Follow the Money - Local Politicians Campaign Contributors
Sunday, October 10, 2010
Wednesday, October 6, 2010
"The quality of life that we came here for was quiet. You don’t live in a place where you have to take an hour-and-15-minute ferry ride to live next to an industrial park. And that’s where we are right now."
CHERYL LINDGREN, who lives near wind turbines in Vinalhaven, Me.
Tuesday, September 7, 2010
Saturday, August 14, 2010
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
Attorney Fred Kelly Grant, who's with TURF partner, American Stewards of Liberty, was instrumental in forming the Eastern Central Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission (dubbed 391 commissions) that's credited with this victory. He's analyzed the Federal Highway Administration official Record of Decision (ROD) below.
"The Federal Highway Administration has pounded the final nail in the coffin of the Trans-Texas Corridor-35. The Agency’s final Record of Decision, issued on July 20, 2010 selected the No Action Alternative but went further in ordering that 'a study area for the TTC-35 Project will not be chosen and the TTC-35 Project is concluded.' Twice the ROD states that the 'project is concluded,' and six times it states that 'the project ends.' If TxDOT attempted to revive the 35 Corridor project and use the same EIS, this ROD would provide the base for issuance by a United States District Judge of a Declaratory Judgment prohibiting the action.” -- Fred Kelly Grant, Attorney, American Stewards of Liberty
Margaret Byfield, Co-Founder of American Stewards of Liberty, added:
"They didn’t withdraw the study as requested, but wrote the ROD in such a way that TxDOT cannot use this study in the future."
The following is from Insider Texas Government Strategic Partnerships, Inc. Link to article directly here...
FHA declares Trans-Texas Corridor proposal officially dead
Latest I-35 project includes expansion to six lanes through areas of Central Texas
The death certificate for the Trans-Texas Corridor (TTC) has officially been signed.
The oft-maligned TTC project pushed by Gov. Rick Perry would have routed traffic around population centers and provided a broad corridor to link major cities. It also would have included toll roads for cars and trucks, space parallel to the corridor for utilities and tracks for freight and passenger trains.
The demise of the project began when public hearings were held throughout the state. Thousands of citizens voiced their opposition to the TTC, citing the fact that too much private property would be taken for the project. Others objected to plans to involve a consortium that included a Spanish company for part of the $175 billion, 4,000-mile network and wanted more of the proceeds from any toll roads to go into state coffers.
After hearing the complaints, Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) Executive Director Amadeo Saenz, in 2009 declared, "The Trans-Texas Corridor as it is known, no longer exists."
And just last week, the Federal Highway Administration (FHA) issued an official decision of "no action" on the TTC proposal, which prevents the project from going forward. It also cancels the planning comprehensive development agreement between TxDOT and the Spanish construction company.
"A study area for the TTC-35 project will not be chosen," reads the decision, and the TTC-35 project is concluded." While the FHA acknowledged that "transportation needs exist" along the corridor, "those needs will have to be addressed by transportation projects other than TTC-35." The FHA decision was based on comments at public hearings that decried a possible reduction in land values. The federal agency noted that the magnitude of the potential impact on land values was "unprecedented" because of the size of the study area - 400 to 500 miles long and 5,000-6,000 square miles in area - because of the approximately 1 million people who could be affected by the project and the projected 50 years necessary to complete the project.
Although the TTC proposal is officially dead, segments of the I-35 corridor are currently under construction as a project continues that will expand the interstate to six lanes through Central Texas from Hillsboro to San Antonio. TxDOT has already put $1 billion in the bank toward that project. The nearly 100-mile length of the project is expected to take three to five years to complete.
On Monday, a third 2010 project on the Central Texas plan began in Bell County, where the expansion to six lanes will cover an area from FM 2484 north of Salado to Highway 190 in Belton. The 8-mile, $107 million project (paid for in part by federal Recovery Act funds) is expected to be completed in approximately four years.
Earlier this month, a project began between Hillsboro and Abbott. It is the first stage of the widening of I-35 in that area to three lanes in each direction. The first phase includes moving and widening the frontage roads along the highway. And in May, two ramps onto I-35 in Waco were closed and will remain closed for approximately one year as new southbound lanes are constructed.
As TxDOT continues to seek more input from citizens, Texans are helping develop a plan for the future of the I-35 corridor. The result – MY 35, a plan featuring local input based on local needs.
