Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Does the gas industry threaten your health?


Does the gas industry threaten your health?

Find out at the DISH, TX public meeting: 10/12 at 7pm

Public can discuss new study showing toxic air threats from gas compressor stations

Dear Sharon,

Come to DISH, TX
On Monday, October 12th at 7pm the Town of DISH will hold a public meeting to discuss the findings of recent air quality study commissioned by the Town.

Please attend and spread the word to your friends and neighbors. We need you to show your support for local government and citizens addressing toxic emissions in their community!

Town of DISH public meeting
October 12th at 7 pm
5413 Tim Donald Road
DISH, Texas 76247

Learn about the health risks of gas facilities in your community
The results of DISH's air study revealed high concentrations of carcinogenic and neurotoxin compounds near and on residential properties near the megaplex of compressors stations operating at the corner of Tim Donald and Strader Roads in DISH.

These compressors have multiple engines and support equipment, such as condensate tanks, that emit fugitive toxic emissions. The report also indicated that many of the compounds in the air exceeded the Short-term and Long-term Effects Screening Levels according to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality regulations.

We need your help to support science, public health
Public health and safety may be best served by immediately shutting down these compressors until they can be operated safely with emission controls. However, The Town of DISH is taking tremendous heat from the oil and gas industry, who like Big Tobacco and other industries, are simply belittling valid concerns and studies as "bad science."

We need you to turn out to this meeting and support the efforts of local government and citizens to gather emissions data and hold companies accountable for health impacts!

Thanks,
Jennifer Goldman, EARTHWORKS' Oil & Gas Accountability Project

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Friday, September 11, 2009

Taxpayers get shafted in toll deal with Spanish company

By Terri Hall - San Antonio Transportation Policy Examiner - September 10, 2009
Is there ANY elected official looking out for the taxpayers anymore? So much for taxpayer protections and oversight from Texas Attorney General, Greg Abbott. Even after Abbott held-up several controversial comprehensive development agreements (CDAs, also known as public private partnerships, PPPs) for months declaring them unconstitutional, he recently gave final approval to allow a contract with Spanish toll operator, Cintra, to takeover parts of the LBJ freeway, I-635, in Dallas. The deal will use Dallas Police and Fire Pension System and will charge 75 cents PER MILE to use toll lanes, and even worse, a half a billion in gas taxes will subsidize the deal with Cintra, in a massive DOUBLE TAX scheme.

It's the hefty amount of public money in the deal that caused Abbott to deem it unconstitutional - to have one Legislature bind a future Legislature with its obligations. Wasn't this a major objection to the Wall Street bailouts? Privatizing profits and socializing losses?

Governor Rick Perry, who has grown fond of criticizing Washington, has taken a page out of their playbook and applied it to Texas toll roads. There's a reason these deals are called public private partnerships. The private operators come in and milk the taxpayers by exploiting the government powers of eminent domain and raiding public money to subsidize toll roads that aren't viable otherwise, and they walk away with the profits for a half-century at a time.

CDAs are sweetheart deals that guarantee congestion on free routes through the use of non-compete agreements (which prohibit expanding or building free routes without paying penalties), guarantee 12-19% annual profits, lower the speed limits on surrounding free routes (to drive more traffic to the toll road), and cash-in on taxpayer-backed low interest loans.

The authorization to enter into CDAs expired last week. The grassroots saw to it that such deals were squashed in Perry's special session that attempted re-authorize the contracts that sunset August 31. Many lawmakers took offensive to being called back to Austin for to extend sweetheart deals for private industry.

However, Perry and some sold-out legislators made certain that about a dozen CDAs were excepted out of a moratorium passed in 2007 to allow many CDAs to move forward until 2011, including the LBJ project, I-820 in Tarrant County, Loop 9 in North Texas, the Grand Parkway in Houston area, and both Trans Texas Corridor contracts among others.

As the details of these remaining CDAs are made public, the taxpayers must remain vigilant to require the Attorney General to do his job and protect taxpayers from billions in risky leveraged debt that prices 90% of motorists off our public freeways. The race for the next Governor, Attorney General, and state legislature must keep these CDAs and toll road policies front and center. In every public forum, ask each and every candidate his/her stand on privatized toll roads, the Trans Texas Corridor, and how he/she plans to address transportation funding in the next session.
Read more on San Antonio Policy Examiner

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Southwest Parkway Funding

By Faith Chatham - DFWRCC - August 29, 2009
Funding of Southwest Parkway is still an issues in Texas. Planning for the freeway began in the 1960ies. By the 1990ies it was fully funded. Construction was delayed as some state and county "leaders" "identified it as a good candidate for tolling." As some in Austin began to dream of "creating revenue streams" from some of our public tax-payer financed infrastructure, the citizens of Fort Worth got shafted. A necessary freeway to serve that section of Tarrant county was planned, funded, affordable as a non-toll state highway. With George Bush and Rick Perry in charge, construction was delayed. Local leaders were shown that the only way to get necessary maintenance and expansion of state highways was as private public partnership toll roads. Road maintenance was delayed. Designated highway funds were transferred to other uses in the state budget. Dedicated funds in highway accounts were kept in the state treasury and not appropriated, showing false surpluses while roads all over Texas deteriorated. A crisis in road construction, congestion and air quality was created by planners and elected officials who were "sold on the advantages" of private investments in toll projects. The state and federal highway administration literally turned off the faucet on funding for road and highway and bridge projects to convince local leaders and citizens that there was a crisis in infrastructure maintenance and construction.

Now in 2009 funding of the Southwest Freeway is still being discussed (er red-stamped). Citizens in Fort Worth who paid for the right-of-way with tax money, who paid for the planning with tax money, who paid with their homes, land and businesses and suffered the strain of relocation, will have opportunity to use the Southwest Freeway...that is when they pay a toll.

Yes, it is good that it is nearing completion. It is a crime that those entrusted with the public good chose to rip off the residents of Fort Worth by delaying construction on a fully-funded non-tolled highway because it was "a good candidate for tolling!"

Toll Projects (continued from Minutes of Texas Transportation Commission, Aug. 27, 2009)
b. Tarrant County – Consider the approval of funds to pay certain construction and
right-of-way costs related to the crossing of the Southwest Parkway, a toll project
from I-30 to Altamesa Boulevard in the City of Fort Worth, over the Union Pacific
Railroad’s Davidson Rail Yard in Tarrant County, and to pay a portion of the costs
of a traffic and revenue study prepared for the Southwest Parkway (MO)
By Minute Order 111557 dated October 30, 2008, the commission approved a term sheet authorizing NTTA to develop the Southwest Parkway, subject to NTTA establishing its feasibility. By Minute Order 111889 dated July 30, 2009, the commission approved NTTA’s application for a toll equity grant of $49.87 million to be used to pay for a portion of the right of way and other costs to obtain access to the Davidson Rail Yard. The current order concerns three matters. The first is approval of $45.13 million to be used to pay the balance of the right of way and other costs to obtain access to the Davidson Rail Yard. The payment would be made if NTTA elects not to develop the Southwest Parkway. The second is approval of an amount not to exceed $40 million for the initial construction phase (as provided for in the Formal Agreement of January 2009 with the Union Pacific Railroad) of bridges crossing the Davidson Rail Yard, construction of retaining walls and other structures. The payment would be made provided the department develops the Southwest Parkway. The third is directing the executive director to enter into an agreement with NTTA under which the parties share equally in the costs of the preparation of a traffic and revenue study for Southwest Parkway.

Where to find public notices of Trans Texas Corridor

If you have been looking for public notices regarding the Trans Texas Corridor in the Texas Register as was prescribed by State Law, you probably had a hard time finding them. Those notices, under the Perry Administration, were sometimes posted on the Secretary of State's website. Now the law has been changed to comply with practice since practice did not comply with the law.

From the Minutes of the Texas Transportation Commission, August 27, 2009
Chapter 1 – Management and Chapter 24 – Trans-Texas Corridor (MO)
Amendments to §1.82, Statutory Advisory Committee Operations and
Procedures, §1.84, Statutory Advisory Committees, and §1.85, DepartmentAdvisory Committees (Advisory Committees); and Amendments to §24.13, Corridor Planning and Development (Development of Facilities) The Secretary of State currently publishes open meeting notices on the Secretary's website rather than in the Texas Register. The amendments conform the rules to the Secretary's practice. Due to recent legislation, the amendments also change the composition and selection of the public transportation advisory committee. Finally, the amendments change the rules governing advisory committees to extend committee sunset dates for committees under Chapter 1 and to provide for committee sunset dates for corridor segment committees under Chapter 24.

