property Rights Coalition of Texas (PRCT) include:
Texans Texas Public Interest Research Group (TexPIRG)
Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (Texas TURF)
Americans for Tax Reform (ATR)
Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI)
Institute for Liberty
Property Rights Alliance
Freedom Action
Public Citizen
Selous Foundation
We Texans
Texans for Accountable Government (TAG)
Stop Tarsands Oil Pipeline
Property owners and landowners from across the state of Texas
 
 
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TexPIRG a non-profit, non-partisan consumer advocacy organization
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