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
Sunday, July 11, 2010
FORT WORTH -- Julie Preuitt is into NASCAR, stopping con men and doing what she believes is right -- even when it meant flushing her career down the SEC commode.
She was an SEC branch chief examining securities brokers and dealers when a routine look at a company put her on high alert. Preuitt believed her staff had found a scam: An off-shore bank was offering CDs with payoffs that were, to her thinking, "absolutely ludicrous."
It should have been a Tom Clancy moment. But in the Fort Worth regional office of the Securities and Exchange Commission where Preuitt worked, leaders regarded the case as what they called a "goat screw." They passed on orders to kill it.
Snap a picture: It's June 2009. The SEC announces bad news for a Texas billionaire. He's being sued, accusing of running a Ponzi scheme that any aspiring Bernie Madoff could appreciate. Singled out for hard work on the case was the Fort Worth office. Plaudits went to many, including two high-ranking Fort Worth officials.
What the picture doesn't show: The lawsuit against R. Allen Stanford came 12 years and about $7 billion too late.
And the praise didn't go to Preuitt, who first raised concerns in 1997. Instead, two people who pushed Preuitt aside enjoyed the acclaim. That is, until it began biting them on the ankles.
Soon after the announcement, the SEC's watchdog, the inspector general, began getting complaints that the office had not diligently pursued a probe until the SEC came under fire for failing to spot Madoff's Ponzi scheme.
Now, a starkly different image of the Fort Worth office is emerging from the watchdog report, government documents obtained by the Star-Telegram, and interviews with current and former staff members.
They show a troubled organization where senior managers for years resisted efforts to pursue complex cases in favor of the quick and easy that could run up its stats -- and they badly botched the Stanford case in its early years.
"The commission is very interested in a 'fraud of the day.' And [Stanford] wasn't ever the fraud of the day," Preuitt told the inspector general.
Stanford steadfastly maintains he did nothing wrong.
While Preuitt and the examination staff repeatedly flagged the Stanford companies as a Ponzi scheme, enforcement attorneys wouldn't budge. They ignored tips, largely disregarded state and federal concerns, and tried to fob off the matter to a private, less powerful financial regulator. The enforcement staff failed twice to read examiners' reports on Stanford.
All the while, investor losses swelled, the watchdog report says.
While the Fort Worth office was once gun-shy, SEC officials say those failings have largely been resolved since leadership changed and investigative powers were streamlined. They also say that the matter was complex, entangled in international law and a criminal investigation by the Justice Department, among other obstacles.
"I would say the public has every reason to be confident in both the performance and productivity of that office," said Robert Khuzami, head of the SEC's enforcement division in Washington
"To the extent that there are personnel or other issues, those will be dealt with appropriately," he said. But "the performance of the office has been overwhelmingly positive."
Less focus is now placed on competing with other SEC offices' statistics for the number of cases closed, an SEC document says.
And Rose Romero, a former assistant U.S. prosecutor who now leads the Fort Worth office, said it is operating at its peak in spotting and stopping fraud, even though it has limited resources and a broad region.
"I think right now our staff is probably the best qualified staff that this office has probably ever seen," she said.
The office has rolled out some solid cases. Last year, it halted what it called frauds of $31 million, $24 million and $8.4 million, among others in Texas. An investigator even used Google to root out fraud at a major company.
Yet Romero and Kimberly Garber, who beat out Preuitt to become associate district administrator for examinations, are criticized by current and former staff members as being even more concerned with style over substance. When Preuitt opposed their decision to conduct quick-hit examination reviews, the office divided into two camps.
And Romero and Garber struck back, according to the inspector general.
Some staff members, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said they have no confidence in senior leadership. In Fort Worth, the office's strength had historically been in people like Preuitt, who were impolitic, willing to speak their minds and push co-workers and the D.C. bureaucracy to get things done. Management instead wants "tools to do away with people who have a dissenting opinion," one employee said.
And a lingering issue is how Romero has depicted the Stanford investigation. Testimony she gave to a U.S. Senate committee conflicts with records of her own office.
Apparent red flags
To its earliest investors, Stanford International Bank must have looked like some West Indies gold mine. The Antigua bank offered CDs paying interest rates markedly higher than those of U.S. banks. The Stanford Group Co., which registered with the SEC as a broker-dealer and investment adviser in 1995, was paid high referral fees for selling the CDs.
