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

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Legislative Alerts: Senate Bills Scheduled for Consideration May 4

By Martha Estes - May 3, 2009

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):

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.

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Content is being archived weekly. Many pertinent articles regarding Transportation in the DFW Region are in the archives.

A government big enough to give you everything you want, is strong enough to take everything you have. - Thomas Jefferson

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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).