Saturday, July 14, 2007

Truckers say DOT deserves failing grade on safety and security of highways

By OOIDA - June 20, 2007
(Grain Valley, MO) – According to the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA), the Department of Transportation gets an “F” for its performance when it comes to the safety and security of our nation’s highways. The Association stood alongside safety advocate groups at a press conference in Washington, D.C. today as they issued a “report card” and research study detailing how the Bush administration is defying Congress with the U.S. DOT’s attempt to open the border to trucks from Mexico.

The OOIDA believes the U.S. Department of Transportation has failed to comply with the requirements outlined and signed into law regarding the Mexico cross border program, disregarding the safety and security of U.S. highways. The Association has protested against the pilot program for several months. (Call to Action – Cross Border Program)

“Secretary Peters claims truckers from Mexico will be subject to the same regulations as U.S. drivers, yet she has never said how this will be done,” states OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer. “These regulations don’t exist in Mexico. Enforcement of stringent hours of service regulations are meaningless if a Mexican driver has been awake for a week straight when he reaches the U.S. border,” he adds.

Safety and security as a priority was indeed recognized by the U.S. House of Representatives last month when it passed the Safe American Roads Act. This legislation laid out specific safety and security measures that must be in place before the border could open. It passed by an overwhelming 411-3 margin.

“However, apparently the Bush DOT chose to thumb its nose at the Congress and at the will of the American people by pursuing its global economic agenda,” added Spencer.

A new poll by the Lake Research Partners research firm reveals strong opinions on the idea of allowing trucks from Mexico to travel beyond the current commercial zones, extending 20 to 30 miles along the U.S.-Mexico border. One thousand adult, American citizens were polled and it was found that a majority (56 percent) believes the Bush administration’s plan to allow Mexico-domiciled trucks to travel throughout the United States is dangerous.

The “report card” announced at the conference also pointed out legal provisions that the FMCSA has not complied with, including: failure to provide sufficient opportunity for public notice and comments; failure to provide the public with information about the pilot project; failure to comply with the requirements of §350 of the FY2002 DOT Appropriations Act on the safety of cross-border trucking; failure to comply with requirements of the pilot program law to test innovative approaches and alternative regulations under 49 USC §31315(c); failure of FMCSA to keep its promise to check every truck every time for compliance; and failure to establish criteria that are subject to monitoring during the pilot program.

“How can this administration possibly rationalize asking thousands of young men and women in uniform to make the ultimate sacrifice for our nation’s safety and security thousands of miles from home --- and at the same time make our southern border even more porous than it already is?” asks Spencer.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) is the national trade association representing the interests of small-business trucking professionals and professional truck drivers. OOIDA was established in 1973 and is headquartered in the greater Kansas City, Mo. area. The Association currently has more than 153,000 members from all 50 states and Canada.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Opposition to Perry's Toll Road policy bridges political parties and left-right ideologies

By Faith Chatham - July 14, 2007
Crossposted on Epluribusmedia
Shirley Spellerburg is registered to attend the Freedom 21 National Conference this weekend in Dallas. She sent me information on the conference. It features several speakers who have spoken out vehemently against the North American Union and the Trans Texas Corridor. The conference Shirley is registered to attend is sponsored by the Environmental Conservation Organization, American Land Foundation, American Land Rights Association, America Policy Center, The Eagle Forum and other groups. Speakers will include Patrick M. Wood, founder of The August Corporation and former Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution for War and Peace, (Topic: Origin and strategies of the effort to create a North American Union), and Henry Lamb (Topic: NAFTA, CAFTA, the FTAA, and the SPP are converging into the legal structure that is evolving into the North American Union).

Cliff Kincaid, editor of the Accuracy in Media (AIM) Report, will open the conference (Topic: North American Union, challenge to national sovereignty which is materializing without any discussion or debate in Congress.)

Although John Corsi is not listed as a speaker on promo materials for the conference, she forwarded me links to several of his articles. Corsi published an article in November 2006 on the NAFTA Superhighway Tran Texas Corridor as a key issue in the Texas Governor's race. Mr. Corsi wrote an article in Human, a leading Conservative blog, which parallels articles which the DFW-RCC team researched and published on liberal blogs during that election cycle. We tied international players to the push for the Trans Texas Corridor and showed how toll road proponents used non-profit 501s such as Texas High Speed Rail Corp. seminars to sell their transportation/public infrastructure reengineering vision to attendees at transportation seminars and forums. Without reading Mr. Corsi's article (NAFTA Super Highway Debate Inflames Texas Governor's Race) we were writing very similar things about the Trans Texas Corridor as an issue in the 2006 Texas Statewide races. Corsi didn't chronicle the contributions by Zachry to all incumbent Republican Texas state officials (Perry, Dewhurst, Craddick, Combs, Staples, Patterson) as we did.

DFW-RCC (DFW REGIONAL CONCERNED CITIZENS) sprang from a team of researchers who volunteered for down-ticket Democratic challengers during the 2006 Texas election cycle. Hank Gilbert, candidate for Texas Agriculture Commissioner, handed us his excellent research on the TTC and NAIS and challenged us to verify and keep digging. He was the first person who told us about the Kansas City Smart Port. What began as an attempt to understand what Gilbert was talking about at a candidates meet and greet during the primary, evolved into a quest to discover who was behind the movement to reengineer Texas and USA transportation policy.

The biosphere is stratified. Most political blogger visit and write for either left or right blogs. Trolls are detested by both and most bloggers avoid the "opposition camps" blogs. On DFW Regional Concerned Citizens, we are a middle ground issue oriented activist network rather than a pure left or right blog. Recognizing common threats and arriving at the same truths from different directions, activists from the North Central Texas region who voted for different candidates during the last presidential election, agree on the basic facts regarding the Trans Texas Corridor.

I shudder to think of the rhetoric which would emerge if many of the activists on this network were to debate the truth or distortation of fact regarding George W. Bush's military service and/or Mr. Kerry's service during the Viet Nam War. Although we probably agree that this nation under Mr. Bush is not where we think we should be, the activists on this network would probably not trust the same leaders or alternative to get us to a different place. Yet from vastly different vantage points, many of us have arrived at many of the same conclusions. For several years some of us have been writing political commentary about NAFTA and the Trans Texas Corridor (and financial interests behind it).