Despite dire warnings Texas remains attractive to investors

By Faith Chatham - DFW RCC - August 29, 2009
Repeatedly we heard elected officials warn us that refusal to accept Cintra's bid of SH121 would scare off other investors and cripple the Texas economy. This week's report from the Comptroller of Public Accounts shows that Texas, despite the recession, fires and other natural (and unnatural) disasters, remains attractive to investors.

Combs Says Short-Term Note Sale Is Best In Texas History

(AUSTIN) — Texas Comptroller Susan Combs announced that Texas’ highly anticipated sale of $5.5 billion in Tax and Revenue Anticipation Notes (TRANs) achieved an interest rate of 0.48 percent — the lowest rate the state has ever received on its annual sale of short-term notes.

“We had an impressive sale and an excellent interest rate — the best Texas has ever had,” Combs said. “Buyers bid more than $28 billion to obtain a portion of the $5.5 billion in notes Texas offered for sale Tuesday. That is more than five times the amount available for purchase. The high demand for Texas’ high-quality notes drove the interest rate down to its historic low.”

Texas will use the proceeds of the TRAN sale to distribute state funding to public schools early in the upcoming fiscal year and manage its cash flow between the start of the fiscal year and the arrival of tax revenues later in the year.

“The bond rating firms gave our TRANs the highest possible ratings,” Combs said. “The sale shows the financial community’s utmost confidence that Texas is a great investment, and our state government continues to be fiscally responsible by spending taxpayer dollars wisely.”

The TRAN notes sold Tuesday will be repaid Aug. 31, 2010.
By Allen Spelce or R.J. DeSilva - Office of the Comptroller of Public Accounts

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Ted Houghton says I-69 does not connect with Mexico!

By Faith Chatham - DFWRCC - Aug. 27, 2009
I'm posting this UTube clip of Texas Transportation Commissioner Ted Houghton stating that I-69 does not connect to Mexico. I had missed seeing this until this morning. It illustrates how dishonest TxDot and the Texas Transportation Commission has been in the entire process since Gov. Rick Perry and GWB decided to push through the Trans Texas Corridor and private public partnership CD model for highway/public infrastructure construction and operation.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

State lawmakers diverting funds from dedicated accounts to general fund

By Peggy Fikac - Houston Chronicle Austin Bureau - Sunday, August 2, 2009
Dedicated funds diverted to state budget

The billions in levies originally were collected for specific programs

AUSTIN — Nearly $3.7 billion in levies collected for everything from fighting air pollution to helping low-income people with their electric bills to funding trauma care will instead help balance the state's upcoming two-year budget.

The money, for the most part, is collected through fees and fines that legally are dedicated for a particular purpose. If lawmakers do not spend the money on the dedicated purposes, however, the balances become available to spend on other programs.

“It's kind of like having your (household) budget laid out and spending part of your food money on entertainment, or vice versa,” said Dale Craymer, chief economist of the Texas Taxpayers and Research Association, who has worked for a state comptroller, two governors and as the Texas House fiscal analyst. “It's a backdoor way to undedicate the money.”


In some cases, unspent balances in dedicated accounts have grown to hundreds of millions of dollars over years.

For example, the System Benefit Fund has accrued more than $670 million. The program imposes a fee on electricity customers in competitive retail markets, including Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth and most of the Rio Grande Valley, to provide a May-September discount for low-income customers.

Other unspent balances include $331.3 million in the account that reimburses hospitals for uncompensated trauma care. The account is financed by extra fines on drivers for driving while intoxicated and other offenses. A total of $150 million will be allocated during the next two years from the fund, despite hospitals reporting about $225 million in uncompensated trauma care in fiscal 2009 alone.

“I would say it's very important to us that we get that funding, considering the post-hurricane period,” said Jim Parisi, Memorial Hermann's chief business development officer for the southwest market. “If you look at the increased demand for trauma at our Level 1 trauma center, our volumes are dramatically higher. From my perspective, the more money that the Legislature puts into the system, the more likely we'll have more hospitals participating in trauma care.”


An even larger $515.3 million balance will be held in the Texas Emissions Reduction Plan account after $271.7 million is spent on the program in the next two years.

The program, financed in part with a vehicle title fee, funds grants in targeted counties, including Harris and Bexar, to address polluting heavy vehicles and equipment. In the current two-year budget, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality did not have the money to fund about 570 applications asking for $40 million for emissions reductions.

“We're generating funds for a good purpose. We're diverting the funds, without telling people, for general purposes. And then we say we're not taxing. Well, government is lying,” said Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, who called such levies amount to “a tax by misrepresentation.”


Criticism and defense

When it comes to the System Benefit Fund for low-income electric customers, the state will spend $258.9 million during the next two years, according to the state comptroller. It will be an increase from current spending, but Turner said it will be far from enough.

“It's just a sinister way of keeping money intended for the poor in the budget to certify the budget. It is a tax on the poor. And we are doing it because these are individuals that can't afford lobbyists and consultants,” Turner said.


Senate Finance Committee Chairman Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, said he understands the argument, but “if you are going to criticize that, then go tell me what other parts of the budget I'm supposed to cut. … The choice to complain about it is just hot air.”

Alternatives, he said, would be raising general taxes or dipping into the state savings account known as the rainy day fund, which budget-writers expect to need in the future.

“The long and short of it is, we have to do this in order to balance the budget,” Ogden said. “I guess this was the least objectionable of the four alternatives.”


The situation points up a major public policy issue, he said.

“Our tax and revenue system is pretty messed up, and a case can certainly be made for a major overhaul of our tax structure,” Ogden said.


Apart from the general revenue funds, lawmakers did make headway on reducing diversions from a separate account, the gasoline-tax-fueled highway fund — although $1.2 billion still will be diverted from road building.

Progress on the highway fund was among pluses cited by a spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Perry, who signed the budget into law and has spoken for spending dedicated fees for their intended purpose or eliminating them.

Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, former House Appropriations Committee chairman, described the unspent accounts as “kind of a safety net” to ensure the state comptroller can certify the budget as balanced.

“I think it's fiscally responsible. … It's not always prudent to spend all your money just because you collected it,” Chisum said. “It is a shell game, but you know, life's a shell game. We just can't deficit spend.”
Read more in the Houston Chronicle

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

MACQUARIE Infrastructure Group considers selling US assets

By Iain McDonald - The Australian - July 09, 2009

MIG to help holders of its securities

MACQUARIE Infrastructure Group is considering ways to help security holders, amid speculation of radical changes for the toll road owner as it grapples with high debt and some poorly performing assets.

"In response to a request from the ASX regarding market speculation, MIG advises that it is reviewing options which seek to enhance security-holder value," it said.


"The decision has been made by the MIG boards in respect of any of these options."


MIG had said previously that it was considering asset sales to boost shareholder value so the fund's use of the word "options" indicated it was considering other measures.

Analysts have speculated recently on a broad range of options for MIG, including a capital raising.

One close source said the choices being considered by the fund were not as broad as those flagged by analysts.

According to MIG, it would update the market no later than its full-year results briefing on August 20. The fund's securities closed down 6.3 per cent, or 9c, at $1.26 yesterday.

In the latest research note, Merrill Lynch analysts say MIG's gearing is too high and Australian fund managers view the listed fund as below investment grade.

They say the ratio of net debt to earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation needs to fall from 14.4 to about nine, and to get there MIG could give away its US assets, sell its remaining 25 per cent stake in Sydney's Westlink toll road and carry out a discounted rights issue to raise between $1.6billion and $2bn.

"We can't see a solution that doesn't involve a recapitalisation via some form of capital raising," Merrill Lynch's Matthew Spence, David Porter and Simon Chan say.


The overhaul suggestions are the latest in a string of proposals and speculation among analysts, traders and local media about the outlook for MIG, one of Macquarie Group's listed funds.

