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.”

Board reneges on promise, votes to toll anyway

(San Antonio, TX) - It's apparent that the fix was in before a single citizen ever walked into the Bexar County San Antonio Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) meeting Monday. The tumult and chaos surrounding transportation decision-makers in Bexar County has hit a feverish pitch and it's getting plain ugly for taxpayers.

Who are the tollers in the Texas primary?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Download the TURF Report Card here.


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

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

Link to article here.

Six questions on Rawlings’ support of the Trinity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LaHood backs off federal ban of cell phone use in cars

Link to article here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Canseco molested by TSA agents AGAIN

Link to article here.

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


by Brian New / KENS 5

Posted on April 24, 2012 at 5:30 PM

Updated today at 12:18 PM

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UPDATE 4/25

TSA issued the following statement:

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

Where should the $2 billion go? Fix US 281 without tolls

For Immediate Release

March 6, 2012
CONTACT:Terri Hall
Founder/Director
Texans Uniting for
Reform and Freedom
(210) 275-0640
WEB: www.TexasTURF.org

Where should the new money go? TxDOT 'finds' $2 billion
Taxpayers want US 281 fixed without tolls

(San Antonio, TX) - TxDOT recently 'found' $2 billion in extra money ($700 million anticipated from the federal government and $1.3 billion gained from 'efficiencies').

"The San Antonio-Bexar County Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) and ALL of our local elected leaders have the obligation to aggressively seek enough of these funds to fix US 281 WITHOUT TOLLS," contends Terri Hall, Founder/Director of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom. "The controversy surrounding the US 281 project has gone on long enough. The citizens have spoken out against tolling US 281 by overwhelming majorities, forcing two lawsuits to stop the toll road. Enough is enough. Let's move forward without saddling already stressed commuters with higher taxes, tolls, to get to work."

The public was promised in hearings in 2001 that it would get the overpasses and expansion on US 281 funded with gas taxes (and remain a FREEway) before the Legislature, Rick Perry, and eventually the MPO decided to turn everything into a toll road in 2003 & 2004.

US 281 needs to be top priority
TURF says of all the projects that need to have non-toll funding restored, it's US 281. The MPO's bylaws state that the first project to lose its funding should be the first one to have it restored.

"Getting US 281 fixed WITHOUT TOLLS needs to be the highest priority of our local leaders post-haste," states Hall.

This segment of US 281 is tied for the THE most congested road in the state, according to TTI's commuter stress index.

Bexar County being shorted
According to TxDOT figures for the last five years and the next five years, Bexar County and the San Antonio District has been persistently shorted in both traditional and discretionary road funds. The San Antonio District received just $320 million or 5%, according to the most recent DISCO report, when it should be closer to 10% or 11%, and Bexar County only received 2.87% of the state total (compared to Tarrant County/Ft. Worth that's almost identical in size to Bexar County that received 10.9% of the state total and the Ft. Worth District received $830 mil or 13.1%).

"This is UNACCEPTABLE. Taxpayers rely on our elected representatives to secure the tax dollars we've put into the system to come back to our region to pay for desperately needed transportation projects. It's simply not true to say there's no money to fix our roads without tolls, when Prop 14, Prop 12, stimulus money, and now this new-found $2 billion in funds have all come along since the US 281 toll road battle ensued," contends Hall.

TxDOT is legally bound by its own rules in the Texas Administrative Code that it cannot withhold funds due to a region if they choose not to include toll roads in their plans. Yet, the evidence seems to show Bexar County is consistently being shorted.

"Now is the time to restore what's been taken, and to make right what has been wronged. It's incumbent upon our elected officials to ensure US 281 gets its funding restored in order to complete this long overdue project, and to help take a positive step forward to restore the breach of trust between the public and our leaders with regards to transportation policy across our state," argues Hall. "It only adds insult to injury when you consider the County, with the MPO's blessing, stole $96 million in ATD road funds to install a street car line downtown where there's NO congestion."

Gas price already hammering motorists
Government has figured out that instead of solving congestion, they can manipulate it for a profit (by keeping free lanes congested and forcing people to pay a premium to get mobility), imposing tolls on all new capacity to our roads, even on EXISTING lanes that we travel today without tolls. The plan on US 281 is to slap tolls on every single existing freeway lane, leaving frontage roads with slower speed limits and permanent stop lights, as the only non-toll option.

"It's a huge DOUBLE TAX," Hall points out.

