SNEAKY: IRS can revoke passports over tax debt

Link to article here.

IRS gains power to revoke passports for failure to pay taxes
By Terri Hall
Selous Foundation for Public Policy Research
January 4, 2016

Many Americans are shocked to find out that the recently passed federal highway bill, Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act, or the FAST Act, includes a provision that can take away or block them from having a U.S. passport. At a time when political scandals plague the IRS, which has been used to target conservatives, tea party and pro-Israel-affiliated groups, this is an especially shameful revelation brought to you by the House and Senate Republicans.

The GOP has put itself in a box. The Federal Highway Trust Fund has not been collecting enough revenue through the federal gasoline tax to pay for the level of spending thought necessary by the special interests. The GOP has also failed to fight to ensure every penny of the gas tax is, in fact, going to highways, not transit, rail, and bike lanes that automobile users do not use.

Congress passes highway bill, diverts more money from roads

Link to article here.

Congress passes highway bill, continues to divert money away from roads
By Terri Hall
December 5, 2015
Examiner.com

Thursday marked the first time since 2005 that the U.S. Congress passed a long-term federal highway bill. The FAST Act, Fixing America’s Surface Transportation, is a 5-year re-authorization of the surface transportation program. Criticized for patching the program with short-term fixes for the last decade, the $305 billion bill was supported overwhelmingly by Congress, passing the House of Representatives by a vote of 359-65 and the Senate by a vote of 83-16. President Barack Obama signed it into law late Friday, mere hours before the federal highway program was set to expire.

The bill also authorizes the controversial Export-Import Bank and allows the IRS to use private debt collectors and deny Americans passports if they’re delinquent on their federal taxes. The Ex-Im Bank is the poster child for corporate welfare and congressional giveaways to special interests that conservatives defeated this summer. The short-lived victory could play an important role in the upcoming presidential election as candidates either try to justify the re-authorization of the bank or decry it.

Hill Country residents fume over sewage dump, land grab

Link to article here.

Angry residents give developer earful about sewage dump, land grab
By Terri Hall
Examiner.com
November 20, 2015

Last night, in a little hill country town in Bulverde, Texas, over 130 angry residents vented at a hearing over the 4S Ranch wastewater permit. The hearing conducted by the Texas version of the EPA, known as the Texas Commission for Environmental Quality (TCEQ), had an overflow crowd. The original meeting room could not accommodate attendees, who were stacked deep into the hallways. So TCEQ moved the residents into the bay of the EMS building to conduct the makeshift meeting amid fire equipment with no seating. Attendees, many of them elderly, had to grab their own chairs from anywhere they could muster if they wanted to sit down for the nearly 5-hour meeting that went late into the night.

The issue that drew the crowd was the developer of 4S Ranch seeking to amend its wastewater permit from 180,000 gallons of treated effluent contained on the developer’s own property to dumping 460,000 gallons a day of treated sewage onto its neighbors and into Dripping Springs and Lewis Creek (which feed into Cibolo Creek and recharges the Edwards Aquifer). The biggest neighborhood effected would be Oak Village North. The high density subdivision will be located between Stahl Lane and Smithson Valley Road north of FM 1863.

4S Ranch wants to put 1,880 homes on 780 acres in a county where there’s normally a restriction of one house per acre. If there’s just two residents per home, this subdivision alone represents a near doubling of the population of Bulverde (as of 2013, there were 4,841 residents).

Pickett: I've decided I don't like managed lanes

Link to article here.

Transportation chair signals end may be near for toll managed lanes
By Terri Hall
Examiner.com
November 17, 2015

The death-knell to toll managed lanes may be imminent in Texas. House Transportation Committee Chair Joe Pickett signaled he’s on a war path to end toll managed lanes at a hearing of the Select Committee on Transportation Planning last week.

The chairman declared war on managed lanes, “I’m on a binge about managed lanes. I’ve decided I don’t like managed lanes.”

Pickett cited a managed toll lane project in his home district of El Paso that carries a mere six percent of traffic. Ninety-four percent of drivers stay on the free lanes. Of those that use the toll managed lane, they only use it for three hours a day.

Obama rule change to put Americans on road diet

Link to article here.

Selous Exclusive
Obama’s Transportation Policy Guided by United Nations Agenda 21 Program

So, with this bureaucratic interference, there must be some other agenda at play if the government is willfully steering road taxes from efficient road capacity improvements to inefficient non-road uses. Some call it ‘new urbanism,’ others call it ‘sustainable development’ or ‘Smart Growth,’ but the blueprint that spawned it all was the United Nations Agenda 21 program. Agenda 21’s stated goal is to change people’s behavior through restrictions in land use, by herding people into dense inner-city housing, and restricting mobility to force Americans out of their cars and into government-controlled mass transit systems. It’s an assault on our freedom to travel and individual liberty.