As early as the mid-1990s, the Texas State Securities Board passed along a tip to the SEC about Robert Allen Stanford's companies.
"We actually found problems with Stanford," said Texas Securities Commissioner Denise Voigt Crawford.
By 1997, the Stanford companies caught Preuitt's attention. She wondered how the bank had gained nearly $307 million in deposits in a couple of years.
The watchdog report on Stanford details dogged efforts by Preuitt and the examination staff over ensuring years to find answers and prod enforcement to take action.
The first examination found apparent red flags. Preuitt concluded that the CDs were fraudulent. The staff labeled it a "Possible Ponzi scheme." The examination report was forwarded to enforcement, where it sat for eight months.
Read more in the Fort Worth Star Telegram
Sunday, June 27, 2010
Perry's ozone figure is in line with what the agency and university researchers have found. "All of these measurements paint a consistent picture. Ozone concentrations are going down across the state," he said.
Still, some parts of Texas have struggled to meet federal ozone standards. Three regions are currently designated in nonattainment under a limit set by EPA in 1997: Dallas-Forth Worth (nine counties), Houston (eight counties), and Beaumont-Port Arthur (four counties). According to TCEQ, the Beaumont area is being reclassified as in compliance and the Houston area met the standard for the first time in 2009.
But a tightening of EPA standards, expected in August, will likely put several more areas, including the five-county Austin region, out of compliance.
Next, to what degree were the reductions in ozone and NOx achieved by the state's "clean-air program"?
Al Armendariz of Dallas, administrator of EPA's multi-state Region 6, which includes Texas, credited all levels of government with hastening the ozone improvements, especially in Dallas and Houston. As examples, he pointed to enforcement actions taken against industry by the federal government that led to facilities' agreeing to major cuts in emissions, as well as state initiatives.
The state touts incentive-driven programs such as its Emission Reduction Plan, which has spent more than $760 million since 2000 to help companies retrofit or replace more than 12,000 diesel vehicles with cleaner-burning ones.
Despite the ozone improvements, a report released April 28 by the American Lung Association ranked the Houston area as the seventh-worst in the nation for ozone pollution and Dallas-Fort Worth 13th. (The worst six places for ozone were in California.) Of the 30 Texas counties graded by the lung association on their ozone pollution, 21 -- including Travis -- received F's.
So how does Perry's statement hold up?
The governor accurately cites recent improvements in the state's ozone levels. As for the NOx emissions contributing to ozone levels, his statistic refers to only one source -- industrial -- which he did not note. Nearly three-quarters comes from other sources.
Whether the state gets the credit for those improvements is another issue. Even if TCEQ is responsible for the drop in industrial NOx emissions, federal efforts -- namely vehicle emission regulations -- also have helped lower ozone levels. Significantly, the state's ozone-related programs exist to help Texas comply with federal expectations.
We rate Perry's statement as Half True.
By Heather Long - The Patriot-News - June
This is about natural gas pipelines. Pipelines that could be going through your backyard even if you object.
If you’re like me, you are the type who flips the electric switch and expects the lights to come on immediately. I don’t give much thought to all the wires, transmission lines, power stations and generating plants, etc., along the way.
Why does it matter?
But as Pennsylvania is set to become the “Saudi Arabia of natural gas” in the Marcellus Shale region, it turns out we have to start caring not just about what happens at the wells, but about the entire chain of natural gas production and transportation.
That includes caring about those pipelines.
In Texas, pipeline companies can invoke what is known as eminent domain at various times to build their transport network. If the pipeline company says it needs to run a pipe over someone’s land, officials go to a judge who helps determine what the “market rate” is to use your land and then it’s a done deal, whether the homeowner thinks it’s a good idea or not.
Needless to say, the use of eminent domain hasn’t gone all that smoothly in Texas, especially in the wealthy neighborhoods of Fort Worth where Barnett Shale is.
There’s been such a stink that the Texas Legislature tightened rules on where pipelines can go and how they get laid in metropolitan areas.
This isn’t just a Lone Star State phenomenon. It could happen right here in Pennsylvania.
In fact, it already has.
Six pipeline companies already are registered in Pennsylvania as public utilities, which gives them the ability to invoke eminent domain. These six have been around for a while and mainly carry motor and fuel oil, but Marcellus Shale is opening up a whole new business opportunity.
One Marcellus pipeline company, Laser Marcellus Gathering Co. from Houston, applied in January to the state’s Public Utility Commission for classification as a public utility, too.