It costs 1-2 cents per mile to travel a gas tax funded freeway, but anywhere from 20 cents a mile up to 75 cents per mile to use a toll lane (depending on whether its publicly or privately run), greatly increasing the cost to travel when motorists are already being hit hard by escalating gas prices. A gas tax funded road costs PENNIES a day versus a toll road that costs DOLLARS a day and THOUSANDS more in new taxes per year.

The way toll roads are being financed today, all Texans are paying to build them through subsidies of taxpayer money like gas tax, but motorists won't be able to use them without paying a toll, too. So whether a person can afford to take these toll lanes or not, they're paying for them.

"This notion that tolls are user fees is a myth when you look at how heavily they're subsidized by ALL taxpayers. You're also paying for them through a higher cost of goods that gets passed onto consumers," contends Hall.

TURF is encouraging commuters to make their voices heard and ask their elected leaders to secure the funds necessary to fix US 281 without new taxation -- tolls. Dial the Capitol Switchboard at (512) 463-4630 and they'll help you find who your state representatives are and put you through.

Texans Uniting for Reform & Freedom
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.

Hutchison, Canseco file amendment to protect taxpayers from tolls on existing freeways

Federal highway bill debate starts in U.S. House today

(San Antonio, TX - February 15, 2012) - Today the U.S. House of Representatives begin to debate the federal highway bill known as the American Energy & Infrastructure Jobs Act. The U.S. Senate will soon follow. It's been 7 years since Congress passed the last federal highway bill. Now its racing through Congress at the speed of light.

An amendment to allow tolls on ALL existing interstates in all 50 states is expected to be presented on the floor by Senator Tom Carper of Delaware. Imposing tolls on existing freeways is a DOUBLE TAX -- charging motorists an additional tax, a toll, to use what they've already built and paid for.

Hutchison, Canseco file amendment to protect taxpayers from tolls on existing freeways

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Hutchison, Canseco file amendment to STOP tolls on existing FREE lanes

Federal highway bill debate starts in U.S. House today

(San Antonio, TX - February 15, 2012) - Today the U.S. House of Representatives begin to debate the federal highway bill known as the American Energy & Infrastructure Jobs Act. The U.S. Senate will soon follow. It's been 7 years since Congress passed the last federal highway bill. Now its racing through Congress at the speed of light.

An amendment to allow tolls on ALL existing interstates in all 50 states is expected to be presented on the floor by Senator Tom Carper of Delaware. Imposing tolls on existing freeways is a DOUBLE TAX -- charging motorists an additional tax, a toll, to use what they've already built and paid for.

The current House Bill, HR 7, only bans tolls on existing FEDERAL interstates. It GUTS the ban on imposing tolls on existing STATE highways -- a ban that Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison put in place for Texas since 2007. Hutchison has filed her amendment in the Senate and Congressman Quico Canseco filed virtually an identical amendment in the House.

Taxpayers should be concerned with several key provisions of the bill -- public private partnership authority, that sells-off our public roads to private corporations in sweetheart deals, tax hikes through unbridled tolling, borrowing more money from the Federal Reserve to lend to states to prop-up toll roads that can't pay for themselves (to State Infrastructure Banks and through the TIFIA loan program), and lifts the ban on imposing tolls on existing federal-aid highways. There are 500 toll projects being contemplated in Texas alone, some on existing free lanes like on segments of US 281 and Loop 1604 in San Antonio.

"It's going to take a grassroots tsunami to STOP Congress from selling off our public infrastructure to foreign toll operators like Cintra (the same playbook as the Trans Texas Corridor), from borrowing more money from the Federal Reserve to lend to states to prop-up toll roads that can't pay for themselves, and from imposing tolls on existing FREEways in ALL 50 states," warns Terri Hall, Founder and Executive Director of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF), "Our freedom to travel, our sovereignty over our public assets, and fiscal sanity are at stake."

The toll industry just sent out word to get its lobbyists cranking to defeat the "populist amendment" to curb tolling.

"So the battle is on and taxpayers need to be engaged to ensure Congress passes a pro-taxpayer bill," Hall said in a call to arms.

Sneaky new tax
Government has figured out that instead of solving congestion, they can manipulate it for a profit (by keeping your free lanes congested and forcing people to pay a premium to get mobility). Politicians are terrified to raise the gas tax, but seem to have no problem imposing tolls on all new capacity to our roads, even on EXISTING lanes that we travel today without tolls.