When Shirley Spellerburg sent me links to Jerome Corsi's articles yesterday, I was astounded at how closely his article NAFTA SUPER HIGHWAY DEBATE INFLAMES TEXAS GOVERNOR'S RACE is a close overlay of the facts our team exposed on Daily Kos, Texas Kaos and Burnt Orange Report in candidates' journals for Hank Gilbert, David Van Os and Fred Head during the 2006 Texas Primary and General Elections!

All three stumped across Texas speaking out vehemently against the erosion of citizen’s rights and misuse of the legislative process to rip property rights from landowners. Gilbert warned of dangers to our nation's food supply from uninspected agriculture imports and the impending loss of hundreds of thousands of acres of this nation's richest farm land to the Trans Texas Corridor toll road. He entered the race when the author of the bill enabling the construction of the Trans Texas Corridor by exercise of eminent domain for private development, Todd Staples, entered the race for Agriculture Commissioner. Staples won the election but Gilbert's warnings and sound reasoning ignited a movement and united citizens on all spectrums of the political "divide."

Corsi is a controversial author. (One of his books was an attack on John Kerry - "Swift Boat Veterans for Peace" during the 2004 Presidential Election.) Although DFW-RCC is a broad based, non-partisan issue oriented network focusing on issues in the 16 county North Central Texas Council of Government (DFW) region, the original group which founded the network would probably have a rather heated discussion with Mr. Corsi on some the premises he presents in that book as fact if we were focusing on the 2004 Presidential Election. Ironically, when we fast-forward to 2006, approaching toll roads and eminent domain for private development in Texas, Mr. Corsi and the original DFW-RCC research team mirror each other on most points!

Rick Perry won reelection with a plurality. He sits a Governor, reelected by the smallest percentage of voters in modern Texas history. I posted excerpts last week on DFW REGIONAL CONCERNED CITIZENS (Follow the Money - Campaign contributions and policy) excerpted from research the DFW-RCC founders published on Grassroots News U Can Use and other Democratic leaning blogs (Daily Kos, Texas Kaos, and Burnt Orange Report) last year. We identified the danger of returning incumbents financed by Zachry (partner of Cintra) to office.

Mr. Corsi appears to have only focused on the top race. We focused on THSRC (Texas High Speed Rail Corp.) and TTI (Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M University) initially. Tracing ties officers of Texas High Speed Rail Corporation have with other non-profit organizations led us to explored NASCO CORRIDOR more thoroughly in 2007. In November 2006 Mr. Corsi named NASCO Corridor as a tool of the North American Union folks.

Corsi wrote on 11/03/2006:
In Texas, the Trans-Texas Corridor (TTC-35) has become a major issue in the gubernatorial campaign where incumbent Republican Gov. Rick Perry is viewed as a chief proponent for building this new, giant toll road parallel to Interstate-35.

This year, three major candidates are contesting Perry: Democrat candidate Chris Bell, Republican-turned-independent Comptroller Carole Keaton Strayhorn, and independent Kinky Friedman. Moving outside traditional party lines, the typically colorful Strayhorn presents herself as “One Tough Grandma.” Strayhorn’s children include Scott McClellan, the former press secretary to President Bush. Kinky Friedman, who aspires to be the Lone Star state’s first Jewish governor, is a 61-year-old country-and-western troubadour who is known by his trademark cowboy hat, mustache with limited goatee, and ever-present cigar.

All three contenders have slammed Perry for advancing TTC-35, a new toll road to be built four football fields wide from Laredo on the Mexican border to the Texas-Oklahoma border south of Oklahoma City. As disclosed by the Texas Department of Transportation, this road, characterized by this author as a “NAFTA Super Highway,” will be financed by Cintra Concesiones de Infraestructuras de Transport, a Spanish investment consortium with ties to Juan Carlos and the ruling family of Spain, and built by San Antonio-based Zachry Construction Co. I have previously documented the extensive campaign contributions made by Cintra-Zachry to the Perry campaign.

Incumbent Under Attack

Each of Perry’s contenders is attacking him (as well as each other), campaigning on a platform opposing TTC-35 construction. Democrat Bell notes that in 2001 as comptroller, Strayhorn recommended that Texas build new toll roads. Bell’s campaign website rails against TTC-35, noting that the road would “destroy almost 1.5 million acres of prime farmland and strip Texas landowners of over 150 square miles of privately owned property.” Bell’s argument strongly suggests graft:

The Trans Texas Corridor is a case study in corruption and cronyism, and one of my first acts as governor would be slamming the brakes on the whole plan and dragging it back into the public light.

Strayhorn’s website is equally emphatic that TTC-35 is a politician’s dream and a citizen’s nightmare:

In this election, there are two sides and one choice – the Austin political establishment and its land-grabbing, secret, foreign-owned tolls versus the people and their desire for freeways. I stand with the people. I will shake Austin up.

A video clip of Strayhorn speaking at a vocal rally opposing TTC-35 can be viewed on the Internet. Here Strayhorn connected TTC-35 to NAFTA by claiming Perry’s super-highway plan amounted to turning “Texas DOT into Euro-DOT.” In her speech to the rally, she also renamed the “Trans Texas Corridor” as “Trans Texas Catastrophe.” Strayhorn called for putting TTC-35 to a referendum, which prompted participants at the rally begin chanting, “Let the People Vote!”

Friedman’s campaign website joins the anti-TTC chorus:

Kinky is opposed to the Trans-Texas Corridor since it relies on toll road construction. He feels that the TTC is a land grab of the ugliest kind, with land being taken from hard-working ranchers and farmers in little towns and villages all over Texas. The people who will ultimately own that land are the same people who own the governor.

Typically, Perry’s campaign website defends TTC-35 as business as normal, just another highway needed to accommodate the state’s growing population and burgeoning economy:

Texas’ rapid population and commerce growth has strained our highway and rail systems to their limit. Rather than taking decades to expand these important corridors a little bit at a time, Governor Perry developed the Trans Texas Corridor plan. The Corridor plan allows the state to build needed corridors much more quickly and without a tax increase.