Companies, of course, don’t always resort to eminent domain. It’s a headache to get judges and lawyers involved, not to mention sometimes bad PR.
But if the PUC grants Laser Marcellus public utility status, the option will be there, potentially opening up the floodgates for eminent domain in our state.
At a minimum, the PUC should require more stringent reporting and oversight of any company that gets eminent domain rights. Even better would be for the PUC to rethink whether companies such as Laser Marcellus that are building pipelines mainly to transport gas to other states should even get public utility status, which was designed with in-state providers in mind.
But eminent domain is just the tip of the iceberg.
At present, no one in Pennsylvania oversees gas pipelines at all.
There are federal laws on the books that set basic standards, but no agency is on the ground inspecting.
In most states, the equivalent of the PUC oversees pipeline construction and operation. In fact, that’s how it’s done in all 41 natural gas-drilling states with the exception of Alaska and Pennsylvania.
Are we that much smarter than everyone else?
No. We’re just waiting on our Legislature to act. All it needs to do is grant the PUC the right to enforce the federal law here in Pennsylvania.
The good news is that giving PUC the jurisdiction is supported by environmental groups and most of the gas industry, two sides that don’t see eye to eye on much.
So I hope legislators took note when various representatives from both sides testified before the PUC this week, almost all in support of the PUC getting authority to regulate.
The PUC deserves a huge amount of credit for taking up these issues now. It is getting ahead of the curve, something we don’t often see in state government.
Because most natural gas pipelines are relatively low pressure, but what is expected to come from Marcellus Shale is going to be high pressure.
In the words of PUC chairman James Cawley, “The potential for disaster is greater.”
The final issue is the dirty detail: Do we regulate pipelines in rural areas? The federal legislation says no. Don’t bother with areas that are 10 or fewer dwellings per mile.
But we must learn from other big drilling states. Colorado and Oklahoma have enacted subsequent laws including rural areas in basic pipeline monitoring and marking.
The Legislature needs to get up to speed on pipelines, and it needs to do so soon.
Let’s give the PUC the authority over all monitoring, including rural areas. It’s time to flip the switch on basic oversight.
Heather Long is deputy editorial page editor. 255-8104 or email@example.com.
Friday, June 25, 2010
Fort Worth ethics panel questions fairness of having industry representatives on air quality committee
FORT WORTH -- It may be an inherent conflict of interest to allow gas company employees to serve on committees that oversee their industry, the city's Ethics Review Committee ruled Thursday.
The panel made the ruling in a case about the makeup of the city's Air Quality Study Committee, which was formed to examine potentially toxic emissions at natural gas sites.
If upheld, the ruling could have far-reaching ramifications because most of the city's regulations on gas drilling were written by committees that included representatives from the gas industry. At least one of the companies plans to appeal the ruling to the full Fort Worth City Council.
The council appointed the air quality committee in March to find a way to determine the level of toxic emissions around gas sites, and its findings could lead to new gas drilling regulations in the city.
The 10-member committee includes three representatives from major drilling companies: Devon Energy, XTO Energy and Chesapeake Energy.
Chesapeake Vice President Julie Wilson said the company will vigorously appeal.
"Chesapeake finds it ludicrous that three individuals employed by energy companies have been cited for an 'ethics conflict' due to their service on a city-appointed task force," Wilson said. "It is an affront to every citizen who serves at the request of the City Council and brings into question the conflict other members on the same task force may have, not to mention numerous other citizens on other task forces."
Jim Ashford, an east Fort Worth resident who is suing Chesapeake over noise and air pollution from a compressor station near his house, filed the ethics complaint in the spring. He said it was improper for the gas companies to have representatives on a committee that is studying pollution potentially caused by their industry.
Albon Head, an attorney who represented all three gas company employees, said Ashford should have complained to the City Council, which appointed the air quality committee. He pointed out that Ashford didn't complain about other members of the committee who have a vested interest in its work, including an environmental lawyer and a scientist who works for a nonprofit environmental group.
Head said conflict-of-interest rules are meant to keep people from representing their own companies before city boards or profiting from city contracts. Neither of those situations exist in this instance, he said.
"They are not representing their companies before the [air quality] board," Head said. "There is no evidence that these members received any benefit."