It costs 1-2 cents per mile to travel a gas tax funded freeway, but anywhere from 20 cents a mile up to 75 cents per mile to use a toll lane (depending on whether its publicly or privately run), greatly increasing the cost to travel when motorists are already being hit hard by escalating gas prices. A gas tax funded road costs PENNIES a day versus a toll road that costs DOLLARS a day and THOUSANDS more in new taxes per year.

The way toll roads are being financed today, all Americans are paying to build them through subsidies of taxpayer money like gas tax, but motorists won't be able to use them without paying a toll, too. So whether a person can afford to take these toll lanes or not, they're paying for them.

"This notion that tolls are user fees is a myth when you look at how heavily they're subsidized by ALL taxpayers. You're also paying for them through a higher cost of goods that gets passed onto consumers," contends Hall.

Selling us out
Both the House and Senate versions of the federal highway bill, dubbed the American Energy & Infrastructure Jobs Act, include public private partnerships (or PPPs) that sell-off our public roads to private corporations in 50-99 year government-sanctioned toll road monopolies. PPPs use heaps of public money to socialize the losses, while they privatize and GUARANTEE profits for the private operators.

Columnist Michelle Malkin calls PPPs 'corporate welfare.' Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were some of the first PPPs and eventually caused the sub-prime mortgage crisis and subsequent $1 trillion dollar taxpayer bailout.

The TIFIA loan program is a major source of funds used to subsidize ill-conceived toll roads that can't pay for themselves, and it's the primary pot of taxpayer money given to these private, foreign corporations seeking to takeover our U.S. highways using public private partnership toll road contracts.

The first TIFIA loan was awarded to a private consortium in a PPP deal on the South Bay Expressway in San Diego. It went bankrupt less than three years later due to traffic projections that were off by over 40,000 cars per day! Taxpayers had to accept a write-down of nearly $80 million of a $172 million federal TIFIA loan in yet another taxpayer bailout for private corporations.

Power to tax in hands of corporations
"The TIFIA loan program is all BORROWED money from the Federal Reserve, so who will have to bailout these toll roads when the cars don't show up as they didn't in San Diego along with other projects across the country? YOU and me, the taxpayer," Hall points out, "Think about it - PPPs give private corporations the power to TAX! They are granted the power to levy unlimited toll taxes on the traveling public - and we can't hold corporations accountable like we can politicians at the ballot box. This is why politicians LOVE PPPs. They get to OUTSOURCE the taxation to their special interest buddies and makes us pay back our own money with interest through tolls."

Rather than get rid of the failed TIFIA loan program, the federal highway bill INCREASES TIFIA funding by nearly TEN times from $100/yr to $1 BILLION/yr. Current law requires the taxpayers to be paid back first, now in the bill as written, private interests would get paid back first and taxpayers would be paid back last.

PPPs also contain non-compete clauses that prohibit or penalize the expansion of free roads surrounding the privatized toll roads, guaranteeing congestion on the free routes. Also, PPP toll contracts allow private entities to benefit from the use of eminent domain, and they result in toll rates as high as 75 cents a mile. That's like adding $15 to every gallon of gas you buy.

TURF is encouraging Americans to contact their members of Congress to make their voices heard. They want the Hutchison-Canseco Amendment to prevent existing FREE lanes from being tolled, and to remove PPPs and TIFIA from the bill.

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.

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

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

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

Texas private property rights threatened by Keystone XL Pipeline

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grassroots declare victory & issue warning over election results

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TURF does victory lap over defeat of Prop 4

TURF celebrates victory over Prop 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


# # #
  ___________________________________________________________________________ Link to article here.

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

The Associated Press
Published:08 November 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

TURF urges voters to defeat Prop 4 on Nov 8

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Texans celebrate repeal of Trans Texas Corridor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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



Complete list of honorees below.




The 'Stars of Texas' Honorees:

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

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

State Dept holds hearings on controversial TransCanada Keystone pipeline

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The public can submit comments through October 9 here.

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

TURF Report Card for 82nd Legislative Session in 2011

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tolling existing freeways legal or not?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

###


Link to blog here.

Rabblerouser Roundup

A: Roads and Property
Wednesday, 14 September 2011

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

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

Pull the plug on RMA

TURF, Homeowners Taxpayers Association, and others testified before the San Antonio City Council asking them NOT to extend the Alamo RMA's loan another year (the agency is basically in default) and to dissolve them. Read TURF's full testimony below.