This past summer, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) held a series of final public hearings proposing the final route choices for TTC-35. Thousands of Texas residents showed up at these hearings to protest TTC-35, not realizing that the only question at issue was the specific route, not whether the super highway would be built. TxDOT has proceeded with a resolve to begin construction in 2007, as if TTC-35 were a “done deal,” regardless how much public outcry is heard in opposition. Ironically, since the Texas gubernatorial race is a plurality contest, Perry could win even if a majority of the votes go to a combination of his three opposition candidates. Thus, unless Texas voters opposed to TTC-35 are able to focus on one opposition candidate, Perry could win even if his TTC-35 plan is opposed by a majority of Texas voters.

Sal Costello, founder of the and vocal opponent of TTC-35, has led the Internet charge against the proposed super highway. The has produced two television commercials supporting the group’s endorsement of Strayhorn in the governor’s race. One commercial proclaims, “If you liked the Dubai Ports deal, you will love the TTC land grab,” while the other presents a cartoon figure of Perry who announces, “You will love my TTC land grab. It turns your property into foreign profits.” The ads have been aired thanks to People for Efficient Transportation PAC, a group which Costello also founded .

David Stall, another opponent of TTC-35, has created, a website dedicated to disclosing information that TxDOT has not fully disclosed, including arguments contesting the ability of TxDOT to utilize eminent domain under the recent Supreme Court case Kelo v. City of New London to grab more than half a million acres of Texas private property and displace up to 1 million Texans from their homes, businesses, ranches, and farms in the process of building out the full 4,000-mile TTC network planned to crisscross the landscape throughout Texas.

A documentary opposing TTC-35, titled “Truth Be Tolled,” was premiered at the Austin Film Festival on October 26. Austin talk-radio host Alex Jones, an outspoken opponent of TTC-35, has archived videos of his in-studio radio interviews with both Sal Costello and David Stall.

A group of citizens in central Texas have formed an organization known as the Blackland Coalition, which has also created a PAC that is running newspaper ads in Texas opposing TTC-35.

Bloggers Ask Questions

While the mainstream media have largely ignored the issue super highway toll roads, bloggers in Texas have even picked up an issue HUMAN EVENTS first developed, namely that trade organizations such as North America’s Super Corridor Coalition (NASCO) have been supporting NAFTA super highways through endorsing the activity of their members, including TxDOT.

In an interview with the author, Todd Spencer, the executive vice president of the 145,000 member Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, openly opposes TTC-35 on behalf of the group’s 145,000 members who operate more than 240,000 individual heavy-duty tucks and small truck fleets throughout the U.S. and Canada. Spencer argues that the real purpose of the TTC-35 project is to open Mexican ports, such as Lázaro Cárdenas, so Mexican trucks can transport Chinese under-market goods into the U.S. at a reduced transportation cost.

“We are also concerned about security. There’s no reason to think that just because there’s a Mexican customs office in Kansas City that all Mexican drivers on the Trans Texas Corridor will stay on the route. The Mexican trucks will get off the TTC and go lots of other places and there won’t be anything meaningful to stop them.”

Spencer fully expects TxDOT to make the TTC-35 toll road attractive by setting high speed limits, in the range of 75 to 80 miles per hour. Noting that TxDOT is planning on charging up to 40 cents per mile as a toll for trucks, Spencer commented that this was equivalent to charging an extra $2.40 a gallon in additional fuel taxes.

“Once the TTC is built,” Mr. Spencer commented, “TxDOT will attempt to force people to use the toll road.” How? “Simple,” Spencer responded, “just watch, once TTC-35 is completed, TxDOT will begin maintaining I-35 a lot less. You can count on Cintra to enforce a ‘no-compete clause’ that is designed to prevent TxDOT from building an alternative road or even improving I-35.”

Congress Gets Involved

Just this week, Rep. Ron Paul (R.-Tex.) entered the TTC-35 debate, writing in his weekly column to express his opposition to the super highway. Paul expressed constitutional concerns over TTC-35:

By now many Texans have heard about the proposed “NAFTA Superhighway,” which is also referred to as the trans-Texas corridor. What you may not know is the extent to which plans for such a superhighway are moving forward without congressional oversight or media attention.

Paul has decided to co-sponsor H.C. Res. 487, introduced in the House by Rep. Virgil Goode (R.-Va.) on September 28. The resolution is co-sponsored by Representatives Tom Tancredo (R.-Colo.) and Walter Jones (R.-N.C.). It asks the House to not engage in the construction of NAFTA super-highways and to oppose entering into a European Union-style North American Union (NAU) with Mexico and Canada.

Corsi concludes his article with an appeal for the Conservative Caucus. Many of the activists on this forum disagree on how immigration should be handled in this nation and amnesty. Some favor tactics such as those voted by the Farmers Branch City Commission while others of us deplore them as being racists. We recognize that the exercise of eminent domain for private profit is an evil to be confronted; we recognize that our nation's immigration policy is broken but are widely divided on potential solutions. On immigration we are like a blind family with animal in the living room. Some are examining the tail and other the head. Some smell the posterior and others have climbed on top for a ride. We all seem to be insisting that our viewpoint of the critter is the whole story and few grasp the size, diversity of parts, or essence of the whole, are can accurately distinguish between whether it is an elephant or a llama before proposing how everybody should deal with the critter. Priorities vary depending on whether you are riding the animal, farming the animal, petting the animal or are positioned at its rear-end!

Sometimes history (or our perception of history) prevents us from joining others who agree with us on specific issues in working toward solutions for today's problems. Frequently, when we are very invested in a vision or a cause, and others disagree with our world view, we discount all they think or say. When we put our thoughts and opinion on paper and publish them, they remain a chord which can separate or unify others to our current causes/ opinions. I frequently fail to listen to what people are actually saying because I have a perception of what I think they think!

Frequently, when an entire culture, life and death, or our entire way of life, is involved, citizens from various cultures unite. In Eastern Europe on one of my academic trips abroad, several speakers in different countries used the same phrase: "My enemy’s enemy is my friend." I prefer to think that we can build coalitions based on mutual consensus.

DFW-RCC came from a network of friends collaborating on research on toll roads, CDAs, eminent domain and the influence of large campaign donors in the political process. It has evolved into a network of a much more diverse group of citizens, who function largely as a "think tank" information/ activist network. As we are coming together and digging deeper into issues, we realize that there are many areas where we do not share the same viewpoints or objective. We are also discovering that there are many other areas where we were on the same page working in different "sandboxes" working with common objectives.