Ashford stressed the importance of barring the gas industry from having control over the city's regulations. "We have one attorney representing all three individuals -- this would indicate the three members are speaking as one voice," he said.
The gas company employees didn't testify. Head said outside the committee room that he didn't know why the three companies had hired one attorney.
'Wearing two hats'
The ethics committee sided with Ashford after a three-hour hearing. Rebecca Lucas, a lawyer on the ethics committee, said that the gas employees have a "total absence of malice" but that "the level of their loyalty to their employers has put them in a position of wearing two hats."
It's unclear whether the three employees can stay on the committee, because the Ethics Review Committee does not have the authority to remove them.
The three members can appeal the decision to the City Council, which appointed the air quality committee.
"We'll have to look at those issues and advise the committee and the council," City Attorney David Yett said.
Susan Alanis, the city's planning and development director, noted that it's not unusual for industry representatives to get such appointments, and that the committee's decisions have not been unduly swayed by votes from the three gas company representatives. "We have committees all the time that include professionals" who are affected by the city's ordinances, Alanis said.
The ethics committee ruled against Ashford on another complaint. He argued that Councilmen Jungus Jordan and Danny Scarth shouldn't vote on issues related to gas drilling because they receive gas royalties.
Jordan's wife inherited an interest in the mineral rights to a Johnson County farm and gets royalties from Chesapeake. Scarth said his parents gave him and his siblings a share of gas royalties from XTO earned from acreage they own in Burleson. Jordan routinely recuses himself from votes involving Chesapeake and Scarth recuses himself from issues involving XTO.
Ashford said the two should not vote on any gas industry issue, including the city's drilling ordinance and the air quality committee.
But Ashford didn't cite those votes as evidence. Instead, he showed a videotape of a Feb. 2 work session in which the council discussed appointing the air quality committee. Some council members wanted to appoint a task force to revisit the entire gas drilling ordinance, including the setbacks between gas wells and houses. Scarth and Jordan argued against it.
"We need to be very careful about the idea of opening up a gas drilling task force," Scarth said.
No vote was taken, although the council decided informally not to revise the ordinance.
"I think Mr. Ashford confuses general discussion [in a work session] with the council voting on an issue," said Don Herrmann, who represented Jordan and Scarth.
Jordan and Scarth said they relied on a legal opinion that allows them to continue to vote on general issues related to gas drilling."I've fully disclosed my financial position and followed the directions of the city attorney," Jordan said.
Scarth said, "Just because someone doesn't like what we do from a policy standpoint doesn't mean it's an ethics violation."
The committee sided with the council members, although they said Ashford can revise his complaint to include specific votes. "At the present, I think we have no choice but to say it's insufficient," Chairwoman Hortencia Laguna said.
MIKE LEE, 817-390-7539
Read more: http://www.star-telegram.com/2010/06/24/2292054_p2/fort-worth-ethics-panel-questions.html#ixzz0rvW2lpuo
Read more in the Fort Worth Star Telegram
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
AUSTIN, Texas - A government watchdog group is filing a complaint against GOP Gov. Rick Perry's campaign for failing to disclose how it spends money at the governor's mansion and at his interim residence.
Since 2001, Perry's campaign has spent more than $800,000 on "mansion expenditures."
Texans for Public Justice said in a complaint Tuesday that Perry's campaign violated disclosure laws by failing to itemize the spending.
Records obtained this year by The Associated Press show Perry has used campaign money to throw parties, buy food and drink, and pay for cable TV and other services at his official residence.
Perry and his wife, Anita, were in a rental property in 2008 when an arsonist set fire to the under-renovation governor's mansion. Nobody has been arrested. The Perrys are still in a rental house.
Monday, June 14, 2010
As the Texas Department of Transportation heads into a hearing today to review a highly critical 628-page audit with members of the House Transportation Committee, the very value of Chicago-based consulting agency Grant Thornton's $2 million report is being called into question.
The audit said that TxDOT's senior leaders were not inclined toward meaningful self-analysis due to "a deep-seated belief that TxDOT is doing all the right things." But TxDOT Executive Director Amadeo Saenz appeared on Tuesday to welcome the report, saying in a special Transportation Commission meeting that the auditors had done "a good job of collecting and analyzing stakeholder expectations across a number of levels."