Watch what happened...Video unavailable

Dissolve RMA, not keep it on life support

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Taxpayers to officials: Dissolve RMA, not keep it on life support

City to consider move to rescue RMA from default


(San Antonio, TX - Wednesday, August 3, 2011)
The San Antonio City Council will consider extending the City's $500,000 loan to the Alamo RMA (the toll authority) for another year (Item #27 on tomorrow's agenda). The loan was due last year, when it should have gone into default, but the City voted to extend the deadline to this year. Councilman Reed Williams has signaled he may pull it off consent agenda so it can be discussed as a standalone item. TURF will go before the Council to testify against the City extending the loan.

"Keeping the RMA alive guarantees tolls will be charged to drive on our existing roads (281, 1604, I-35, I-10...total of 57 projects already on the books), since the RMA's only way to pay this loan back is tolling. Do you or I get spared from going into default if we can't pay our debts? The RMA needs to go into default and be dissolved altogether. Time to cut our losses and get rid of 'em. They're the poster child for government waste," contends Terri Hall, Director of TURF.

WHAT DO WE WANT? The RMA GONE!
According to its most recent financial statement, the RMA is now $51 million in the hole. The only way this will be paid back is tolls. The Alamo RMA touts that hey've built non-toll projects - the 281 superstreet and the southern ramps of the interchange at 281/1604 are currently under construction.

"These projects were a fluke, initially to be done with stimulus money that put them on life support until their first toll project opened, yet the taxpayers already pay TxDOT to build non-toll roads. So the RMA is a colossal WASTE and duplication of efforts," Hall points out.


RMA documents show the cost to build the 4 northern ramps is only $59 million in 2013 dollars. The RMA is only building the southern 4 ramps now, but are charging taxpayers the price for all 8 ramps, $120 million.

"Why are they only building half now? Because they want to toll the northern ramps to tie into the future 281 toll road, which they say won't be ready for clearance until 2013," Hall asserts.

Read more about the interchange RIP-OFF here: http://texasturf.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=633&Itemid=26.

COST ESCALATION A TAXPAYER RIP-OFF
The cost to fix 281 went from a NON-TOLL plan of $100 million in 2004 dollars ($13 million/mile), then up to $202 million (or $26 million/mile) in 2005/2006 when Zachry was going to turn it into a toll road and then hand it to Cintra, (until the AGUA/PET lawsuit stopped it), then up to $475 million (or $61 million/mile) in 2007 when the RMA took control (over a time period when highway costs went way down -- most highway contracts have been coming in under the estimated cost for nearly three years now), and now its most recent estimate is all the way up to $500 million (or $64 million/mile).

The RMA has to add in the cost to acquire the right of way, $85 million, (which TxDOT has a separate account the taxpayers have already paid into with gas taxes to acquire right of way when it's a non-toll project), and another $41 million in "management fees" (again, this does not get added to the cost on a non-toll TxDOT project since taxpayers already pay TxDOT's operating expenses). So at a minimum, it's $126 million more to have the RMA do it than if TxDOT did the project non-toll. All of this added cost will be baked into the price of the toll rate.

"So when the RMA does projects, whether tolled or not, taxpayers pay TWICE for the bureaucracy," reveals Hall.

HOW DISSOLUTION CAN BE DONE
The majority of the RMA Board members are appointed by the county commissioners and county judge, the city council gets one appointee, and Governor Rick Perry appoints the Chair. TURF asked the county commissioners to dissolve the RMA back in 2009.

Here's TURF's testimony before commissioners court when there were three votes to dissolve at commissioners court in 2009:
http://texasturf.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=654&Itemid=26

It didn't happen because the commissioners don't have direct authority to dissolve the agency. According to state law (Transportation Code Chapter 370.331 Subchapter H), the Transportation Commission has to approve voluntary dissolution. However, the county and city control all but one of the appointees and can direct them to do their bidding and the county and city can make their wishes known in no uncertain terms via passage of a resolution. The Alamo RMA was first created by resolution of the county to petition the Transportation Commission to form an RMA (a political subdivision of the state) in 2003. The Commissioners Court can pass a resolution directing their appointees to vote to dissolve the Alamo RMA and to direct the Transportation Commission to do the same.

"Two things. It's a cop-out for both the county and city to say they have no authority over this agency when they appoint the Board. Second, it's real hard for the Transportation Commission to claim RMAs are 'locally controlled' and then ignore the wishes of those who appoint the board members and the Commissioners Court that petitioned to create them in the first place. It's time to change course and politicians change their minds all the time. Getting rid of an UN-elected, wasteful, duplicative government bureaucracy that has the power to levy unlimited toll taxes is in the public's best interest," notes Hall.

