Obama seeks to lift ban on tolling existing freeways

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

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

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

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

Krier's conflicts of interest pose problem for council seat

Link to Examiner article here.

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

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

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

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

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

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

IMMEDIATE RELEASE


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amended petition

Motion for continuance

Request for production

Supplemental affidavit

Response to plea to the jurisdiction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

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

Cave to Governor, off to summer vacation!

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

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

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

"They all whimped out," states Hall. "But our drumbeat will not and cannot be squelched."

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

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

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

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

Market valuation dollars can build the TRANS TEXAS CORRIDOR!

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

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

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

"HB 1892 is good public policy, it's the people's bill, it slows down this toll train, and allows us to truly study the ramifications of transportation policy before making it law. Yet our senators caved to Mr. 39% voting for a counterfeit bill, SB 792, weakened the power of the Legislature, and likely ended their political careers in so doing," states Hall.

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

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Anti-toll candidates sweep in many key races

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Anti-toll candidates sweep in many key races across Texas

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

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

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

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

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


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

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

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

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

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

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

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

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

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

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

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

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

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

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

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

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

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

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

Texas for Sale: Texas roads may be handed to private, foreign toll operators

FINAL vote on SB 1730 includes I-35, Hwy 183, Hwy 290, Loop 1604 & more!  

(Austin, TX, April 30, 2013) - A crucial vote that will effect the next three generations of Texans is up for a final vote in the Texas House today - SB 1730. The bill would authorize the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) or toll entities to enter into Public Private Partnerships (P3 or PPP) known as Comprehensive Development Agreements (CDAs) in Texas, for more than 20 projects, including commuter rail.
 
Projects included in the bill:
-I-35 (many segments), I-820, Hwy 183, US 67, Hwy 114, Loop 12, Loop 9 (in DFW)
-Hwy 290, SH 99/Grand Pkwy, Hwy 288 (in Houston)
-Hwy 183, MoPac (in Austin)
-Loop 1604 (in San Antonio)
-Loop 375 & NE Pkwy (in El Paso)
-Loop 49 (in Tyler)
-Hidalgo County Loop, Outer Pkwy Project, Int'l Bridge Project, & COMMUTER RAIL PROJECTS (in Hidalgo & Cameron counties)
-South Padre Island Second Access Causeway Project (in South Padre)
-Hwy 181 Harbor Bridge Project (in Corpus Christi)

The Texas Conservative Coalition sent out a bulletin in support of SB 1730. However, TURF, Texas tea parties, the Texas Libertarian Party, and dozens more watchdog & liberty groups, find nothing 'conservative' about P3s and vehemently oppose such sweetheart deals and corporate welfare. Indeed, conservative columnist Michelle Malkin calls P3s corporate welfare' & Rachel Alexander calls them 'double taxation' and state sanctioned-monopolies.

P3s/CDAs...

* Extract exorbitantly high toll rates as high as 75 cents per mile (see details on CDAs for LBJ, North Tarrant Express on p. 2 here)
* Grant private, even foreign, entities state-sanctioned MONOPOLIES for 50 years
* Represent eminent domain for private gain (take land in name of 'public use,' then becomes private purpose for private gain)
* Limit expansion of free roads (guarantees congestion on the free routes) through non-competes
* Manipulate speed limits to drive more traffic to the toll road (increase speed on tollway, decrease on free route)
 
 Example -
    The CDA for SH 130 gave financial incentives to TxDOT for raising the speed limits.
    TxDOT received a $100 million pay-off from Cintra (2012) for raising the speed to 85 MPH.
    TxDOT subsequently lowered the speed limit on the free alternative US 183 in Lockhart.

* Put taxpayers on the hook for 'uncollectable tolls' from out-of-state & foreign drivers
* Keep traffic forecasts & revenue studies SECRET from the public (Transp Code Sec. 366. 403)
* Allow private corporations the power to tax
* Eliminate low-bid, competitive bidding, replaces with 'best-value' bidding, allows P3s to be doled out to the well-connected = CRONY CAPITALISM!
* Heist PUBLIC money for PRIVATE profits. Use massive amounts of public money (gas tax, PABs) & public debt (federal TIFIA loans, potentially the State Infrastructure Bank) to subsidize/prop-up toll projects that can't pay for themselves (see examples on p. 2 here).  
* Hand control of our PUBLIC infrastructure to a PRIVATE entity. Proponents argue the STATE still TECHNICALLY owns the road, however, giving a single corporation a monopoly for 50 yrs. who has the ability to depreciate the 'asset' on its taxes is, in reality, giving the entity effective ownership of our PUBLIC roads for a HALF CENTURY!