UBS analysts said in May that MIG's US assets, including the Chicago Skyway, Indiana Toll road and Dulles Greenway, could be sold for a nominal amount to remove fear among investors that the fund might have to pump additional equity into the US assets.

The problem with the US assets is that the debt taken on to buy the roads was too high, given the performance of the assets since they were purchased, according to Merrill Lynch. "Given this dismal view of the US portfolio is largely held across the market, in order for MIG to re-rate, we believe they need to get rid of the US assets," the Merrill Lynch analysts said. "We don't think it matters who takes them, given the nominal equity value."

In June, Macquarie Infrastructure changed its distribution policy so that future distributions will be based on cash flow. Previously, surplus funds were used to supplement cash flow when paying distributions.

It paid distributions of 10c per stapled security in the first and second half of last fiscal year but Merrill Lynch expects distribution of just 4c this fiscal year, which started July 1.

Macquarie Infrastructure first said it would look at selling other assets when it announced the sale of its interest in Westlink last December.
Read more in the Australian

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Cities Lose Out on Road Funds From Federal Stimulus

By MICHAEL COOPER and GRIFF PALMER - The New York Times - July 8, 2009
Two-thirds of the country lives in large metropolitan areas, home to the nation’s worst traffic jams and some of its oldest roads and bridges. But cities and their surrounding regions are getting far less than two-thirds of federal transportation stimulus money.

According to an analysis by The New York Times of 5,274 transportation projects approved so far — the most complete look yet at how states plan to spend their stimulus money — the 100 largest metropolitan areas are getting less than half the money from the biggest pot of transportation stimulus money. In many cases, they have lost a tug of war with state lawmakers that urban advocates say could hurt the nation’s economic engines.

The stimulus law provided $26.6 billion for highways, bridges and other transportation projects, but left the decision on how to spend most of it to the states, which have a long history of giving short shrift to major metropolitan areas when it comes to dividing federal transportation money. Now that all 50 states have beat a June 30 deadline by winning approval for projects that will use more than half of that transportation money, worth $16.4 billion, it is clear that the stimulus program will continue that pattern of spending disproportionately on rural areas.

“If we’re trying to recover the nation’s economy, we should be focusing where the economy is, which is in these large areas,” said Robert Puentes, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program, which advocates more targeted spending. “But states take this peanut-butter approach, taking the dollars and spreading them around very thinly, rather than taking the dollars and concentrating them where the most complex transportation problems are.”

The 100 largest metropolitan areas also contribute three-quarters of the nation’s economic activity, and one consequence of that is monumental traffic jams. A study of congestion in urban areas released Wednesday by the Texas Transportation Institute found that traffic jams in 2007 cost urban Americans 2.8 billion gallons of wasted gas and 4.2 billion hours of lost time.

The Times analysis shows that a little more than half of the stimulus money will be spent on “pavement improvement” projects, mostly repaving rutted and potholed roads. Nearly one-tenth of it will be spent to fix or replace bridges. More than a quarter of the money will be spent to widen roads or build new roads or bridges.

But the projects also offered vivid evidence that metropolitan areas are losing the struggle for stimulus money. Seattle found itself shut out when lawmakers in the State of Washington divided the first pot of stimulus money. Missouri has directed nearly half its money to 89 small counties which, together, make up only a quarter of the state’s population. The United States Conference of Mayors, which did its own analysis of different data last month, concluded that the nation’s metropolitan areas were being “shortchanged.”

Pat McCrory, the mayor of Charlotte, N.C., said his city “did pretty terrible” when it came to getting money. Of the $423 million in projects approved so far in North Carolina, only $7.8 million is going to Mecklenburg County, the state’s most populous county and the home of Charlotte.

Cleveland was initially promised $200 million of Ohio’s stimulus money to help build a five-lane bridge to replace the 50-year-old Innerbelt Bridge, which is so deteriorated that officials banned heavy truck traffic on it last fall. But state officials, worried about meeting federal deadlines, took back $115 million in stimulus money and decided to use it on shovel-ready projects elsewhere.

The state promised to find another source of money for the bridge project, but now Ohio’s largest stimulus project is the $150 million it is spending to build the Nelsonville Bypass in southeastern Ohio, which officials say will alleviate a bottleneck and improve transportation to Appalachia.

Transportation experts said the stimulus was drawing attention to a longstanding trend.

“We have a long history of shortchanging cities and metropolitan areas and allocating transportation money to places where few people live,” said Owen D. Gutfreund, an assistant professor of urban planning at the City University of New York who wrote “20th Century Sprawl: Highways and the Reshaping of the American Landscape” (Oxford University Press, 2004).


Professor Gutfreund said that in some states the distribution was driven by statehouse politics, with money spread to the districts of as many lawmakers as possible, or given out as political favors. In others, he said, the money is distributed by formulas that favor rural areas or that give priority to state-owned roads, often found far outside of urban areas.

Mayors had lobbied Congress to send the money directly to cities, but in the end, 70 percent of the money was sent to the states to be divided, and 30 percent was sent to metropolitan planning organizations, which represent the local governments in many metropolitan areas.

Those organizations were not bound by the June 30 deadline for getting their projects approved, so metropolitan areas could eventually see their share of the transportation money go up. Other pots of money in the transportation bill stand to benefit metropolitan areas more, including the $8.4 billion for mass transit and the $1.5 billion that the federal Department of Transportation can award to projects of national or regional importance.

Some cities have been delayed in winning approval for their projects. New York City is expecting $261 million of the highway stimulus money. It had hoped to start work in May on its biggest project, a $175 million rehabilitation of the St. George Ferry Terminal in Staten Island, but the project has yet to win approval.

Transportation is currently a hot topic in Washington, where Congress plans to pass a new six-year transportation law within the next year and a half. Washington’s difficulty in directing its transportation aid has led to calls for a national infrastructure bank, which would rank projects and help them get financed.

Obama administration officials, who have called for ending sprawl and making sure that federal transportation spending is cost-effective, say they are looking at how states are spending the money from the stimulus law, officially called the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, to learn about the strengths and weaknesses of the current system.

“The transparency that comes with Recovery Act funds is letting us see what’s happening in real time, and that’s a good thing,” said Roy Kienitz, an under secretary of transportation for policy. “Understanding where recovery dollars go and why will help us determine how to shape long-term transportation policies with the goal of getting the most benefit for every dollar.”

Read more in the New York Times

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Toll road item may threaten session - Contract protections sought if private leases to remain legal.

By Ben Wear - AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF - Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The spoiler of Gov. Rick Perry's midsummer's dream of a three-day special session could be the "Nichols language."
The consensus seems to be that few problems exist with the first two items on Perry's session "call" — essentially the allowable agenda for the session — that would extend the life of five state agencies, including the Texas Department of Transportation, and allow TxDOT to issue $2 billion in debt.
But there could be trouble with the third and last item, legislation granting a reprieve to a statutory death sentence for private toll road leases.
During the regular session, state Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, carried a bill that would have extended by six years the legal authority for TxDOT and regional mobility authorities to sign what have usually been 50-year contracts with private companies to build and operate (and profit from) tollways on public land. Authority for such leases expires Sept. 1.
The general understanding was that the legislation's final passage was dependent on approval of a separate bill by state Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, that would put limits on such contracts. Both bills passed the House and Senate, either with their original bill numbers or as part of the main TxDOT bill that died late in the session.

The question is, will that linkage still be the case in the special session? Nichols said Monday that it had better be, or the toll road item could end up in the ditch.
"I feel very strongly about it, and so do many" other senators, Nichols said.
Carona said Monday that he could see eliminating at least some of what Nichols had in mind if a toll road lease extension were passed that applied to only a handful of projects for which officials have already decided who — TxDOT or local toll authorities — will be in charge of the projects. That list reportedly includes extending the Texas 130 tollway north from Georgetown to Hillsboro, building the new Interstate 69 from south of Refugio to the Rio Grande Valley and adding toll lanes in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

However, even in those cases, Carona said, "you'd have to have at least put some protections in there."

That would potentially include limiting so-called noncompete clauses in private tollway leases and requiring that the contracts specify what government would pay if it wanted to prematurely end a lease and take over a road. Nichols' Senate Bill 17, among other things, said that noncompete clauses would apply only in a four-mile strip along either side of a toll road built under such a lease.