Not all observers of the Texas transportation scene agree. "[The report] was not as in-depth as I'd like to see," said state Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, the chairman of the Transportation Committee. In a statement issued shortly after the report's release, state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, said the document was hardly revelatory for those who follow transportation. It includes long-standing criticisms of the agency, including the widely held perception that its senior management is "not addressing the big issues … not trusting other TxDOT staff … not setting clear expectations or goals … not being open to feedback … [and] lacking respect for governing bodies."
"No surprises," Pickett said. "It's just ratifying what most of us already knew existed."
Pickett said he would have liked a more detaied breakdown of TxDOT's financing and a more thorough examination of "who does what to who" within the organization — concerns he will likely make known when representatives from Grant Thornton testify before his committee today. He also questions the auditors' heavy reliance on employee interviews, which he says aren't likely to be objective and could have been done by TxDOT internally. And he's frustrated that, in a study "this in-depth and this long" — it's been nearly a year since TxDOT commissioned it — no updates were provided to TxDOT or legislators on the auditors progress and findings prior to the release of the final report. Pickett was also surprised to see TxDOT administrators raked over the coals while the commission that oversees the agency got off comparatively easy.
"For the last six years, the commission has been dictating … to the administration," he said. "I personally believe the administration is acting upon the commission's desires, but the commission came out of this unscathed."
Unlike Pickett, state Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, was pleased with the report and encouraged by Saenz's general acceptance of its findings, said Steven Polunsky, the staff director of the Senate Transportation Committee, which Carona chairs.
"[Carona] fully expects the commission to proceed immediately with the remedies recommended in the audit," Polunsky said. "Change is a hard process. It takes the right leadership and some outside oversight."
One of the audit's central themes was a need to shake up the "singular, deeply entrenched culture" that has developed over the agency's 93 years in operation. Saenz agreed with Grant Thornton that the traditional "TxDOT way" was failing to meet expectations, saying the agency will continue to make internal changes to better align its operations to its mission. "There are some things we should have recognized sooner and managed to adjust our operations to meet our customers' expectations," Saenz said. "As we move forward, we must commit to doing better."
But he said some major issues — like future funding for roads — are beyond TxDOT's control. "We've said it over and over again, but it bears repeating: Unless new funding sources are in place by 2012, no additional mobility projects will be added to the agency's plans," Saenz said.
How big a funding hole?
Like so much about TxDOT depicted in the Grant Thornton report, even the amount of funding needed is hazy. The audit posits that in 2040, Texas' population will be roughly the same as present-day California, with approximately 36 million people. But just how much road spending will be necessary to accommodate that growth remains a point of contention.
According to a review of future transportation funding needs by the 2030 Committee, a 12-member research team appointed two years ago by Transportation Commissioner Deirdre Delisi, Texas will need to invest about $315 billion within the next two decades to maintain current congestion levels. That amounts to roughly $14 billion a year — in 2008 dollars. Though careful not to speculate on the effects of future legislation, the 2030 Committee concedes that "available funding will not be adequate to address all of the needs identified," including pavement, bridges, urban and rural mobility, and safety needs.
Yet a report released in 2009 by the House Research Organization, a legislative research agency, indicates TxDOT itself has projected an $86 billion funding gap by 2030. That figure was recalculated again by the state auditor, bringing the new estimate down to $77.4 billion. Even the HRO auditors cautioned against using that figure to make policy or funding decisions, "because it contained costs that should not have been included, a mathematical error, and additional undocumented costs."
The Grant Thornton audit indicates this funding confusion contributes to the underlying mistrust the public and the Legislature holds toward the agency — specifically in its efforts to sustain its current funding levels or justify an increase. "Some stakeholders said that 'TxDOT isn't broken, it's just broke,'" the audit notes.
"Others said that TxDOT isn't sufficiently high-functioning to know if it has the resources required to do the job needed."
The audit offers still another view from skeptics who believe adequate funding is a secondary issue to TxDOT's current internal operations. "If we can't manage effectively the funds provided to us," Saenz acknowledged, "then we cannot expect the trust to use the funds to follow."
Grant Thornton puts some of the blame for the funding confusion on lawmakers' increasing reliance on bond funding for roads. "The only specific question I have is about where it says the Legislature should not have gotten away from pay-as-you-go and done the bonding," said state Rep. Jim Dunnam, D-Waco, a member of the House Transportation Committee. "I want to understand why that is. I'm not defensive about it. I'm willing to accept it. I just don't understand. I thought the logic of borrowing money at today's cost seemed to make sense."