By Terri Hall
November 2, 2015
Selous Foundation for Public Policy Research

It’s official. Your federal government is using your gas tax money to incentivize state and local officials to reduce auto lanes and create road diets to force you to change your behavior and commuting patterns. New federal rules announced by Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx encourage transportation designers and decision-makers to reduce auto capacity and to create ‘lower-speed roads.’

Smith record on tolls making opponent raise Cain

Link to article here.

ELECTION 2016
Smith record causing opponent to raise Cain
By Terri Hall
Examiner.com
October 29, 2015

It’s shaping up to be a tough re-election season for incumbents. One of them may be Baytown’s ethically challenged Wayne Smith. His voting record on transportation reflects a disconnect with many Texans in District 128 who oppose toll roads, especially the privatization of public roads. It’s a record that got challenger Briscoe Cain to take notice, and he’s running to replace Smith as a more conservative voice in the Texas House.

Prop 7: Texas voters have chance to secure funding for non-toll roads

Link to article here.

Texas voters encouraged to support Prop 7 to secure funding for non-toll roads
By Terri Hall
September 28, 2015
Examiner.com

It’s been a long road to finding the funding necessary to shore-up the Texas State Highway Fund, but with passage of Proposition 7 on the ballot November 3, Texans will finally see a significant boost to the state’s road funding without raising taxes.  Early voting begins October 19.

Prop 7 dedicates $2.5 billion of the general sales and use tax (above $28 billion) and thirty-five percent of the vehicle sales tax (above $5 billion) to the construction and maintenance of non-toll highways. The general sales tax takes effect in 2017, and the vehicle sales tax dedication starts in 2019.

Plan to put San Antonio on a 'road diet'

Link to article here.

Alamo city transportation board approves road diet for Hwy 281
By Terri Hall
Examiner.com
September 14, 2015

Today, the Alamo Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (AAMPO) unanimously voted to approve a resolution to do the US 281 project (from Loop 1604 to the Bexar County line) in San Antonio without tolls. However, the new proposal involves converting one existing, unrestricted freeway lane into an HOV-bus lane (a restricted lane), shrinking existing capacity open to all cars rather than expanding it. While there are six general purpose (unrestricted) highway lanes today, once the conversion is completed, there will be only four.

Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) officials claim the current roadway is akin to a frontage road, despite maps from the U.S. Geological Survey and documents from the Federal Highway Administration showing otherwise. TxDOT argues they're not shrinking highway main lanes by crediting the addition of new frontage lanes to the outside of the existing highway in the lane count. This fuzzy math enables them to assert they're 'doubling' existing capacity.

Toll network that's California-izing Texas

Link to article here.

Michael Morris: The man behind the toll network California-izing Texas
By Terri Hall
Examiner.com
August 31, 2015

Many North Texans struggle to get around the Dallas-Ft.Worth metroplex without having to pay tolls and now they’re asking, just who’s responsible for this punitive new tax? The answer is Michael Morris. Morris is the Executive Director of the Regional Transportation Council (RTC) and its parent bureaucracy, the North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG).

Back in 2005, when former Governor Rick Perry had already begun his steady march to impose tolls in earnest across Texas, Morris was on board even before Perry took office. In a Texas Transportation Commission meeting that December, Morris gave a lengthy diatribe to the commission in support of the possibility of presiding over the largest toll managed lane network in America.

State agency grants permit to take Hill Country land for private developer despite judge’s ruling

Link to article here.

TCEQ grants permit to take land for private developer despite judge’s ruling
By Terri Hall
August 5, 2015
Exmainer.com

The Graham family can never seem to cut a break from big government. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), the state agency that grants wastewater permits, approved a permit for the neighboring developer of Johnson Ranch in spite of the fact that Administrative Law Judge Sarah Ramos, who heard the Graham’s case in a contested case hearing, ruled that the permit should be denied. Allowing the developer to dump its treated sewage onto the Graham’s property means they’ll lose that land under the ‘waters of the state’ claimed by the state of Texas, even though the area is a dry creek bed and unnamed tributary of the Cibolo Creek. It’s a backhanded way for a developer to exploit the power of government for its own private gain.

Federal Highway bill takes center stage in waning hours of Congress

Link to article here.