At the bottom of the DFW-RCC site is a U-TUBE Video link to campaign footage of David Van Os and Hank Gilbert during the 2006 race. Neither of them were elected to the offices they sought. That footage is kept at the bottom of the DFW-RCC site because it serves as a reminder that nothing we write there is truly original or our own. Other Texans' stepped up to the plate long before DFW-RCC was formed. They put their lifesavings and invested several years of their lives traveling Texas speaking out against political corruption, favoritism and cronyism in government. They fought for the constitution of this state and nation and for the right of every citizen to agree or disagree with them. Although neither were elected to office, they focused the debate and unified citizens from diverse camps on the issues. Hank Gilbert rode in on the Trans Texas Corridor /NAFTA highway issue long before any of the candidates for Governor took up the torch. Fred Head and David Van Os and other candidates joined him on the stump. What began as a political campaign emerged as a movement. It is still early in the process. Who knows what really will happen when the left and the right and those in the middle actually communicate rather than posture and prejudge! As citizens probe, step back and evaluate, communicate and act, who knows what will emerge from this current challenge.

Dallas Property Taxes double billed for 8,000 property owners

By Tom Blackwell - July 13, 2007
While the Dallas Morning Disconnect complains about Tax Evasion, they have not demanded the resignation of the Republican Tax Assessor-Collector. He has been disconnected for years.

Tax Evasion
County, a simple refund check won't cut it
Dallas Morning News - Friday, July 13, 2007

Taxes are one of life's two great certainties. Tax refunds, though, aren't such a sure thing.

Some homeowners learned this costly lesson when the Dallas County tax office dragged its feet for two long years before telling people they were owed thousands in refunds.

Apparently, the tax man does not giveth – he only taketh away.

A change in state law created confusion for many property owners, and several thousand unknowingly paid their tax bills twice. The county waited months, even years, before making a half-hearted attempt to notify them.

The county's uninspired explanation? Oops.

Officials' claims of computer problems and promises to improve the process simply don't cut it. For most folks, property taxes are no small sum, and a few thousand dollars certainly would have come in handy.

Well, in fairness, the county surely would afford us the same leeway if a computer glitch caused us to pay our property taxes two years late. The county would just ask us to do better next time, right?

Actually, penalties and interest quickly begin accruing when taxpayers have their own "oops" moment. Then the lawyers are called.

So, a brief recap: The county makes a mistake; no big deal. You slip up; you pay dearly.

From the county's perspective, this was a minor error involving about 1 percent of taxpayers each year. But for those 8,000 or more homeowners, this was major.

To add to their woes, some taxpayers were preyed on by out-of-state companies charging hefty fees to retrieve the refunds. If the county had done the bare minimum and notified people in a timely manner, these third-party opportunists would not have been able to cash in.

The county tax office now is scrambling, sending out letters and issuing refund checks. But officials should do more to make things right with homeowners by repaying the refunds – with interest. The county also ought to be on the hook for the fees that companies charged taxpayers.

After all, if the tables were turned, there would be far stiffer penalties to pay.

Read more

Homeowners owed tax refunds
County blames glitch for not sending notices until now

By KEVIN KRAUSE - The Dallas Morning News - Tuesday, July 10, 2007

When Barry Annino received a letter from a Michigan company a few months ago informing him that a government agency owed him thousands of dollars in unclaimed money, he thought it might be a scam.

Mr. Annino, a Dallas real estate investor, reluctantly signed a contract with the company and learned that Dallas County had his money – and that he had mistakenly double paid his property tax bill.

That's when he became angry. Why, he thought, didn't the county inform him about it? And why was he forced to fork over a third of his tax refund check to an out-of-state company to collect?

Mr. Annino is among thousands of Dallas County property owners who unwittingly paid their tax bills twice during the last two years, leaving the tax office with more than $1.7 million in refunds that still needs to be returned.

Dallas County's tax office says computer problems are why it has not been able to send notices informing people of their tax refunds for the last two years – until now.

As a result, businesses have sprung up to take advantage of it, telling homeowners they can get their refunds for a percentage of the money – in some cases as much as half. The companies used Texas' public information law to purchase a database from the tax office and began contacting people who unknowingly had refunds coming to them.

The county tax office is now warning more than 2,000 homeowners who haven't claimed their refunds to ignore these solicitations and send in a form to get their full refunds for free.

'Flat-out lies'

"Some of ... [the solicitations] are just flat-out lies," said Shirley Jacobson, the chief deputy tax assessor-collector. "Our system is up and running now, and we are sending letters, so there shouldn't be any more problems."

Many people who overpaid have requested and received refunds, Ms. Jacobson said. Her office didn't track the total amount of money refunded to taxpayers since 2005.

That was the year a new state law went into effect that required tax offices to send tax statements to property owners as well as to the mortgage companies and tax agents responsible for paying the tax bills for some.

That created confusion for thousands of property owners, who unknowingly sent in duplicate payments.

When they received their tax statements in the mail, many didn't realize their mortgage companies had paid the tax bills from escrow accounts set up during their closings.

In 2005, the county tax office set up a computer refund system called TaxLedge that was supposed to generate letters to the taxpayers, letting them know that they overpaid and that a refund was waiting for them.

All they had to do was fill out a form requesting refunds.

But the computer system was flawed, Ms. Jacobson said. It took more than a year for the county's software vendor to work out all of the problems, she said.

None too pleased

Meanwhile, companies began contacting taxpayers with offers to get them their refunds for a fee.

Mr. Annino, who owns several rental properties, said his accountant mistakenly paid his duplicate tax bill for one of the properties. He said the county should have sent him a certified letter informing him of the overpayment.

"The county should try a little harder," he said. "You don't know about it, and there's no way to find out about it. The burden shouldn't be on me."

Mr. Annino said he agreed to a contract with Trident Financial Inc. of Michigan to find out the source of the roughly $6,000 he was owed. He said he was outraged when he learned it was Dallas County.

"Why are they telling me about this and not the county?" he said.

He said he refused to pay Trident its 35 percent fee because he said the company's letter was deceptive. But he did send the firm $500 for its efforts in letting him know about the money, he said.

Mike Skorija, president of Trident, said his company doesn't contact people until about 16 months after the refunds are due. He said he's providing a needed service because Dallas County, unlike most other counties in the nation, does a poor job of letting people know about the refunds.

"We are not out scamming people whatsoever," he said. "People thank us because they don't know about" the money owed them.