Will lawmakers be fooled by the difference between a Design-Build and a concession CDA?
Proponents are trying to lull fellow House members into voting for SB 1730 by saying it may not be a concession CDA (that hands our highways to private toll operators), but could be a design-build CDA done by a public entity (and even non-toll). So therefore 'give us the authority' and TxDOT will decide later who gains control of our public roads and whether they're tolled or not.

A design-build CDA is a truncated concession CDA. A full blown concession CDA includes design-build-finance-operate-maintain (and a 50-yr leasehold/ownership stake), whereas design-build stops short of handing operations over to a private entity. Design-build CDAs are fraught with potential abuses as well (not competitively bid, can be handed to the well-connected, no apples-to-apples bid comparison or final design to compare against, and payments to losing bidders, etc.).

Regardless of the type of CDA, the bill does not separate design-build authority from concession authority - if lawmakers pull the trigger, it could be either. So a 'YES' vote means Texas roads could be handed to PRIVATE, even foreign entities for a HALF CENTURY with no further oversight from the legislature or PEOPLE of Texas.

What Texans think
"The bill doesn't differentiate between the types of CDAs being authorized -- whether tolled or non-toll. So while it's clever to say the toll element is 'optional,' whether or not Hwy 290, Hwy 183, I-35, Hwy 288, Hwy 114, Loop 9, Loop 12, or Loop 1604 (to name a few) get handed to a private toll operator will be decided later by un-elected boards & TxDOT, not the PEOPLE. Bottom line is TxDOT would NOT be able to hand these roads to Cintra or another private entity unless this bill passes.

"The PEOPLE of Texas haven't changed their minds since the Trans Texas Corridor or the CDA moratorium in 2007 - they do NOT want Texas sovereignty over our PUBLIC infrastructure handed to PRIVATE corporations who can GOUGE taxpayers for 50 years," Terri Hall, Founder/Director of Texas TURF, warns.

BACKGROUND:
P3s are the financing method behind the Trans Texas Corridor and the primary mechanism keeping aspects of it alive today. Texans went radioactive at the notion of having private land handed to private, even foreign, corporations for private gain, rather than a public use, and the idea that a private company could dictate what roads get built (non-compete agreements) and how high the tolls would be.

P3s differ from a completely private road/project and differ from the government simply contracting work out to the private sector since a P3 involves an ownership stake or a long-term leasehold. While claiming to be built with private money and transferring the risk from the public sector to the private sector, this controversial financing mechanism virtually always involves PUBLIC money and public RISK through profit guarantees and taxpayers being on the hook for potential losses.

Texans ask for leadership to enact NEW vision for road policy

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Grassroots coalition calls on Perry, Dewhurst, & Straus to lead the way on a new vision for roads
Sensible bills should not be held hostage to promote special interests, more road debt, tax hikes, and budget-busting tolls that will only burden small businesses, families, seniors, and young adults on limited income!

(Austin, TX, March 12, 2013) - On Tuesday morning, Texans from across the state converged at the capitol to stress the need for Texas Governor Rick Perry, Lt. Governor David Dewhurst, Speaker Joe Straus, and House and Senate budget writers to prevent the most fiscally sound, long-term road funding solutions from being held hostage to more tolls, debt, and tax hikes.

Activist leaders Terri Hall (TURF) and JoAnn Fleming (TEA Party Caucus Advisory Committee Chair and Grassroots America director) sounded the alarm to Texans that soon every major road will be tolled, and foreign corporations can take over our  roadways, driving up the cost of daily travel with unfettered tolling.

Grassroots applaud Perry's call to end diversions, reject Rainy Day raid

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

TURF, pro-taxpayer groups applaud Texas Governor's call to end gas tax diversions, but reject Rainy Day Fund raid 

(Austin, TX - January 30, 2013) In his State of the State speech yesterday, Texas Governor Rick Perry announced his support for ending gas tax diversions for non-road purposes. Ending diversions is part of the Governor's truth in taxation plank in his Budget Compact, which means taxes collected for a certain purpose should go only to that purpose. Perry's leadership to end gas tax diversions, estimated to be $1.3 billion per biennium, is much needed and very helpful. But that alone isn't sufficient to properly fund our state highways without higher taxes (aka tolls).

The Governor also asked Texans how they'd like to see tax relief implemented in the current legislative session. The grassroots call for eliminating toll taxes and using our existing road taxes (including the motor vehicle sales tax) to expand our freeways without tolls. Unfortunately, the Governor's web site, http://www.gov.texas.gov has no option for toll tax relief.