Since Alamo RMA Board Member Jim Reed is the City's appointee, the Council can direct Reed by resolution to vote to dissolve the RMA and ask the Commission to concur.

TOLL ROADS IN SEA OF RED INK
While the Alamo RMA has lobbied our local elected officials with promises of surplus revenue from toll roads to fund all their transportation dreams (mass transit, light rail, etc.), reality shows a different picture. A recent story in the Statesman revealed that the Central Texas turnpike system required a $100 million taxpayer BAILOUT, 70% more in subsidies than originally projected. The 183 A project of the Central Texas RMA was projected to have a 9.6% increase in traffic this year and only 1.5% showed up and the CTRMA is having to consider junk bonds to finance its next project because Standard & Poors has considered it too high a credit risk for investment grade bonds. In North Texas, it's system was over $100 million in the hole last year, even with a 32% rate hike! This analysis of 9 toll systems around the country (three of them in Texas) shows only 2 are operating in the black.

"To quote John Adams, facts are stubborn things. The financial viability of toll roads is based on speculation and rosy traffic projections (read about San Diego's South Bay Expressway where the traffic projections were off by 40,000 cars a day and went bankrupt, requiring a taxpayer bailout) that are far from the financial realities of today's cash-strapped commuters struggling to keep gas in their tanks. Rick Perry's grand toll road experiment is a colossal failure of public policy, it's unsustainable, and it's time to pull the plug on the toll road fairy that over-promises and under-delivers," concludes Hall, "A litany of bad financial decisions will have to follow the decision to toll San Antonio roads if we're forced down this path. Where will the money come from locally to cover the debt on these roads when the traffic doesn't show up? Local government can't dip into the state's gas taxes to plug its hole as TxDOT did. Property tax increases, sales tax increases? Will those tax increases be any more popular with voters than tolls? I think not."

Watch the YouTube of how RMA Chair Bill Thornton treats concerned citizens during public comment: http://texasturf.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1114&Itemid=2

Chance to fix Hwy 281 without tolls

IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Chance to fix 281 without tolls
MPO to vote on Prop 12 allocation Monday

(San Antonio, TX, July 21, 2011) The 82nd Texas Legislature authorized the remaining $3 billion in Prop 12 bonds to be issued for road and bridge projects. The MPO will be voting on which projects will receive Prop 12 money at its policy board meeting on Monday. The criteria for Prop 12 money is that it must fund a project listed in the top 50 of the 100 Most Congested Roadways list.

Here's a link to the 100 Most Congested Roadways list where US 281 is #38:
http://apps.dot.state.tx.us/apps/rider56/list.htm

Loop 1604 from SH 16 to FM 471, US 281 north of Loop 1604, and two segments of I-35 (from Loop 353 to 281 and from FM 1518 to Loop 1604) would meet that criteria.

“We know all of these projects are important and need to be addressed. The question is, in what order? We're asking the MPO to allocate Prop 12 money to US 281 first since it was previously funded with gas taxes for 7 years in the MPO's plan before they spent it elsewhere, and thousands of San Antonians have repeatedly asked that it be done without tolls,” advocates Terri Hall, Founder/Director of TURF.

Rep. Lyle Larson served on the MPO when he was a Bexar County Commissioner and said that projects that were previously funded that get bumped for any reason should be the first ones funded again when money becomes available. Since US 281 already had funding identified in MPO plans from roughly 2001 to 2008, TURF believes it ought to be the first project in the pipeline to receive Prop 12 funds now. As with Wurzbach Pkwy that was previously identified to be tolled and then reverted back to a non-toll project when stimulus money and Prop14 money was made available, US 281 can be done the same way (even if only a portion of the 8 miles can be done now). In fact, many MPO board members, like Bexar County Commissioner Kevin Wolff, have stated they would do exactly that if funds became available, and the opportunity is here.

MPO staff, including some county staff, will be meeting today to decide which projects to recommend. TxDOT, the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority (ARMA), and MPO staff have been seeking to allocate Prop 12 funds for the ARMA's I-35 toll project above funding non-toll improvements to 281 and 1604. Many taxpayers, including TURF, object to taxpayer money like Prop 12 being used to subsidize toll projects (it's a DOUBLE TAX the same as tolling existing roads that have been paid for).

Of course, TURF has long advocated that US 281 be fixed and kept a FREEway without tolls. TURF wants this Prop 12 money to go strictly to non-toll overpasses and improvements on 281and not to be used to subsidize the ARMA's toll plan. Several TURF supporters sit on the ARMA's Community Advisory Group for the 281 environmental study and believe the study could easily be completed by next year, especially if the controversial toll plan that requires a deeper study of impacts (especially economic impacts) is dropped.