Federal Highway bill takes center stage in waning hours of Congress
By Terri Hall
Examiner.com
July 28, 2015

The clock is about to run out on the Federal Highway Trust Fund and Congress has considered competing bills about how to proceed. The House passed a $10.8 billion, 5-month continuation bill that would only last until May of 2016, while the Senate is poised to pass a $350 billion long-term 6-year bill, that’s only funded for three of those years. The upper chamber also added an amendment to its highway bill to revive the controversial Export-Import Bank that expired June 30. The debate on the Ex-Im Bank reauthorization raged until late into the evening Sunday, eventually passing by a vote of 64-29. Desperate House Republicans hastily filed an even shorter continuation bill Monday, kicking the can down the road for just another three months.

Accountability, reform, and transparency: Texas legislature delivers mixed bag

Source: Article

NOTE: This is the last in a three-part series on the transportation wrap-up to the 84th legislative session of the Texas Legislature.

For taxpayers, how toll roads are done are just as important as making progress in stopping them. In the 84th legislative session of the Texas Legislature that came to a close yesterday, concerned citizens are left stunned by the lack of action in holding toll entities accountable, despite a laundry list of scandal, waste, and abuse. The North Texas Tollway Authority (NTTA) is currently under investigation by the FBI for concerns about undisclosed conflicts of interest with some board members. A class action lawsuit was filed against the NTTA for excessive fines and fees, and the unpopularity of toll roads is reflected in the unpopularity of the unelected toll agencies that implement them. Yet, no action was taken to subject these agencies to sunset review, or even a forensic state audit.

Abbott brought different atmosphere to Texas legislature

Source: Article

NOTE: This is the second in a three-part series on the transportation & property rights wrap-up to the 84th legislative session of the Texas Legislature.

Success can be measured as much by what didn’t pass as what did pass.

While anti-toll advocates may not be wholly pleased with their lack of progress in getting their bills through the 84th session of the Texas legislature that wrapped-up yesterday, they were successful in stopping many other bills that would have sailed through in prior sessions under former Governor Rick Perry's pro-toll leadership. Incoming Governor Greg Abbott's campaign promise to fix Texas roads without raising taxes, fees, or tolls immediately changed the atmosphere at the Capitol.

Indeed, during one of his debate's with Democrat Wendy Davis he emphasized, “My plan does not involve any toll roads, period. I’m not interested in adding toll roads in my plan.”

Texas legislature leaves without stopping toll roads

Source: Article

NOTE: This is the first in a three-part series on the transportation wrap-up to the 84th legislative session of the Texas Legislature.

The 84th session of the Texas legislature just concluded yesterday, but the fallout will be felt by taxpayers for decades to come. Over 75 bills were filed to replace or curtail tolling or to make it more transparent and accountable. When factoring in property rights and efforts to restrict eminent domain abuse, the total came to 96. So with a pipeline full of bills should have sent a strong message to leadership that the taxpayers sent elected officials to Austin to significantly curb if not stop toll roads. But the momentum quickly came to a halt when only a handful of anti-toll bills got a hearing, and very few key bills passed. Of those that did, most were watered down.

Alamo city to impose bus-toll lanes on every freeway

Link to article here.

Alamo city to impose bus-toll lane network on every freeway
By Terri Hall
Examiner.com
May 19, 2015

Monday, the Alamo Area Transportation Policy Board known as the AAMPO debated and eventually adopted a study to impose a managed toll lane/transit priority lane system across virtually every San Antonio highway, including Interstate 410, US 90, US 181, and more (which up until now have not been in the toll plans). The board originally voted to initiate the study back in July of 2013, taking until now to whittle down the bidders to the final winning contractor - Parsons Brinckerhoff.

Casting a cloud of cronyism and raising a possible conflict of interest, Parsons Brinckerhoff recently hired former Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) District Engineer Mario Medina, who is also a former AAMPO board member himself that introduced the toll-transit priority lane concept to the board and pushed for its adoption on the US 281 toll project in 2012. But the fate of toll roads is in doubt. A new board and a wave of anti-toll sentiment has not only swept across the Alamo City, but across Texas.

Straus blocks anti-toll amendments from being heard

Link to article here.

Leadership of Texas House forbids anti-toll amendments from being heard
By Terri Hall
May 1, 2015
Examiner.com

Yesterday, conservative lawmakers pushed to attach key toll road reforms to two transportation bills in the Texas House, but they were thwarted by Speaker Joe Straus and his parliamentarian Chris Griesel who would not allow them to present their amendments. Griesel told them the amendments weren’t ‘germane’ (or salient) to the bills, HB 13 and HB 20, and blocked Rep. Jeff Leach and Rep. Jonathan Stickland from even laying out their amendments. Straus and Griesel utilized the same technique as they did on a Stickland amendment to the open carry bill the week before. The two decided to reject the amendments by executive fiat BEFORE the member is even allowed to present them.