One letter

Dallas County sends only one notification letter and then it keeps the money if there is no response, Mr. Skorija said.

"If you don't respond to that one letter, you're sunk," he said. "We reattach people to money they would otherwise lose."

Sandy Cline, property tax supervisor for the Collin County tax office, said her office doesn't have a backlog of tax refunds because it has notified homeowners of the duplicate statements since 2005.

When people pay the duplicate bill, her office sends two to four notices, letting residents know they have a refund to collect, she said.

"We do the best we can to notify them because we don't want to keep their money," Ms. Cline said.

In cases in which the mortgage company has already paid the tax bill, her office will simply return the homeowner's check to avoid having to cut them a refund check, Ms. Cline said.

Ran out of time

Ms. Jacobson, the Dallas County chief deputy tax assessor, said her office didn't have enough time after the new law went into effect in 2005 to label the tax statements duplicates. But an insert was included in the mailings, telling people why they were getting a duplicate, she said.

Last year's tax statements did indicate they were duplicates and told homeowners not to pay, she said. Still, about 8,000 people sent in payments, Ms. Jacobson said.

If still unclaimed after three years, the money is divided among the various taxing entities, Ms. Jacobson said. Taxpayers can still reclaim the money, but it has to be approved by county commissioners, she said.

Ms. Jacobson said her office has to sell the tax data to the companies that request it because it's public information. But she said she has concerns about misleading information contained in some of the companies' mailings.

It's a variation of another popular scam – charging homeowners a fee to get them a homestead exemption from their local appraisal district, she said. The exemptions are free as long as the property is the owners' principal residence.

WFAA-TV's Chris Heinbaugh contributed to this report.


Dallas County homeowners and property owners who paid their tax bills twice can request a refund by:
• Downloading a refund application at the county tax office's Web site

• Calling the county tax office at 214-653-7811

• Writing the tax office at 500 Elm St., Dallas, Texas 75202

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Follow the money - campaign contributions and policy

By Faith Chatham - July 8, 2007
DFW REGIONAL CONCERNED CITIZENS TRACED ZACHRY FAMILY CAMPAIGN CONTRIBUTIONS IN TEXAS and published them during the 2006 State Election Cyle. Sal Costello of The Austin Toll Party published Top Ten Toller's Contributions to Rick Perry last year on THE MUDRAKER.

As a refresher course, we're republishing them here.
January 30, 2006, Sal Costello said...
Texans For Rick Perry: Contributions by employees and PACs of ONLY the top 10 TxDOT Bidders (up to 5/05 - Total $457,500)

7/25/02 Gafford Ronald Austin Industries $1,000
1/4/04 Teufel Carol Bracewell & Patterson $25
6/3/02 Bracewell & Patterson - PAC $10,000
11/4/03 Bracewell & Patterson - PAC $10,000
12/8/04 Bracewell & Patterson - PAC $10,000
6/28/01 Bracewell & Patterson - PAC $5,000
6/28/01 Bracewell & Patterson - PAC $2,000
6/28/01 Bracewell & Patterson - PAC $1,000
10/20/04 Yerby Philip Chiang Patel & Yerby Inc. $750
12/11/02 Yerby Philip Chiang Patel & Yerby Inc. $500
11/5/03 Yerby Philip Chiang Patel & Yerby Inc. $500
6/14/02 Fluor Corporation California Pac $12,500
6/14/02 Fluor Public Affairs Committee $12,500
9/16/04 Sweet Chad Goldman Sachs & Co. $5,000
6/13/02 Sweet Chad Goldman Sachs & Co. $1,000
4/14/04 Sweet Chad Goldman Sachs & Co. $25
3/13/02 Weisman John & Anne Hunter Industries $10,000
3/13/02 Abrams Jon F J.D. Abrams L.P. $5,000
9/3/02 Abrams Jon F J.D. Abrams L.P. $5,000
11/4/04 Abrams Jace J.D. Abrams L.P. $1,000
11/4/04 Abrams Jon F J.D. Abrams L.P. $1,000
12/11/02 Lockwood, Andrews & Newnam, Inc. PAC$1,000
11/5/03 Lockwood, Andrews & Newnam, Inc. PAC $500
10/20/04 Pate Gerry E. Pate Engineers $1,000
12/11/02 Pate Gerry E. Pate Engineers $1,000
11/5/03 Pate Gerry E. Pate Engineers $500
12/11/04 Davis Kenneth Pate Engineers Inc. $500
2/4/04 Thuss Michael Pate Engineers Inc. $500
10/2/01 Royer James Turner Collie & Braden $5,000
10/20/04 Royer James Turner Collie & Braden $1,000
6/13/02 Vinson & Elkins Texas PAC $35,000
11/17/04 Vinson & Elkins Texas Pac $25,000
11/5/03 Vinson & Elkins Texas Pac $25,000
12/12/02 Vinson & Elkins Texas Pac $10,000
10/2/01 Vinson & Elkins Texas Pac $5,000
3/13/02 Webber Wayne W. W. Webber Inc. $2,500
3/24/04 Webber Wayne W. W. Webber Inc. $2,500
5/24/02 Pitcock James D Williams Brothers Construction $35,000
2/15/02 Pitcock James D Williams Brothers Construction $25,000
3/13/02 Pitcock James D Williams Brothers Construction $25,000
5/30/01 Pitcock James D Williams Brothers Construction $25,000
12/13/02 Pitcock James D Williams Brothers Construction $25,000
6/28/04 Pitcock James D Williams Brothers Construction $25,000
6/20/02 Pitcock Roy Williams Brothers Construction $1,500
11/3/03 Zachry H.B. Zachry Construction Company $25,000
9/19/01 Zachry H.B. Zachry Construction Company $10,000
4/6/04 Zachry H.B. Zachry Construction Company $10,000
7/7/04 Zachry H.B. Zachry Construction Company $10,000
10/7/02 Zachry H.B. Zachry Construction Company $5,000
2/27/04 Zachry H.B. Zachry Construction Company $5,000
10/1/01 Zachry John Zachry Construction Company $5,000
9/19/01 Zachry Jamse Zachry Construction Company $2,500
10/29/03 Zachry David Zachry Construction Company $2,200
11/4/03 Zachry James Zachry Construction Company $2,000
9/25/01 Green Cathy Zachry Construction Company $1,000
7/30/01 Zachry H.B. Zachry Construction Company $1,000
11/4/02 Zachry David Zachry Construction Company $1,000
9/19/01 Zachry John Zachry Construction Company $1,000
11/4/03 Zachry John Zachry Construction Company $1,000
11/14/03 Zachry David Zachry Construction Company $1,000
10/7/02 Zachry John Zachry Construction Company $1,000
11/4/03 Zachry Construction Company - PAC$2,500