Texans call for boycott of Cintra's SH 130 tollway

IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 12, 2012
Texans call for boycott of first foreign-owned toll road
Threatens right to travel, smacks of crony capitalism

(San Antonio, TX - November 12, 2012) Today marks the first day Spanish toll operator, Cintra, starts charging Texas commuters tolls to use SH 130, which doesn’t sit well with ordinary grassroots Texans who care about our right to travel and keeping Texas sovereignty over public infrastructure. San Antonio-based Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF) and Austin-based Texans for Accountable Government (TAG) object to Texas’ first foreign-owned toll road, especially since SH 130 is actually part of the original Trans Texas Corridor TTC-35 (See ‘current route’). Though Cintra invented an innocuous sounding name, SH 130 Concession Company, Cintra controls SH 130 (segments 5 & 6).
 


The groups believe public private partnerships (P3s) will usher in the new railroad robber barons of our time -- private toll companies operating state-sanctioned monopolies and charging Texans a premium to drive. TURF & TAG also encouraged Texans to boycott Cintra’s toll road.

Judge rules foreign company can take Texas land using eminent domain

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Judge rules to allow TransCanada to take Texas farmer's land for Keystone Pipeline

(Paris, TX - August 23, 2012) Today, Lamar County Judge Bill Harris ruled in favor of TransCanada, the Canadian company building the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, allowing them to act as common carrier and giving them the ability to forcibly take private land from Texas farmer, Julia Trigg Crawford, and any Texans in its path, using eminent domain, despite the lack of evidence that TransCanada meets the statutory requirements of a common carrier whose pipeline is a legitimate public use.
 
"Since the Texas Railroad Commission determined way back in 2008 that it had no jurisdiction over TransCanada's interstate pipeline, it simply defies logic that TransCanada is allowed to take private citizens' land under a Texas law that requires a pipeline operator to subject itself to the Commission's jurisdiction," said Wendi Hammond, attorney for landowner. "The Texas Supreme Court has repeatedly held that if there is an incident of doubt regarding the power of eminent domain authority, then a court must rule in favor of the landowner. Unfortunately, this judge failed to do so."  

Victory for open government, but not complete transparency

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Small victory for open government at MPO
New agenda complies with Texas Open Meetings Act, but not MPO bylaws

(San Antonio, TX - August 27, 2012) Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF) is celebrating a small victory today, now that the San Antonio-Bexar County Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) agenda includes more specificity about its proposed action for toll projects on US 281 and Loop 1604. However, there's more work to be done, since the board is seeking to amend its short-range (TIP) and long-range plans (MTP) at today's meeting, and the MPO's bylaws require a two-step process, which includes a 30-day public comment period, and an even greater level of disclosure on its agenda before any action can take place.

"While we welcome the board's compliance with the Open Meetings Act, open government still demands the MPO follow its bylaws for proper public disclosure when making changes to the short and long-range plans," notes Terri Hall, Founder/Director of TURF. "Changes to the TIP & MTP are more permanent than merely adopting a proposal, and the bylaws rightly require that when the scope of a project or pots of money change, that the public is properly notified and given 30 days to submit public comment before any final decisions are made."

Policy 6 of the MPO bylaws state: "Amendments to the TIP require a two-step process. To permit adequate public review and comment, amendments to the TIP will be presented at a Transportation Policy Board meeting with action on the amendment occurring at the following Transportation Policy Board meeting (approximately 30 days after initial presentation)...amendments to delete a project or significantly change the scope of work of a project will be explicitly listed on both the presentation and action agendas for the Transportation Policy Board meetings."

Today's agenda does not specifically list the changes in scope of the toll projects nor did the agenda last meeting. The agenda last meeting also failed to notify the public on its agenda that the MPO was planning to make changes to the TIP at its next meeting, nor did it notify the public of a 30 day comment period. Therefore, TURF believes the two-step process required for amending the short and long-range plans has not commenced until these requirements are met.

Though the board can vote to bypass the two-step process, they still have to call a special public meeting within today's MPO meeting specifically to solicit public comment on the proposed changes to the TIP, and this special meeting must be posted on the agenda, which it is not.

For instance, TURF points out that the scope of the project on Loop 1604 changes from adding 4 new lanes (currently in the TIP as tolled, would now be non-toll) to adding 8 new lanes (4 non-toll, 4 toll). On US 281, the scope is changing from the current TIP which would add two new toll lanes and convert all the existing main lanes to toll lanes, to a new plan that would not add any new highway lanes, and that would shrink existing free highway capacity by converting the center main lanes into dedicated bus-HOV-toll lanes and keep the remaining four non-toll lanes free.