Noncompete clauses, a common feature in toll road agreements, typically say the government cannot build a free road nearby that would lower usage of the tollway and thus its revenue. Or, if such an adjacent free road were built, then the toll road operator would be entitled to compensation.

So, what would Perry do if something close to SB 17 were attached to the extension legislation in the special session? Some officials said that such an amendment could be determined to be outside the scope of Perry's call. Nichols disagrees with that.
Perry spokeswoman Katherine Cesinger said Perry's staff is talking with Nichols' office to discuss his concerns.

Carona said, "One source in the governor's office indicated that any bill that contained the Nichols language would be vetoed. Another said that's not necessarily so."
Read more in the
Austin American-Statesman

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Perry vetoes bill to prohibit TxDOT’s ad campaigns to sway public opinion in favor of tolling

Citizen lawsuit to stop TxDOT’s taxpayer-funded lobbying to continue
By Terri Hall -TURF.– June 23, 2009

Austin, TX - Governor Rick Perry vetoed HB 2142 (authored by Rep.Ruth McClendon), which could have settled the issue of the Texas Department of Transportation's (TxDOT) misuse of taxpayer money to attempt to sway public opinion in favor of toll roads, particularly privatized toll roads, and the Trans Texas Corridor.

“Governor Perry prefers to pour salt in the wound instead of allow meaningful reform of his highway department that’s run amok and lost the trust of many Texans. The wholesale outrage over TxDOT’s propaganda campaign from taxpayers and lawmakers alike prompted the Legislature to act, and, as is his usual course of action, Perry instead chooses to stick his thumb in Texans’ eyes rather than protect citizens from the abuses of taxpayer-funded lobbying,” concluded Texas TURF Founder Terri Hall.

"Losers" still get paid

To further demonstrate the Governor's (and Legislature's) total disregard for fiscal responsibility when it comes to toll roads, he also signed SB 882 (authored by Sen. John Carona) that EXPANDS payments to LOSING bidders by Regional Mobility Authorities (RMAs) to design-build contracts and allows those payments to exceed $250,000 (which was the cap placed on payments to losing bidders on Comprehensive Developments Agreements in 2007)!

"The mantra in Austin is 'the sky is falling, we have no money for roads,' yet we have money to pay LOSING BIDDERS who won't even build any roads? Wouldn't every other industry that bids on government contracts love this goodie? They didn't pass a bill to continue TxDOT or the Department of Insurance, but they were sure to pass this one," Hall noted.

SB 882 also repeals the prohibitions on Board members and RMA Directors from receiving gifts and contributions, which clearly takes a step backwards and allows conflicts of interest to abound.

Keep Texas Moving dubbed propaganda campaign

Lawmakers studied TxDOT's ad campaign in-depth in the interim between the 2007 and 2009 legislative sessions where even the Director of the Government and Public Affairs Division (GPA), Coby Chaseadmitted in testimony before the State Affairs Committee that “maybe we did overdo it.” Both chambers overwhelmingly passed this bill to send a clear message that TxDOT can only provide public information not crossover into public persuasion on the taxpayers’ dime. As a result of its overreach, the TxDOT sunset bill, HB 300 (which failed to pass), had required the GPA division report directly to the Legislature.

In 2007, TxDOT raised eyebrows when it waged an ad campaign called Keep Texas Moving that clearly tried to change public opinion in favor of Perry’s toll road policies, including hiring registered lobbyists (in excess of $100,000 a month) to get buy-in from local elected officials for the Trans Texas Corridor and persuade members of Congress to allow TxDOT to buy-back existing interstates for the purpose of tolling them. (Read more here.)

TURF vs. TxDOT before the Appeals Court

TURF appeared before the Third District Court of Appeals April 24, 2009, in its lawsuit (TURF vs. Texas Department of Transportation or TxDOT) to halt the misuse of taxpayer money for attempting to sell the public on toll roads. Justices demonstrated they were monitoring the actions of the lawmakers in regards to legislation pertaining to the case and noted that the Legislature had acted. TURF attorney, Charles Riley, pointed out that the public cannot be assured TxDOT has been restrained by proposed legislation since the Governor could still veto it. Unfortunately, Riley was proven right by Perry’s veto Friday. Perry’s veto all but ensures the case will continue.

The lawsuit was brought in September 2007 pursuant to § 37, Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code. TURF believes the law clearly prohibits TxDOT’s expenditure of public funds for the Keep Texas Movingpro-toll, pro-Trans Texas Corridor propaganda campaign.

TxDOT has violated § 556.004 of the Texas Government Code by directing the expenditure of public funds for political advocacy in support of toll roads and the Trans Texas Corridor, and have directly lobbied the United States Congress in favor of additional toll road programs as evidenced in its report, Forward Momentum.

Not a license to lobby the public and elected officials

TxDOT claims it has the authority to advertise and promote toll roads citing Chapter 228.004 of the Transportation Code. However, lawmakers have stated they never intended that law to give license to TxDOT to lobby the public in favor of toll road policy, but rather advertising more akin to “get your Toll Tag here.” Rep. Lois Kolkhorst said in an Express-News article in September 2007, "The Legislature did not tell TxDOT to go on a media campaign explaining the pros of the Trans-Texas Corridor and private equity investment (in toll roads).”

“TxDOT is still waging a one-sided political campaign designed to sway public opinion in favor of the policy that puts money in TxDOT’s own coffers. TxDOT may have ceased hiring outside consultants, but by its own admission, it has instead hired an in-house lobbyist, and its Keep Texas Moving web site and use of Department resources continue to attempt to get buy-in for toll roads from lawmakers and the public alike,” says an incredulous Hall.

On August 22, 2007, TURF filed a formal complaint with the Travis County District Attorney to investigate TxDOT’s illegal lobbying and asked him to prosecute TxDOT for criminal wrongdoing. See the formal complaint here. TURF's petition seeks to stop TxDOT's misuse of taxpayer money in a civil proceeding.

Terri Hall is the Founder of Texas TURF. TURF is a non-partisan grassroots group of citizens concerned about toll road policy

Thursday, June 18, 2009

KUDOS to Dallas Observer for Coverage of Dallas Budget Process

By Faith Chatham - DFWRCC - June 18, 2009
It's refreshing to see reports of an elected official break from "incumbent-speak" and call fee increases what they actually are: "tax increases." Mithcell Rasansky has done it before but this is the first time I've seen it this prominent in a report.

It has happened many more times than it has been reported. I hope it keeps happening more often and I hope reporters will take note and include it in their coverage. Fees are taxes. Tolls are taxes. Ignoring them and excluding them from receipts and tax percentage numbers is shoddy bookkeeping. It is done in attempts to deceive the public.

I don't think most people are that dumb or that gullible. Most people realize the difference between the money they start out with and the money they miss at the end of the day.

The Dallas Observer's coverage captures the "flavor" of City of Dallas Budget meetings. I hope more elected officials on more levels will follow Councilwoman Angela Hunt's example and plug the numbers into spreadsheets. If the numbers given don't add up, demand clarification in terms that the numbers do add up before a vote is taken. If votes are attempted before comprehendable clarification is given, object to the vote in strong enough terms that reporters who dozed off for a minute wake up and take note!

Rasansky Calls Budget "Non-Transparent," Says Increased Fees Are a Tax Increase and Introduces $21.7 Million in Savings

By Sam Merten in News You Can Actually Use, Actually Use - Dallas Observer - Wednesday, Jun. 17 2009

City Manager Mary Suhm, Mayor Tom Leppert and CFO Dave Cook all stressed this morning that the city is facing the same budget challenges as other cities and states. As Cook briefed the city council for the last time before a more detailed budget is presented August 10, he said the more than 700 projected layoffs are expected to begin in August and claimed most other cities are in worse shape as some are laying off police officers, while Dallas plans to hire another 200 officers in the coming fiscal year.

He cited approximately $130 million in declining revenue as the most significant contributor to the $190 million deficit, and said Dallas is using similar methods as other cities to address the shortfall, such as implementing furlough days (which saves Dallas approximately $800,000 per day), closing public buildings and increasing user fees instead of raising taxes.