DFW RCC's research on the financiers behind the Texas Democratic Party was published on Grassroots News U Can Use
By Faith Chatham - Friday, September 15, 2006

July 31, 2006 on Daily Kos we (DFW RCC bloggers - TXSHARON and FAITH CHATHAM examined the link between Zachry donations to Texas Incumbents and voting patterns). When we tabulated Zachry donations we identified the Zachry donors as:

H.B. Jr.
H.B. Zachry Construction Co.
Tower Life Insurance
Zachry PAC
The Zachry Foundation endowed Texas A&M but I don't think they give money to political candidates.
Maybe this will help.

In 2006, although support of TTC is a strong issue in the Governor and Lt. Governor's races, some of Texas's "downticket Democratic challengers" are the heavy-hitters who are driving home the TTC sword which is proving to be the defining litmus test this year in Texas.
Rick Perry received over $146,000.00 in the past 5 1/2 yaers from Zachry family members, corporations amd PAC. Lt. Governor David Dewhurst accepted $51,000.00 last year from the same donors. Dewhurst was instrumental in smoothing the journey of TTC Toll Road Privatization of Texas Highways legislation through the Senate. Independent Governor Candidate Carole Keeton Stayhorn is assulting Perry's reconrd and support of Toll Roads, and is getting lots of applause from attendees at TxDOT Public Trans Texas Corridor Hearings, yet refuses to return the $13,000.00 she acccepted from Zachry family members and related interests when she ran for her current postion of Comptroller during the last (2004) election cycle.

I haven't cross referenced the folks who are members of the Zachry pac to see how much they have given individually to candidates. When we do that, I'm sure the amount donated by Zachry related folks will go to at least a million in the past 5 1/2 years to Texas officials.
I've only concentrated on Texas rather than Federal officials.
Here's what I was looking for campaign contributions from Zachry Construction, from Zachry family members, Zachary corporations and or their PAC.

We did not identify officers of the Corporation with other surnames. When those are included, the contributions are much higher. Looking at Zachry influence in the process, it was impossible to ignore the generous contributions of Zachry to his alma mater, Texas A&M University.

Texas High Speed Rail Corporation, NASCO CORRIDOR and other non-profit (seeded by generous corporate donors) 501s became the incubator for the "vision" to retool Texas and USA transportation.

I posted this because I've been trying to trace what is the common denominator between the local governmental officials who have been showing up at TTC hearings and bringing signed letters from their city councils and county commissioners endorsing the Trans Texas Corridor "if they incorporate our regional transportation plan." . In Fort Worth we witnessed official after official stand and endorse the TTC with the stipulation that TDOT adopt their local plan. Mayor Mike Moncrief, City of Fort Worth, Kathryn Wilomon representing the City of Arlington, Glen Whitley, Tarrant County Commissioner and County Judge elect who serves as Secretary of the THSRTC were joined by repesentatives from the City of North Richland Hills and others. Citizens were appalled to hear their local elected officials endorse the TTC. There is obviously a VAST DIVIDE between where many of the local officials are and where the people are on this issue. (Note: In Tarrant County representatives for State Rep. Mark Veasey and State Rep. Lon Burnam spoke in opposition to the TTC).

So what was the vehicle(s) which brought these local governmental leaders together?
It appears that participation in local RMA's and in organizations such as the THSRTC and seminars such as the Second Annual Southern Central High Speed Rail Symposium at DFW Hyatt Regency in January 2006 {and NASCO CORRIDOR) seems to be the common meeting ground for many of the local government reps who endorsed the TTC "with the recommendation that TDOT adopt the transportation corridors of the local planners."

In Dallas, there was less unity among local leaders in endorsing the TTC than in Tarrant County.

We traced how the TTC / CDA proponents used non-profit 501s to sell their vision and push for passage of freight friendly legislation and private public partnerships in Texas infrastructure public works projects:

Texas High Speed Rail Transportation Corporation:
The website describes members as "representing some of Texas' most densely-populated and economically vibrant areas." THSRTC website states: "Our growing membership and their designated representatives include the Cities of
College Station

Also members are:
Brazos County
Dallas County
Harris County
Tarrant County
the Port of Houston Authority
American Airlines
Continental Airlines,
Scott & White Hospital

Texas Southern University and the Texas Transportation Institute (TTI located at Texas A&M) serve as significant resource agencies to THSRTC.

The Bush School of Public Affairs at Texas A & M University recently completed a major Capstone Project for the Corporation.

These players along with Kansas City Southern Railroad de Mexico (owning 100% interest in TFM -Mexico Rail), H.B. Zachry Construction Corporation and Citras (a Spanish Corporation which operates toll roads in Canada) are the major players backing the TTC. There are probably (not proven) strong ties between some of KCS RR's Mexican partners and Cintras.

Since 1992 Kansas Southern has acquired transportation corridor rights, and or rail lines, and or major contracts which gives it major control tracks spanning from both coasts of Southern Mexico through the USA to the Pacific Rim of Canada.

In January 2006 a conference (The Second Annual Southern Central High Speed Rail Symposium) was held at the Hyatt Regency DFW in Dallas. The VP of Kansas City Southern Railroad was the dinner speaker and opened the seminar with a presentation showing the milestones the KCS RR has achieved in reaching their goal: To Concentrate and coordinate investments in capacity, facilities, locomotives to capture long-haul business grown between US, Mexico & Pacific-rim markets. They labeled their slides as "KCS The NAFTA RAILROAD" .

This powerpoint presentation is available on line.

It clearly shows that the REASON FOR THE TTC is to ship goods from Mexico straight though Texas to a terminal/hub in Kansas City Mo to Canada. They include slides showing that "Kansas City Southern has now earned its new name: Kansas City Southern de Mexico."

