Contact: Terri Hall, Director,
Texas TURF, & Texans for Toll-free Highways
Anti-toll reforms finally pass Texas legislature
Reforms changed in conference, but still cripple future toll roads
(Austin, TX - Sunday, May 28, 2017)
As the Texas legislature comes to a close tomorrow, a must-pass bill to continue the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), SB 312
, cleared its final hurdle yesterday evening. The House passed a strong anti-toll bill May 17, adding several good anti-toll measures pushed by grassroots pro-taxpayer groups for over a decade. But rather than concur with the strong House version, the Senate chose to reject the House version (which signaled trouble ahead), forcing both the House and Senate to appoint a conference committee to work out the differences in the bill.
This is where the chicanery usually happens, and it did.
The House suspended the rules and rushed a vote to concur with the conference committee's changes and the Senate followed before it adjourned Saturday evening as well - pushing passage of a 100-page bill before anyone could read what was in it.
Anti-toll legislation makes its way onto must-pass TxDOT sunset bill
Contact: Terri Hall, Director, Texas TURF, &
Texans for Toll-free Highways
Anti-toll legislation makes its way onto must-pass TxDOT Sunset Bill
Taxpayers finally caught a break in Texas, especially toll-weary commuters. After fighting for common sense toll road reforms for over a decade, the grassroots through Texas TURF and Texans for Toll-free Highways made major strides in killing public private partnership (P3) toll roads and gaining ground on several key anti-toll reforms, like removing tolls from roads that are paid for like Camino Columbia in Laredo.
State agencies come under sunset periodic review. Senate Bill 312 involves the continuation and functions of the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) and gives lawmakers the ability to tack on just about any transportation bill to it — good and bad. It's also must-pass legislation or the highway department goes away. While five anti-toll bills successfully passed the Texas Senate this session, none have been heard in the House. So lawmakers pounced on the opportunity to get stalled bills moving through amendments to SB 312.
The pro-toll crowd sought to resurrect corporate toll roads by authorizing P3s once again and even granting broader authority to do so. Lawmakers just voted down a P3 bill HB 2861 by Rep. Larry Phillips just days before, forcing taxpayers to mount an offensive to kill such sweetheart deals again. An amendment by Rep. Dade Phelan was most troubling actually requiring taxpayers to guarantee the loans and bonds of the private toll companies and gave authority to enter into multiple contracts every year with no sunset date.
VICTORY: Grassroots KILL private toll bill, secure Abbott's vision for toll-free future
CONTACT: Terri Hall, (210) 275-0640
Defeat of private toll road bill affirms Abbott's pledge to voters
Promise to fix roads without new tolls or debt gets bipartisan support
(Austin, TX - Friday, May 5, 2017) Texas taxpayers can breathe a sigh of relief tonight as a bipartisan effort to defeat expansion of private toll roads in Texas went down in flames by a vote of 79-51 in the Texas House. Taxpayer champions Rep. Jeff Leach (R - Plano), Rep. Jonathan Stickland (R - Bedford), and Rep. Joe Pickett (D - El Paso) led the floor fight, noting 90% of Democrats and 95% of Republicans oppose new toll roads in Texas, and both party platforms oppose privatized toll roads in particular. Governor Greg Abbott promised to fix Texas roads without new tolls or debt, and the Texas House delivered on that promise today by killing Rep. Larry Phillips HB 2861.
Pickett and Stickland made impassioned speeches opposing the bill. Leach emphasized both party platforms oppose this type of toll project and that the voters just gave the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) $5 billion a year in new funding by passing Proposition 1 and Proposition 7.
Anti-toll groups celebrate bankruptcy of SH 130
CONTACT: Terri Hall,
Texans Uniting for Refrom and Freedom
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
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.
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!
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
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.
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.
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
CONTACT: Terri Hall, Founder/Director,Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom,
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.
Keystone company bullies landowners, condemns land in Texas, despite no permit
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
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.