Toll agencies oppose traffic studies being made public

Link to article here.

Toll agencies testify to keep financial studies secret from the public
By Terri Hall
Examiner.com
April 18, 2015

Fireworks erupted in the Texas House Transportation Committee Thursday as Rep. Cindy Burkett laid out her bill, HB 2620, to make toll viability studies subject to open records laws. The North Texas Tollway Authority (NTTA) and Regional Mobility Authorities (RMAs) testified that they want to keep the studies secret from the public until at least 90 days prior to issuing bonds. In effect, that’s well after the public and decision makers can do anything to stop a project that’s not financially viable. The NTTA cited ‘possible’ issues with bond investors and federal securities law if the information released from preliminary studies conflict with final investment grade studies.

Committee members grilled the toll agencies for nearly an hour. Rep. Ron Simmons told the NTTA’s bond counsel that the Emerging Technology Fund bureaucrats testified against transparency, too, claiming similar issues on deals with private equity firms. But Simmons would have none of it.

Texas Tribune interview with Transportation Chairmen

Watch the interview here.

On April 7, Texas Tribune's Evan Smith interviewed the Senate and House Transportation Committee Chairmen, Robert Nichols and Joe Pickett. Note that they don't seem to have gotten the message from the last election that Texans DO NOT want more toll roads. The Chairmen are not motivated to take action to reduce the number of toll roads that are already on auto pilot and set to be unleashed on Texans for the next 25 years. May Texnas are paying $200-$400 a month in toll to get to work now. The tax burden is unsustainable and threatens the Texas economic 'miracle.' If all the planned toll roads are indeed built, this new toll tax on mobility will be totally unavoidable in just 10 years. 

It's also interesting to note that Chairman Nichols is opposed to mass transit because none of the systems pay for themselves at the fare box - they need public subsidies. Yet, he's blocking Texans' efforts to end taxpayer subsidies to toll roads through bills like SB 485/HB 1734 and HB 3725 that would take the toll off the road when it's paid for and end system financing (using toll revenues from one road to pay for another that can't pay for itself - in other words spreading toll revenues around to support a 'system'. System financing is socialism for roads.).

Eminent domain by private high speed rail company draws ire

Link to article here.

Eminent domain takes center stage with high speed rail project
By Terri Hall
April 9, 2015
Examiner.com

The fight over eminent domain and who should wield it came to a fore in the Senate Transportation Committee yesterday. A public hearing on SB 1601 authored by Senator Lois Kolkhorst would prevent private companies from using eminent domain for a high speed rail project. The bill narrowly passed the committee by a vote of 5-4. Surprisingly, two grassroots senators, both considered tea party candidates, Don Huffines and Van Taylor, voted against the bill along with both senators from Houston.  Texas Central Railway (TCR), whose parent company is Central Japan Railway Company, wants to build a 240-mile privately owned and operated high speed rail line from Dallas to Houston, causing the nine counties in its path to rise up in opposition.

Aside from the obvious negative impacts from a safety, land use, and quality of life perspective, the fact that this private company can wield the power of eminent domain for its own private gain has stirred up a hornet’s nest in the long-standing struggle to protect property rights. Concerned citizen Dan Agan and the President of Texans Against High Speed Rail, Kyle Workman, expressed the disgust of many Texans who vehemently object to a private company having the power of eminent domain for a private project. The easement needed would be 100 feet wide to accommodate a double track and security fencing, and even wider near substations.

Hill country landowner wins a round in legal fight with developer

Link to article here.

Judge rules in favor of Hill Country landowner threatened by neighboring developer
By Terri Hall
Examiner.com
April 2, 2015

Landowners Pat and Terrell Graham won a small victory in the battle with a neighboring developer of the Johnson Ranch in the Texas Hill Country. Administrative law Judge Cathleen Parsley has ruled in favor of the Graham and Lux families recommending that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) deny the Johnson Ranch developer, DHJB Development, its permit seeking to take over a dry creek bed on the Lux-Graham family ranch to accommodate discharge of treated sewage and storm water runoff from the Johnson Ranch Subdivision (read the decision here).

DHJB initially sought a land application with TCEQ but then sought to convert it to a discharge permit. Rather than contain the treated effluent on the developer’s own 750-acre property, it decided to amend its permit and dump 350,000 gallons a day of treated sewage onto his neighbors’ property so that DHJB could build even more houses per acre.