It shows the importance of the STRAIGHT THROUGH TEXAS line. They are currently shipping through Texas but route up to Bloomington IL and the TTC route would give them a straight shot north instead of winding around. Construction of the TTC rail/toll corridor would allow KCS de Mexico to ship directly from ports in Mexico straight through Texas non-stop to a depot in Kansas City, Missouri.

The first person who alerted me that the plan was to ship through Texas to a hub in Kansas City was Hank Gilbert. He's been up to speed on the TTC for some time. He's been traveling and alerting folks that the purpose of taking all this acreage to build this corridor is not to meet the transportation needs of Texans. It's to cut back on the expenses of entities seeking to ship goods from Mexican ports through Texas to Kansas City, Mo where it will be channeled to to points along Kansas City Southern's distribution network. KCS's goal is to dominate transportation in the US, Mexico and Canada.

In Harris County, Judge Robert Eckles who presides over the Harris County Commissioner's Court is chair of the Texas High Speed Rail Transportation Corporation.

We looked at Toller's use of Academic Institutions to promote their reenginnering vision for Texas/USA Transportation:

One particular adcademic institution which was utilized by Zachry was Texas A& M.

In Tarrant, County Commissioner Glen Whitley (County Judge elect), serves as Secretary of the Texas High Speed Rail Transportation Corporation.

In Dallas, Texas Senator John Carona serves as Chairman of the Senate Committee on Transportation and Homeland Security.

From FAST FORWARD, The Monthly Newsletter for the Texas High Speed Rail and Transportation Corporation, March 2006 Newletter:
In February of this year, Senator Carona was appointed Joint Chair of the Study on Transportation Financing by the 79th Legislature. "The members I have appointed are all strong leaders representing diverse parts of the state," Lieutenant Governor Dewhurst aid. "I look forward to working with each of them as we pepare for future transportation funding needs."
The committee will reveiw the state motor fuel tax, the current sources for funding rail transportation projects, adn all other financing options for all modes of transportation. The appointment will give Senator Carona the opportuntiy to influence transportation and homeland security policy throughout the state while ensuring the approach is fair, equitable, and capable of taking Texas safely and securely into the future.

Another Dallas County Leader is Commissioner Maurine Dickey:

From the same issue of Fast Forward:
Dallas County Commissioner Maurine Dickey is a pr-active voice and member of the Texas High Speed Rail Transportation Corporation."


2002: THSRTC was created and officially incorporated by Secretary of State Gwen Shea, with Harris County, College Station, Houston and the Port of Houston as its founding members. By the end of the year the Corporation alerady had one new member, the City of Killeen. IN addition, the Corporation quickly earned the support of the Garrision Commander at Fort Hood, the largest military installation in the United States.

2003: Cities and counties continued joining THSRTC.
..Following the first executive committee meeting, a letter requesting an extension of the South Central Corridor in the reauthorization of TEA-21 was signed. A few months later TxDOT Executive Director Michael Behrens submitted an application for the extension of the South Central Corridor to USDOT Secretary Norman Mineta. A second executive committee meeting took place at the 6th Annual Texas Transportation Summit in Irving. Shortly thereafter a letter was submitted to USDOT Secretary Norman Mineta requesting the selection of the Texas T-Bone as the model for high-speed rail.

2004: 2004 was a great yaer for the Texas High Speed Rial and Transportation Corporation: the Texas T-Bone received key endorsements from the Dallas Morning News and Fort Worth Star Telegram and the U.S. House of Representatives' TEA-LU bill included the extension of the South Central Corridor. By the end of the yar the Corporation passed a resolution allowing universities to join at half the membership cost.

2005: As THSRTC and the Texas T-Bone gained recognition, several educatational institutions offered to conduct research on several high-speed rail related aspects including demographic and environmental impact studies and public policy issues. The list of resource agencies assisting THSRTC includes the George Bush School of Public Policy at A&M University, the Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs at Texas Southern University and the Texas Transportation Institute. 2005 also saw the additon of several new members including Scott & White Hospital and the City of Hillsboro.

2006: 2006 has had an excellent start for THSRTC. The Corporation's Quarterly Meeting on February 17 at Hill College in Hillsboro was a tremendous success with over 50 attendees including 100% of THSRTC membership, representatives from U.S> Congressman Chet Edwards, Texas Senator Kip Averitt and Texas House Representative Jim Pitts. In addition, DFW Airport, Baylor University, HOTCOG, and many others were present. A fact finding mission to France to see the... TGV system is also in the works for Summer 2006.

The March Issue of Fast Forward lists:
CONGRESSIONAL SUPPORTERS: Senators Hutchinson and Cornyn
House Members: Brady, Burgess, Carter, Cueller, Edwards, Gonzalez, Green, Hall, Jackson Lee, Johnson, Marchant, McCaul, Neugebauer, Ortiz, Poe, Sessions
In the January 2006 Issue of Fast Forward:

Profile: United States Congressman Henry Cueller
Representing the people of the 28th Congressional District of Texas since November 2004, Congressman Cuellar is a strong supporter of transportation improvements and high-speed rial in Texas. Durng his short time in the U.S. House of Representatives, Congressman Cuellar has already been able to secure $14 million dollars of transportation projects for his district, which goes from San Marcos all the way down to Laredo.

As a U.S. representative, Congressman Cuellar has been remarkably successful in advancing several amendments to new legislation that will protect individual property rights adn will increase security, technology and manpower at the US-Mexico, among others. He has also created a National Gang Intelligency center at the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and is a leader among Democrats, being the first in his party to support the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA). This trade agreement will have a big economic impact on the 28th District, as millions of dollars in new trade will come through Laredo and the I-35 Corridor.

Representative Cuellar currently serves on bothe the House Budget Committee and the House Agriculture Committee.
Prior to serving in the U.S. House of Representatives, Cuellar served as Secretary of State for the State of Texas and was a member of the Texas Legislature for 14 years.

The 28th Congressional District of Texas serves San Antonio, one of the largest cities.

Several articles -- some rather tongue in cheek were published last year on Grassroots News U Can Use. We expressed concerned over the lack of transparency in the TxDOT bidding process which prevented examination of potential ties between Zachry academic donations and resulting state contracts.