But, as far as Mitchell Rasansky is concerned, jacking up fees and raising taxes are one in the same. He claimed the proposed increases to utilities are equivalent to a 2.3 cent property tax hike.

"This is a tax increase," Rasansky said. "Anyway you want to look at it, it's a tax increase."


Long known as the council's tax hawk, Rasansky made the most out of his last opportunity to weigh in on the budget before he's replaced on Monday by Ann Margolin, who was in attendance. After thanking Suhm and her staff for their work, he offered some harsh criticism of the proposed budget.

"This is the most non-transparent budget I've ever seen since I've been down here at City Hall," he said.


Rasansky battled Leppert twice because the mayor only gave council members five minutes each to speak, as Rasansky blasted him for not giving him time to explain all of the $21.7 million in cuts he proposed.

He handed out a memo to the council (which you can see below) suggesting the city dip into the "unrealized gain" of $21.2 million in the city's investment pool that won't mature until early 2010. Although he acknowledged the city will lose some dough by cashing in early, he said pulling out $7.5 million would serve to close the gap or fund services on the chopping block.

Also among his nine suggestions is grabbing $10 million from the city's contingency fund that has contained approximately $20 million for the last 20 years and removing $1.5 million from the city's $5 million emergency fund.

Other cost-cutting measures offered up by Rasansky are reducing the Trinity River Corridor Project staff from 15 to eight, combining city bills into the same envelope, selling advertising on the envelopes and charging developers a 1-percent application fee when applying for tax abatements or other incentives.


Angela Hunt said she's confused about why Suhm can't provide council members with line item budgets to assist them in finding cuts and understanding how the money is spent. Suhm said cooking up a line item budget would force city staff to stop work on the budget, and she stressed that the numbers change on a daily basis.

Hunt also asked once again for the budget to be separated into departments, saying her constituents "don't think in terms of key focus areas." She dropped some numbers into an Excel spreadsheet on her own and expressed concern that it appears as though the Public Works and Transportation Department's budget will increase by more than 50 percent from the actual 2007-08 budget.

While it's a rough draft, her document (which was provided to Unfair Park) shows reductions of 73.7 percent to housing and 31.6 percent to libraries compared to the '07-'08 budget, yet the mayor and city council's budget is planning to see a 10.2 increase in funding.

"We've all got to roll up our sleeves on this budget because it's so challenging," she said.


Dave Neumann appeared enamored with Hunt, using her as an example on two separate occasions, once as a hypothetical constituent and another time as a citizen. He also praised her for previous comments when she stressed that the city must focus on providing citizens with core competencies.

"This is not a wish-list year for the budget," he said. "It's an essential-list year."


Dallas Observer

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

DFW has second-worst road rage in nation

BY LEE WILLIAMS - The Fort Worth Star-Telegram - Tue, Jun. 16, 2009
Drivers in Dallas-Fort Worth are rude, angry, distracted and often dangerous.

So much, in fact, that we rank No. 2 among metropolitan areas with the worst road rage, according to a survey released Tuesday by the Affinion Group, a national marketing and consulting firm.

Coming in at No. 1 was New York (big surprise). Detroit was No. 3, followed by Atlanta and Minneapolis-St. Paul. Miami, which had been No. 1 for four years, dropped to No. 7, and Houston, the only other Texas city mentioned, came in at No. 8.

The AutoVantage In the Driver’s Seat Road Rage Survey is based on interviews in the top 25 metro areas in the United States.

"The thing that really drove Dallas-Fort Worth up the list was that drivers were No. 1 for confessing to tailgating, cutting off people . . . and admitting that they talk on their cellphones," said Michael Bush, Affinion’s public relations director.

Those surveyed also said that texting, speeding, eating and putting on makeup led to incidents of road rage.
Read more in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Monday, June 15, 2009

Texas AG Declares North Texas Toll Contracts "legally insufficient"

By MICHAEL A. LINDENBERGER - The Dallas Morning News - Friday, June 12, 2009

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has refused to sign off on the first of two major private toll road projects approved for North Texas earlier this year.
Abbott said provisions in the contract with the Spanish firm Cintra, which is slated to build the North Tarrant Express in Fort Worth and the mid-cities, violate the Texas Constitution and must be amended.

State law gives Abbott the power to hold up the contracts indefinitely if they are not "legally sufficient."

Negotiations between his office and the department have already extended for weeks beyond an initial 60-day deadline.

Cintra has agreed to spend billions in North Texas to build the North Tarrant Express toll road and to rebuild the LBJ Freeway.

But in return, the state department of transportation has pledged more than $1 billion in tax dollars toward the projects. As a result, main lanes on both highways will be free, but Cintra will collect tolls for 52 years on adjacent lanes.

The LBJ Freeway contract has not yet been reviewed, but it is likely to be saddled with the same legal issues.

Abbott said the department's contract for the North Tarrant Express obligates the state to pay $740 million over several years to Cintra.

"The Texas Constitution says that one Legislature cannot financially bind a future Legislature," he said.


The contract must be amended to reflect that any promises for payment are subject to discretion of future sessions of the Legislature, Abbott said.

Any provision that leaves payments from the state subject to future action by the Legislature could give Cintra pause.

TxDOT continues to work to meet Abbott's objections and to settle on terms agreeable to Cintra, spokesman Chris Lippincott said.
Read more in the Dallas Morning News

Lower traffic and toll revenue prompts $108 Million decrease in NTTA 2009 Budget

NTTA Reduces 2009 Budget and Other Expense Estimates
By NTTA - June 15, 2009

Plano, TX – Today, at a meeting of the North Texas Tollway Authority (NTTA) Administration Committee, staff announced it reduced the 2009 budget and other expense estimates by approximately $108 million as a result of a 10.91% decrease in projected revenues for 2009. The revenue projections for 2009 were lowered by the NTTA’s traffic and revenue consultant after they reviewed the traffic numbers for the first four months of 2009.

The reductions were made in the capital improvement, reserve maintenance and feasibility study funds.

“We will continue to monitor the situation and make adjustments where necessary,” said Allen Clemson, the NTTA’s Executive Director. “Despite the reduction, projects such as the Lewisville Lake Toll Bridge, Eastern Extension of the President George Bush Turnpike and construction on the Sam Rayburn Tollway will remain on schedule. We will also continue serving our customers and working hard to meet our commitments to the region.”

Tomorrow, NTTA staff is expected to recommend a toll rate adjustment to the NTTA System Finance and Audit Commitee, including adjusting the rates, reset dates and adopting a distance-based toll.

About the NTTA

The North Texas Tollway Authority, a political subdivision of the state of Texas, is authorized to acquire, construct, maintain, repair and operate turnpike projects in the north Texas region. The nine-member governing board is comprised of Chairman Paul N. Wageman; Vice Chairman Victor Vandergriff; and Directors Kenneth Barr, Gary Base, Bob Day, David Denison, Michael Nowels, Bob Shepard and Alan E. Sims.

The NTTA serves Collin, Dallas, Denton and Tarrant counties and is responsible for the NTTA System, consisting of the Dallas North Tollway, President George Bush Turnpike, Sam Rayburn Tollway, Addison Airport Toll Tunnel, Lewisville Lake Toll Bridge and the Mountain Creek Lake Bridge. The NTTA is able to raise capital for construction projects through the issuance of turnpike revenue bonds. NTTA toll projects are not a part of the state highway system and receive no direct tax funding. Tolls are collected to repay debt and to operate and maintain the roadways.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Trinity toll road delay may extend to 2016

By BRAD WATSOn - WFAA-TV - Monday, June 1, 2009
DALLAS - Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert's goal of finishing the Trinity River toll road by 2014 sank Monday with the announcement that the controversial highway won't be done until perhaps 2016, if then.

Design work will stop while the city spends millions of dollars to study and repair the levees.

Approved by voters in 1998, the latest deadline to open the Trinity toll road in 2014 slipped away just like all the others.

"It will be put off into the 2015, 2016 time frame, and that will be the 20-month delay on it," he said.


The city must spend $29 million to study what levee repairs to make after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers rated the levees flood protection unacceptable.

The Corps found too much erosion, obstacles like trees in the floodway and bridge penetrations in the levees.

The repairs will cost more that the Corps may share. The impact to residential and commercial property owners along the river is immediate.