The proposed change on 281 will not meet the traffic needs for the corridor based on the MPO's own traffic data since it doesn't add any new highway capacity, nor does this amendment (or the current TIP) comply with federal law that prohibits the conversion of free lanes to toll lanes.

Background
TURF sent a demand letter threatening to sue to the MPO July 20, addressing the MPO's violation of the Texas Open Meetings Act on June 25, 2012. TURF asked the board to nullify its action and to re-post the proposed action in a manner that complied with the Texas Open Meetings Act. The board sought to adopt a specific financing proposal to toll portions of US 281 & Loop 1604, but didn't properly inform the public due to its vague agenda item which merely read: "Action on additional Federal and State Funding Opportunities."

Watch the MPO's actions unfold in this video.

"Complying fully with the Texas Open Meetings Act and noticing agenda items with the requisite specificity ensures the public's business is conducted in public," notes Arif Panju, at attorney with the Austin law firm Cantilo & Bennett, L.L.P. which represents TURF.  Panju also sits on the board of directors of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas. Panju is available for comment at the contact information above.

"The Texas Supreme Court has held that governmental bodies are responsible for properly notifying the public, and anything less than full disclosure of agenda items is not substantial compliance," says Panju.

TURF informed the MPO that it would seek an injunction to halt any further action on the proposal and a court order declaring the action void unless the MPO voids the action it took on June 25.

TURF believes the June 25 meeting warranted legal action because it so flagrantly sought to keep the public in the dark about what the MPO was adopting. Not only did the agenda item even fail to mention the names of the two highways involved, but it involved a proposal seeking to convert an existing free lane into a toll lane on US 281, taking money from US 281 and giving it to Loop 1604 (US 281 has already had $130 million in non-toll funds taken away that could have been used to fix it without tolls), and turning the middle toll lanes on US 281 into dedicated bus-HOV toll lanes.  Clearly, an agenda item simply noting "Action on additional Federal and State Funding Opportunities" does not give a reader, as a member of the interested public, proper notice of what the MPO was planning to do.

The plan also takes the power to toll away from the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority (the toll authority) and allows the ATD Board the discretion to determine who operates the toll road (and hence collect the tolls), including itself. This effectively grants the ATD board the right to raid the toll revenues to pay for mass transit projects, like the controversial downtown streetcar.

Some board members caught by surprise by last minute changes
Not only was the agenda item vague, but changes to the proposal were made after the agenda was posted and the board's meeting packet distributed -- changes that weren't posted or ever discussed until the MPO walked in the door for its meeting on June 25 (see the documents here). Though significant changes were made, the board took action on the proposal.

State Representative Joe Farias, an MPO board member and the only dissenting vote, asked how the MPO could vote on such a measure when he only found out about the changes by "reading about it in the newspaper over the weekend."

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Watch Julia Trigg Crawford's interview on Canadian TV after the trial here.

It's significant to note, TransCanada issued a brazenly FALSE statement to the Canadian TV station when it said the court ruled TransCanada was a 'common carrier' and hence has the power to use eminent domain for its pipeline, when, in FACT, the Judge has NOT ruled on the issue of common carrier and eminent domain yet. Can't imagine the Judge takes kindly on TransCanada presuming upon the court before he's issued his decision...

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Anti-toll groups relish Campbell, Cruz victories
Opponents were key players in pushing tolls on Texas

(New Braunfels, TX - July 31, 2012) Anti-toll groups, the San Antonio Toll Party and Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF), celebrated Dr. Donna Campbell's victory over pro-toll, 40-year incumbent State Senator Jeff Wentworth in Texas Senate District 25 at her victory party held at the Seekatz Opera House in New Braunfels.

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PRESS STATEMENT BY TURF:

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TURF opposed the legislation that gave the state this authority, SB 1048, and cautioned against the use of P3s that have long-term detrimental effects to property rights and state sovereignty in return for short-term gain -- some quick cash for the state.

TURF pursues legal action against policy board

Group seeks investigation by District Attorney for board’s action on vague agenda item

(San Antonio, TX - June 29, 2012) Yesterday, Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF) filed a formal complaint with the San Antonio Police Department White Collar Crime Unit seeking to open an investigation as to whether the San Antonio-Bexar County Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) violated the Open Meetings Act on June 25, by taking action on a specific financing proposal to toll portions of US 281 & Loop 1604 when the agenda merely read “Action on additional Federal and State Funding Opportunities.”

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