The QUESTION THAT WAS ASKED WAS when does the endowments influence the research outcome? Faith Chatham questioned the impact large corporate donations to academic institutions have on researchers.
By Faith Chatham - Sunday, July 31, 2006 Daily Kos

Does it? Even when you have very valid straight as an arrow procedures, if the Company who underwrites a large part of your department/university's budget -- and I think anyone who loses $10million from their department's budget would sqawk loudly enough about it to make that particular endowment qualify as a significant endowment --- when the endower is a candidate for contracts with the agency which decides who gets the contracts ---
Well I think it is important to throw out that question to University officials IN ALL UNIVERSITIES. When does the private endowments jeporadize the perception of the academic community and the general public about the whether the research is truly INDEPENDENT and UNBIASED.
I've worked on a number of research projects in my day. When you put heart and soul in a project, you want folks to take is seriously. If anyone WONDERS if it is less than INDEPENDENT of financial influence, you are putting the kiss of death on that institute. Right now TTI and Texas A&M need to step back and evaluate how things which are probably occuring independent of each other can raise eyebrows. ESPECIALLY SINCE TDoT IS CONDUCTING THEIR VETTING and NEGOTIATIONS IN THE DARK, NOT COMPLYING WITH PUBLIC MEETING LAWS.

That same day Faith Chatham pointed out:
TOO MUCH MONEY form sources who contract with TTIs major client (TxDOT) CAN BRING THE INDEPENDENCE of the research by TTI into question, even if there is nothing amiss in their research methodology or ethics. Becasue TxDOT is vetting proposals from potential vendors/private partners who are to be on the "short list" for the Trans Texas Corridor project in closed door meetings and rules have been passed exempting these records from discovery or disclosure even by court order and subpoena, there is less opportunity for the public to EXAMINE the records to see what kinds of influence has been exerted by whom (if any) to get Zachry to the top of the short list. When questions arise which cannot be answered easily by examination of the records, it hurts the innocent as well as the guilty.

TTI does a lot of things , Faith Chatham wrote on Daily Kos on July 30, 2006:
We don't know that there is anything amiss there. However, there is a rule of ETHICS in Government. We are to AVOID the APPEARANCE OF A CONFLICT OF INTEREST. This may merely be that a good thing (endowment) came at the same time that the endower got considered by TTI's major client (TDoT) for the biggest construction project in this century.
We have to have a dialogue in academic and governmental circles to see WHAT IS THE BEST WAY to protect the integrity of the research by institutions who are endowed.

Our assessment:
By Faith Chatham - Daily Kos - July 30, 2006
It appears that TTI has a role in selling the concept of multi modal transportation to members of the THSRTC. That organization has at least two officers who are County Judges in major urban centers. TTI was a major player in that organization. THSRTC is also closely linked to TxDOT. So it is interesting to see how this organization has influenced support for the TTC initiative.

In reengineering we are trained to identify the barriers, to identify the sponsors, to identify change agents, to identify stockholders. It appears that TTI and other organizations which promote rail within the governmental and cogs function in part as a reengineering lobby organization using education and symposiums to bring major players who can "buy into the intiative" and endorse and support it.

THSRTC also has strong ties to legislative leaders who can influence funding and change necessary parts of the transportation code. So influence with TxDOT is not the only way that TTI and the Bush School of Public Affairs can influence change to the advantage of A&M's generous corporate endower.

We hit our basic chord - Ethics and Conflict of Interest:
blockquote>THAT IS MORE REASON FOR EXAMINATION OF THE APPEARANCE OF CONFLICT OF INTEREST by the endowment which was accepted by the University.
The researchers don't deserve to come under any UNDESERVED CLOUD.
Right now, with the close relationship between TTI (Texas Transportation Institute), local and regional traffic planning entities who are endorsing the TTC (while most of the citizens of those communities are speaking out against it) and the relationship TTI has with the agency making the decisions about letting contributions with the major endower of the University! The point is that it is NECESSARY TO EXAMINE HOW IT LOOKS.

In ethics, we are told that it is IMPORTANT to avoid the APPEARANCE OF A CONFICT OF INTEREST. There is enough here for the APPEARANCE OF A CONFLICT OF INTEREST to do harm to the University unless the University examines it immediately and sets up guidelines to insure that the researchers remain indenpendent from influence from the endowers.

It is important that TTI not recommend a contractor to TxDOT in one way of the other. If they recommend or influence, they have violated ethical standards in this particular instance because the institution where they work benefits financially from at least one contractor who does business with TxDOT, TTI's number one client.

We pointed out:
There's more than one kind of prairie fire
1. Between elected officials and them that "brung 'em to the dance."
1. Aggie Engineers and Aggie Farmers and Ranchers
3. Historians and Legislators
4. Environmentalists and Legislators and Contractors
5. Grassroots Democrats who are looking at turn-coat money grubbing Democrats in office who are voting with big money interests on the TTX and who received donations from Zachry.
6. Grassroots Republicans who are looking at incumbent Republicans who they helped elect who are supporting TTC and who took money from toll road special interests.
7. Local governments and regional transportation planning entities who are endorsing the TTC and local voters who are mad because their officals are endorsing it without listening to the people.

We had devastating grass fires in much of this state which left thousands of acres of farm/ranch land charred. Much of rural Texas was declared a National Disaster. The TTC is the defining insulting swipe at those same peole. When it is an act of nature (or even arson which got further out of hand) it is devastating. However, the TTC is something that governmental officals are deliberately DOING to the Ranchers/Farmers/ homeowners and tax payers of Texas.

"Remember the Alamo" will be mild compared to the battle cry of "REMEMBER TTTC" before this is over.

On Texas Independence Day in March 2007, Hank Gilbert made good on his campaign promise to organize a march on the State Capitol.

TTC and CDAs are the same issue. Thousands of Texans showed up and testified at the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Transportation TTC Hearing. They brought their tractors, livestock, families and neighbors and rallied on the State Capitol during this two day march on the State Capitol. They spoke out against the TTC land grab and against mandatory animal computer chip ID (NAIS).

Now the battle front has moved from Austin to local and regional governments. Citizens across Texas are monitoring RTC meetings, sitting in on rail relocation meetings at Council of Governments, phoning local elected officials and urging them to be proactive in protecting citizens from land grabs for private development and awarding highway contracts which will cost the citizens much more to use the infrastructure than is necessary.

Diligency, transparency, ethics, and watching who takes the money and how they repay the donors is an ongoing battle. We cannot afford to sleep. Citizens must be informed, weigh the sources of information, and act.

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