If the city can't prove to the federal government by early 2011 that the levees are sound or make the repairs then the government will declare Dallas has no flood protection.

"We're saying it’s the prudent thing right now to go ahead get flood insurance when it’s the low rates," Leppert advised property owners.


The delay could push the $1.8-billion toll road past $2 billion.

Critics, like city council member Angela Hunt, said the planned highway between the levees should be dropped from the Trinity project to move ahead with levee and park improvements.

"We've got to untangle these projects so that those projects aren't all delayed by two years because of the delay on the toll road," she said.


But that wouldn't solve the worsening downtown traffic congestion the toll road is to help relieve.

For now, the city and Leppert said they believe the best choice is to press on.

"And we're not going to give up," Leppert said. "There's too much at stake for that.”
Read more on WFAA

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Construction costs should stabalize or decrease: Continuing on a downward trend, the price of construction materials fell 0.4 percent in April 2009

Construction Materials Prices Trend Lower in April

Continuing on a downward trend, the price of construction materials fell 0.4 percent in April 2009, according to the May 14 producer price index (PPI) report by the U.S. Labor Department. On a year-over-year basis, construction input prices dropped 3.7 percent (see graph below).

Asphalt felts and coatings prices dropped 10.5 percent in April, the largest month-over-month decline in 55 years. Prices for fabricated structural metal products fell by 1.0 percent from March making the seventh consecutive montly decline, but are still up 0.7 percent on a year-over-year basis. Fabricated ferrous wire prices decreased 0.7 percent in April while maintaining a year-over-year increase of 2.9 percent.

In contrast, softwood lumber prices increased, for the first time in seven months, by 1.6 percent. Still, year-over-year, softwood lumber prices are down 10.2 percent. Plumbing fixtures and fittings prices rose by 0.5 percent compared to the previous month, and are 1.1 percent higher than a year ago.

Crude energy prices went up by 2.9 percent in April after a 1.6 percent increase in March, driven by an increase in crude petroleum prices of 9.2 percent. Overall, a spike in food costs drove the nation’s wholesale prices up 0.3 percent from March, but prices are still down 3.5 percent on a year-over-year basis.

“Given the weakness of the broader economy, lower construction materials prices are a necessary ingredient to stimulate nonresidential construction in segments not directly impacted by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009," said Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) Chief Economicst Anirban Basu. "It is hoped that producer prices will remain low or continue to decline allowing developers to move ahead with projects, in part, because of limited financing opportunities.


“However, there remains significant debate regarding the recent run-up in oil and other commodity prices. Some believe that this is a reflection of rising inflationary expectations, which are emerging primarily due to a combination of extreme monetary and fiscal stimulus,” added Basu. “Others believe that there are more mundane explanations, including growing seasonal demand for certain commodities and growing confidence in the performance of the global economy as 2010 approaches.

“Whatever the explanatory factors, any consequential increase in construction materials prices would be unfortunate from a broader national perspective,” said Basu. “The nation remains in the midst of a period characterized by substantial infrastructure investment, and rising construction materials prices would ultimately hurt the ability of federal, state and local governments to purchase more infrastructure projects.”


Read more in ABC Associated Builders and Contractors, Inc.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Action Alert- Eyes on the TX Leg: Carona's SB404 Extending CDAs on Toll Roads sent to House Calendar for Vote

Research by Martha Estes - May 19, 2009
Source: Texas Legislature On-Line

House Cmte. Report sent to Calendars 05/19/2009
The HOUSE Transportation Cmte. reported on SB 404 by Carona.

Caption: Relating to the authority of certain toll project entities to enter into a comprehensive development agreement
It will probably appear on a HOUSE calendar very soon.
An analysis is offered below from TLO.

BILL ANALYSIS C.S.S.B. 404 By: Carona
Transportation Committee Report (Substituted)


BACKGROUND AND PURPOSE

H.B. 3588,
Acts of the 78th Legislature, Regular Session, 2003, changes the structure of Texas transportation infrastructure financing by allowing public-private partnerships as a means for developing transportation infrastructure through comprehensive development agreements (CDAs). Chapters 223 and 370, Transportation Code, authorize the use of CDAs; however, the authority provided for under these chapters expires in August 2009. With limited means of funding transportation projects, CDAs are a necessary tool for providing financing for future transportation infrastructure.

C.S.S.B. 404 extends that the authority of the Texas Department of Transportation or a regional mobility authority to enter into comprehensive development agreements, for an additional four years.

RULEMAKING AUTHORITY

It is the committee's opinion that this bill does not expressly grant any additional rulemaking authority to a state officer, department, agency, or institution.

ANALYSIS

C.S.S.B. 404 amends the Transportation Code to postpone from August 31, 2009, to August 31, 2013, the expiration date for the authority of the Texas Department of Transportation or a regional mobility authority to enter into comprehensive development agreements and to postpone from August 31, 2011, to August 31, 2015, the expiration date with respect to certain exempted projects. The bill specifies that its provisions take effect only if S.B. 17 or another similar bill of the 81st Legislature, Regular Session, 2009, relating to the design, development, financing, construction, and operation of certain toll projects, including the determination of the primacy process for local toll project entities, becomes law.

EFFECTIVE DATE


Except as otherwise provided, September 1, 2009.

COMPARISON OF ORIGINAL AND SUBSTITUTE


C.S.S.B. 404 postpones the expiration dates relating to the authority of the Texas Department of Transportation or a regional mobility authority to enter into comprehensive development agreements for four years, rather than six years as in the original.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

ACTON ALERT: TELL LEGISLATURE TO PASS Tx H.B. 15

BILL ANALYSIS (Texas) H.B. 15

By: Leibowitz

Transportation Committee Report (Unamended)

BACKGROUND AND PURPOSE

A metropolitan planning organization (MPO) is an agency created under federal law to provide local input for urban transportation planning and allocating federal transportation funds in cities with a population greater than 50,000. There are twenty-five MPOs in Texas. The largest is the Dallas-Fort Worth MPO and the smallest is the Sherman-Denison MPO. Each MPO receives federal funding for transportation planning. Many receive state andocal funds as well in order to carry out their planning activities.

Transportation planning decisions are made by the policy board of an MPO. This can be as benign as the planning of bike routes in an urban area or as controversial as the construction of toll roads. The policy board of an MPO can be made up of a mix of elected and non-elected officials. Currently, unelected officials, some not even permanent residents of the urban area affected by the MPO they sit on, cast votes on approving the construction of toll roads. Unelected officials who are not accountable to voters should not be allowed to essentially levy a tax on the citizens of a community.

H.B. 15 allows only the elected officials on an MPO policy board to vote on toll road projects.

RULEMAKING AUTHORITY
It is the committee's opinion that this bill does not expressly grant any additional rulemaking authority to a state officer, department, agency, or institution.

ANALYSIS:

H.B. 15 amends the Transportation Code to prohibit a member of the policy board of a metropolitan planning organization from participating in a vote of the board to approve the construction of a new toll project or the conversion of a nontolled project to a toll project unless the member is an elected official.

H.B. 15 provides for the prohibition to take effect, either as an amendment to Chapter 371, Transportation Code, as added by Chapter 103 (H.B. 570), Acts of the 80th Legislature, Regular Session, 2007, or as an amendment to Chapter 372, Transportation Code, as redesignated by and contingent on passage of the Act of the 81st Legislature, Regular Session, 2009, relating to nonsubstantive additions to and corrections in existing codes.

EFFECTIVE DATE: September 1, 2009.

Source: Texas Legislature On Line

NOTE FROM FAITH CHATHAM: 12:27 P.M. May 14, 2009
Rep. Frost's aide says this bill was on yesterday's House Calendar for the second reading and was not voted on. It is late in the session and it appears that it is too late for this bill to be passed. Texans will continue to have non elected persons sit on Metropolitan Planning Organization, deciding what roads will and will not be planned, built and funded!

Channel 33 on Tolls or Gas Tax



CLICK HERE TO PARTICIPATE IN POLL:

Friday, May 8, 2009

Revamp of Texas Department of Transportation gains momentum

By DAVE MONTGOMERY - Fort Worth Star Telegram - May 7, 2009
AUSTIN — House members took strong steps late Thursday to make the massive state transportation bureaucracy more accountable to the public, calling for an elected statewide commissioner and 14 elected representatives.