Tolls in perpetuity now law
RMAs got their every wish granted this session under the moniker of ‘local control.’ Two bills in particular, HB 1112 and SB 19, represent a huge policy shift away from traditional turnpikes where the toll comes off the road when it’s paid for to granting authority to keep tolls in place to fund other projects. HB 1112 by Rep. Larry Phillips allows toll entities, in effect, to toll in perpetuity by keeping the tolls in place after the road is paid for.

SB 19 by Sen. Robert Nichols, known as the ‘primacy’ bill, gives toll entities the right of first refusal on all toll projects in its jurisdiction. However, when toll entities exercise a right of first refusal, under Nichols’ bill, they also get development rights for ALL future segments of the project. SB 19 also grants toll entities ownership of the road in perpetuity. This virtually guarantees tolls will be charged in perpetuity and that these projects will be never become non-toll roads. These effectively grant a limitless power to tax to UN-elected toll entities.

Robin Hood tax grab

Some have dubbed this practice known as ‘system financing’ as Robin Hood since it steals toll taxes from one corridor and pledges it to another corridor (that those same users may not use). It can also involve increasing the toll on one segment to gain ‘surplus revenue’ to pledge to another project and so on, making it impossible to take tolls off the original road. The Texas Constitution currently prohibits perpetuities in Art I, Sec. 26, though Sen. Chris Harris advanced a Constitutional amendment, SJR 13 (which died in the Calendars Committee in the House), to change that.

Toll authorities even got the right to conduct their own environmental studies, which is like the fox guarding the henhouse, ensuring the preferred alternative is always a toll road, not a free road.
MPO plans contain 57 toll projects for Bexar County

Few realize the MPO’s long-range plan contains 57 toll projects, 18 of them slated to come under foreign control using controversial private toll contracts called Comprehensive Development Agreements (or CDAs).

The grassroots defeated CDAs during a special called session of the Texas legislature in July 2009, but the 82nd legislature re-authorized the controversial contracts over the loud opposition of over 100 grassroots groups -- across the gamut from tea parties and libertarians to environmental and public interest groups earlier this summer.

TURF has alerted the grassroots to urge the MPO to:

1) Allocate Prop 12 tax money to fix 281 WITHOUT TOLLS as promised

2) REMOVE toll roads, particularly CDA toll roads, from its plans.

3) Use traditional funding (gas taxes, vehicle sales taxes, etc.), NOT privatization and tolling Texas roads as the source of funding for these projects.

“We’ve been warning San Antonians for years that Rick Perry has made his toll tax policy so expansive, they won’t be able to escape it. The MPO’s list of 57 toll projects shows how out of touch our politicians are with the economic realities of their constituents. It’s clear this is about more than getting projects built, it’s an all-out assault on our freedom to travel by making it unaffordable to drive. I haven’t met a single Texan outside the Capitol that thinks it’s a good idea to cede control of our Texas roads to foreign companies,” observes Hall.

As an example of just what a taxpayer disaster it is to hand control of our public roads to private, foreign toll operators using CDAs, drivers on a road operated by Spain-based Cintra (who has won three Texas contracts already) in Canada receive their first bill totaling thousands of dollars in fines years after they supposedly took the tollway. The government has no power to step-in and protect motorists from runaway taxation nor disputed toll fines.

A sample list of toll projects in the MPO’s plans:

-Hwy 90 (from 410 to 211)
- I-10 (from 410 to county line)
- Loop 1604 (the entire loop, not just the northern half currently under development by ARMA)
-281 (from 1604 to Comal County line)
-I-37 (from 410 south to Atascosa County line)
- Bandera Rd (from 410 to 1604 still appears despite amendment to remove it)
- interchange at I-10 & 1604
- interchange at 281 & 1604 (northbound ramps)
- interchange at 1604 & 151
- interchange at 1604 & 90
- interchange at 1604 & 1-35
- interchange at I-35 & 410
- Kelly Pkwy/Spur 371 (US 90 to SH 16)
ALL of I-35 (from Atascosa to Comal County line)

Coalition protests Grand Pkwy tollway gas tax subsidy

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

###

_____________________________________________________________________________________

MEDIA ADVISORY
For immediate release

May 24, 2011
Contact:  Robin Holzer, Board chair


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

###


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

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

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

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

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

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

Donate Now

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