House members rejected a proposal that would have required the Texas Department of Transportation to buy environmentally friendly "green cement" in what lawmakers said was a slap at Midlothian cement plants blamed for much of the pollution in North Texas.

The legislation under consideration by the House would continue the department for another four years while strengthening state oversight in hopes of averting problems. The bill is designed to curb some of the powers the department amassed earlier in the decade and dissolve what Rep. Linda Harper-Brown, R-Irving, described as a "backdrop of distrust and frustration."

The amendment requiring green-cement purchases, defeated by a vote of 97-30, touched off a contentious debate between Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, whose district includes the Midlothian plants, and North Texas lawmakers insisting on tougher controls over the kilns.

"Mr. Pitts, you know I love you, but I have to stand up for the people in my district and the children in my district," Rep. Paula Pierson, D-Arlington, said as she debated Pitts from the microphone at the rear of the chamber.

Though Midlothian was never mentioned, the intent of the amendment by Rep. Roberto Alonzo, D-Dallas, was clear. It would have required the use of so-called dry technology that produces fewer pollutants, instead of the older "wet" technology used in Midlothian.

Over a half-dozen local governments, including Tarrant County, Fort Worth, Dallas, Arlington and Plano, have adopted "green cement" purchasing preferences.

"How dare you come into my district and try to close a plant" that has been an economic boost to the area, Pitts told Alonzo, saying that emissions in the area have been reduced by 64 percent over the past decade. Pitts said automobile emissions produce "more pollution than this plant."

"Our biggest problem [in North Texas] is not this plant — it’s highway traffic," Pitts said.

Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, told Pitts that "it’s pretty outrageous for you" to suggest that North Texas residents should not be concerned about pollution from the cement kilns, adding that "children in my district are breathing bad air" because of the emissions.

The bill stems from the sunset review process that requires lawmakers to examine the performance of selected state agencies during each legislative session.

The Transportation Department sunset bill is considered one of lawmakers’ top priorities this session, reflecting the scope of the bureaucracy, the importance of transportation projects and legislators’ desire to put the department under greater scrutiny. Lawmakers faced 162 amendments as they began debate on the bill.

"The public felt like they were not involved in the process at all, and all the members of the House felt the same way," Harper-Brown said.

North Texas leaders consider transportation their top issue as they develop regional strategies to deal with congestion and pollution that threatens to hamstring economic growth. The need for additional roadways across the state has increased with the population, leaving Texas with an estimated $300 billion shortfall in transportation needs.

The Transportation Department had a budget of $17.5 billion for the 2008-09 fiscal biennium, much of which was devoted to planning, building and maintaining roads and bridges, according to the House Research Organization. The department has a staff of 14,500 in its Austin headquarters and 25 district offices.

House members rejected efforts to strip one of the bill’s cornerstones, a legislative oversight committee designed to make recommendations for state transportation needs.
DAVE MONTGOMERY, 512-476-4294

Read more in the Fort Worth Star Telegram

Monday, May 4, 2009

Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive May 9th

Saturday May 9, 2009


NALC - Stamp Out Hunger


The National Association of Letter Carriers' Stamp Out Hunger food drive is the largest one-day food drive in the nation. On May 9th, North Texas residents are encouraged to donate non-perishable food items and place them by their mailbox for their letter carrier to collect. Letter carriers will then deliver the food to the North Texas Food Bank where it will be sorted by volunteers and distributed to the Food Bank's 917 feeding and education programs in 13 North Texas counties. Don't forget: Leave non-perishables by your mailbox May 9th!
North Texas Food Bank http://www.ntfb.org/

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Legislative Alerts: Senate Bills Scheduled for Consideration May 4

By Martha Estes - May 3, 2009
SENATE

Mon. May 4th @ 11am in SENATE Chamber
Postponed Business:
SB 18 (CS) Estes/ et al.

Relating to the use of eminent domain authority. Co-authors: Carona, Deuell, Eltife, Harris, Hegar, Hinojosa, Mike Jackson, Dan Patrick, Seliger, Shapiro, Uresti, Van de Putte, West, Williams, Zaffirini
Analysis (as filed): http://www.legis.state.tx.us/tlodocs/81R/analysis/html/SB00018I.htm

Currently, the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits the taking of private property for public use without just compensation, commonly referred to as the "takings clause." Section 17, Article I, Texas Constitution, prohibits a person's property from being taken, damaged, or destroyed without consent for public use without adequate compensation.

As proposed, S.B. 18 modifies the process governing eminent domain proceedings, standards of evidence that could be considered by a court in the course of making decisions regarding damages, obligations placed upon condemning entities, and the rights of previous owners to repurchase taken property. S.B. 18 authorizes special commissioners to take into account any evidence that a property owner would consider in a negotiated transaction outside the standards set forth in the chapter. This bill modifies the price at which previous owners could repurchase condemned property on which a public use was cancelled within 10 years of the acquisitions to be the price paid to the owner by the governmental entity at the time the property originally was acquired, rather than the fair market value of the property at the time the public use was canceled. S.B. 18 requires a governmental entity, for each property or group of jointly owned contiguous properties to be condemned, to formally authorize by motion the initiation of condemnation proceedings at a public hearing by a record vote by adding the Truth in Condemnation Procedures Act. S.B. 18 requires the comptroller of public accounts to identify all entities public and private, with eminent domain authority and make recommendations to the legislature regarding that authority.

Second Reading:

SB 1282 Williams
Caption: Relating to the powers of certain freight rail districts

SB 1283 Williams
Caption: Relating to the supervision by the TxDOT of money appropriated by the federal government for the construction and maintenance of rail facilities

SB 1923 Watson
Caption: Relating to funding sources for the Texas rail relocation and improvement fund

SB 612 (LC) Shapleigh
Caption: Relating to the powers and duties of the TxDOT related to rail facilities

SB 1570 (LC) Carona Caption: Relating to the facilitation, analysis, and implementation of high-speed passenger rail in this state.

SB 1382 (LC) Carona Relating to the coordination of the planning, construction, operation, and maintenance of a statewide passenger rail system by the TxDOT

SB 2096 (CS) (LC) Wentworth
Caption: Relating to the creation of and the powers of a comprehensive multimodal urban transportation authority, including the power to impose taxes, issue bonds, and exercise limited eminent domain authority

SB 1351 (CS) (LC) Carona
Caption: Relating to the terms of the members of the Texas Transportation Commission (2 years)

SB 505 (CS) Ogden Caption: Relating to authorizing the designation of an area adjacent to a state highway project as a transportation finance zone and requiring that the revenue from the state sales and use taxes imposed in the zone be used to pay obligations issued in connection with the project.

Friday, May 1, 2009

DFW Regional Concerned Citizens and The Arlington Texan Endorse Terry Meza

Both Place 5 Arlington City Council candidates have track records and deep roots in the district. Better educated, Terry Meza has multiple degrees in Law, Education and Urban Affairs while Mrs. Wolff, who has served 6 years as Councilwoman, completed one year of college. Meza's record spearheading community revitalization in historic neighborhoods in Fort Worth and Midland, makes her a good fit for this district which desperately need her skill in job creation, business development and neighborhood revitalization. Councilwoman Wolff’s is named in a lawsuit seeking payment of a judgment from a 1990 bankruptcy filed by her and her husband listing debts of $97,510,536.38. Her description of it in the League of Women Voters Candidate's Survey as “One frivolous lawsuit not followed-up..” and the staggering amount of the unsecured debt concerns us.

Wolff lists some Meza supporters as endorsers! In addition to those mentioned in a Fort Worth Star Telegram article, at least one member of our organization, a Meza volunteer and donor, was surprised to see his name on Mrs. Wolff's list of endorsers.

Mrs. Wolff is proud of the investment in infrastructure in the district. The district, which runs from Pantego to the Grand Prairie City Limits through central Arlington, contains neighborhoods ranging from upper middle income to lower income. The majority of the investment in infrastructure has been concentrated west of Collins Street while east Arlington continues to be neglected. Terry Meza will champion the neglected area of the district while supporting development throughout the district.

Until Councilwoman Wolff clears up her family legal and financial problems, we recommend that District 5 voters elect Terry Meza to the Arlington City Council.

International Toll Investor, Macquarie posts losses

May 1, 2009
By MERAIAH FOLEY
Macquarie Posts Decline in Annual Profit

SYDNEY — The largest Australian investment bank, Macquarie Group, posted its first fall in annual profit in 17 years Thursday, citing billions of dollars in losses stemming from the global slowdown.

Macquarie said net profit for the year that ended March 31 had fallen 52 percent to 871 million Australian dollars, or $635 million, from a record 1.8 billion dollars the year before. The widely expected result fell just short of the bank’s February profit forecast of 900 million dollars.

Later in the day, the bank confirmed it had raised 540 million dollars in an institutional placement of new shares at 27 dollars per share, Reuters reported.

Though Macquarie and other large Australian banks have been largely insulated from the pain suffered by their counterparts on Wall Street and in Europe, the result released Friday was the investment juggernaut’s worst since 1992, during the country’s previous recession.

Macquarie blamed “testing global market conditions” for the result, which included 2.5 billion dollars in one-time losses. Listed among the write-downs were 1.47 billion dollars in losses associated with managed funds and infrastructure assets; 496 million dollars in bad loans, mostly for property and mineral investments; and 248 million dollars in costs from the sale of its Italian mortgage business.

On the upside, Macquarie touted its relatively healthy balance sheet, with cash and liquid assets totaling 30.8 billion dollars and total capital of 10.2 billion dollars, which is 3.1 billion dollars more than the minimum required by Australian regulators.

Nevertheless, the bank requested Thursday that trading in its shares be halted while it considered plans to raise additional capital. There were no further details of the plans in the bank’s statement to the Australian Securities Exchange on Friday, but the Macquarie chief executive, Nicholas Moore, warned of continued uncertainty ahead.

“While there were some early signs of markets stabilizing in March and April,” Mr. Moore said, “significant uncertainties remain, and it is still too early to make any judgments on sustained market improvements.”

Until now, Macquarie has been one of the few banks around the globe that have not approached its shareholders for more money since the financial meltdown began last year.

Tim Schroeders, a portfolio manager at Pengana Capital, said that the announcement made Thursday was more of a reflection of changing banking conditions than a sign of trouble at Macquarie.

“The leverage that was previously in the banking system prior to the global financial crisis is no longer prudent, and as a result, banks are requiring more capital and returning less on that capital,” he said. “There are going to be adjustments required to reposition the business to be optimally profitable over the next 10 years.”
Read more in the New York Times

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

DFW Regional Concerned Citizens Endorses Harriet Irby

By Faith Chatham - DFWRCC - April 29, 2009

Serving the community of Pantego for 38 years, Harriet Irby is academically trained in urban government. Her opponent, a 5-year resident and one-term councilman, is lax in filing expense reports when spending taxpayers’ money! Irby fights valiantly to make our political system transparent, fair and equitable for everyone, even those who disagree with her. Serving 30 years as election judge, Irby is fastidious in following the law, checking facts, evaluating sources, and consulting experts to verify data before she speaks or votes. The Town Council declared December 1, 2007 Harriet Irby Day in Pantego, noting Irby’s “deep and genuine love for this town”, serving “the community with distinction by performing a variety of public appointments and offices “, and “willingness to place her concern for the public and good above her own personal interest” These qualities are needed in all public servants. She’ll be an asset on the Town Council.

DFW Regional Concerned Citizens applauds Irby's consistent opposition to privitazion of public infrastructure. She opposes use of eminent domain for private gain! She understands complex transportation and environmental issues and works to preserve air, water and transportation for use by all citizens of this region.

Faith Chatham
Co-founder of DFW Regional Concerned Citizens

Monday, April 27, 2009

"Air Emissions from Oil and Gas Development in the Barnett Shale and the Rest of Texas"

Arlington Conservation Council and Green Arlington Foundation presents:
"Air Emissions from Oil and Gas Development in the Barnett Shale and the Rest of Texas"
By Dr. Al Armendariz

Wednesday, May 13, 2009, 7 pm

West Police Station, 2060 W Green Oaks Blvd, Arlington, Texas

Everyone is invited to attend this free lecture. Dr. Armendariz is a Research Associate Professor in the Department of Environmental and Civil Engineering at Southern Methodist University in Dallas and has written extensively on air quality issues related to industrial activity and gas drilling.

Presented by the Arlington Conservation Council and the Green Arlington Foundation.

For information, call 214 850 2412.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

ATA Applauds the Introduction of Anti-Privatization Legislation

Saturday, April 25, 2009


The American Trucking Associations (ATA) applauds U.S. Senators Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) for their introduction of the “Transportation Access for All Americans Act,” (S. 885) and the “Transportation Equity for All Americans Act” (S. 884) on April 24.

The legislation will eliminate expensive federal subsidies that now flow to privatized highways. When a state or city leases a highway, it receives significant compensation, but taxpayers always end up paying higher tolls to the private operator.

“I would like to thank Senator Bingaman and Senator Grassley for their leadership,” says ATA President and CEO Bill Graves. “We look forward to working with both gentlemen on this critical issue,” he added.

Privatization is dismantling the nation’s interstate highway network. The United States cannot maintain a national highway network if key segments are leased to the highest bidder. More than money is at stake. Leasing roadways allows states only to postpone, not solve, their budget problems — and without understanding the long-term implications.

The American Trucking Associations is the largest national trade association for the trucking industry. Through a federation of other trucking groups, industry-related conferences, and its 50 affiliated state trucking associations, ATA represents more than 37,000 members covering every type of motor carrier in the United States.


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Library of Congress THOMAS http://thomas.loc.gov/ (General Access LINK to Congress)
Link for BILL Searches:
S.884
Title: A bill to amend title 23, United States Code, to remove privatized highway miles as a factor in apportioning highway funding.
Cosponsors: Sen Bingaman, Jeff [D-NM] & Sen Grassley, Chuck [R-IA] (introduced 4/23/2009)
Latest Major Action: 4/23/2009 Referred to Senate committee. Status: Read twice and referred to the Cmte. on Environment and Public Works
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S.885
Title: A bill to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to provide special depreciation and amortization rules for highway and related property subject to long-term leases, and for other purposes.
Cosponsors: Sen Bingaman, Jeff [NM] & Sen Grassley, Chuck [IA] (introduced 4/23/2009)
Latest Major Action: 4/23/2009 Referred to Senate committee. Status: Read twice and referred to the Cmte. on Finance

Spending records of Barton's charitable foundation raises questions

By LAURA ISENSEE - The Dallas Morning News - Tuesday, April 7, 2009


WASHINGTON – Rep. Joe Barton's charitable foundation, which has drawn headlines for the Arlington Republican, has spent more in overhead than on public causes, according to a published report.

A story in Monday's Washington Times noted that the charity started by Barton, the top Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, raised money from industries with a stake in his committee's business and took credit for some donations that corporations made directly to local nonprofits.

The fundraising is "perfectly legal and by the books," said Sean Brown, a spokesman for Barton.

In its first three years, the Joe Barton Family Foundation spent more on overhead – about $130,000 – than it gave to charity. In 2006, it donated $90,000 to construct a new 10,000-square-foot facility for Boys and Girls Club of Navarro County, according to the group's tax reports.

The organization formed as a tax-exempt public charity in 2005. Its mission is to help nonprofits, primarily in Barton's district, build large-scale capital projects. His daughter-in-law runs the Arlington-based organization.

Overall, Barton's foundation has spent less than a quarter of its funds on public causes, according to the Times.

The typical charity rated by the watchdog group Charity Navigator spends about 75 percent on programs and services and 25 percent toward administration and fundraising costs.

There is no one-size-fits-all for how much charities should spend on overhead, said Elizabeth Boris, who directs the Urban Institute's Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy.
Read more in the Dallas Morning News

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DFW Regional Concerned Citizens attempts to examine issues from all directions. When a story says "By Faith Chatham" it contains my viewpoint. When it is by others, but posted by Faith Chatham, it is from someone else's viewpoint. When I discover contents which is on topic for this site, I frequently link to other sites. Usually those sites contain content which differs from my viewpoint (and frequently that of other members of DFW-RCC).