While Dunnam said he's ready to hear what lawmakers might have done wrong, he also believes TxDOT needs to make some "fundamental changes" of its own. "It seems to me that it's the structure of the agency that promotes this lack of transparency," he said. "There are good people at TxDOT, but their organizational structure lends itself to all this."
Not surprisingly, Dunnam, who's also the House Democratic Caucus Chair, points the finger even higher.
"At the end of the day it's an executive agency that's run ultimately by governor's appointees," he said. "But nobody sees it that way. Our governor has always been able to use that Chinese Wall to say, 'Well, I didn't know.'"
Perry spokeswoman Allison Castle said the governor has the ultimate confidence in his appointees, "who requested this review, to look at how best to implement the recommendations."
And Saenz, for his part, believes the agency has the ability to adapt.
"We're making strides … but there are still many more bridges to cross with this," he said. "I'm looking forward to making our agency even better."
That attitude will likely serve him well in front of the Transportation Committee.
"We don't need to beat them up too much," Pickett said. "I'm looking for some action now."
jnformation gathered and originally published by The Texas Tribune, a non-profit news organization based in Austin.
(© MMX, CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.)
Thursday, May 13, 2010
DFWRCC consistently opposes diversions from dedicated funds and refusal of the Legislature to appropriate of full amount dedicated to specific sectors of the state budget when there are appropriate needs for such services. Slush funds do not benefit the citizens or the Governor to veto scuh appropriations.
Some examples of costs to the citizens from such diversions include:
- Toll Roads costing citizens more to travel per mile than on non-tolled roads while part of the premises for "justification" of financing by tolls is based on lack of funds. Transportation dollars have been spent on advertising, lobbying, travel for promotion of other departments, and transfers into the General Fund in years when the General Fund showed a surplus (violating the balanced budget laws of the state).
- Lack of funding for services by departments and non-profit organizations participating in the vanity license plate program. Organizations ranging from animal spay and neutering to state parks and children's groups such as the Boy Scouts were hindered in their mission by the refusal of the state to appropriate and release funds to them collected by the state through the vanity license plate program where individuals elected to pay additional dollars to the state in behalf of those departments or non-profit organizations. During the Rick Perry Administration this practice, in our opinion, has misled the public and defrauded citizens of dollars they were led to believe they were contributing to specific purposes. If private citizens conducted business in the same manner, they would be subject to arrest for fraud. The Legislature has acted to end some of these diversions but corrective action does not erase the dishonest actions of the Governor and many in the Legislature.
- The State Park budget has been a political field of misrepresentation, misappropriation and under-appropriation while maintenance and services suffered.
- During a period when the number of oil and gas production sites, storage sites and pipeline construction sites and miles of pipeline to be inspected and enforced by the Railroad Commission and TCEQ increased by 300% the number of inspectors and budget for staffing has consistently been reduced for the past decade. Currently fines and fees paid by the industry to these agencies goes into the General Fund instead of being paid to adequately fund field inspections and air quality and water quality testing/monitoring by these agencies. It is dishonest to show a "surplus" in the General Fund when funds paid for specific purposes are not spent to adequately protect the citizens of Texas.
- Employment Insurance Fund:
Below is a post from Bill White about how Rick Perry diverted payroll taxes into his Texas Enterprise Fund and failed to plan ahead for the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund. His actions resulted in a massive tax increase on small businesses, the engine of job growth in our state.
Download this white paper, How do payroll taxes and the Texas Enterprise Fund work?, to learn more about payroll taxes, Rick Perry's slush fund, and what can be done about the problem.
Job growth in the private sector, especially in small businesses, is the key to economic recovery. Yet this year Texas nearly doubled the payroll taxes on our businesses. This massive tax increase on Texas jobs was caused in part by the diversion of $161.5 million which Gov. Perry used to subsidize companies he selected and publicized at numerous press conferences.
A sharp increase in payroll taxes hurts job growth.
Employers know better how to manage job growth than a politician does. You can see that from the track record of the Enterprise Fund. Failed subprime lenders Countrywide and Washington Mutual received $35 million. Another $35 million was paid to struggling biotech firm Lexicon Genetics, so it could give mouse stem cells to a non-profit affiliated with Texas A&M. Rick Perry announced this project would create 5,000 new jobs. Instead of adding jobs, Lexicon laid off much of its workforce, and lost more than $500 million.
Before the Perry Administration, all payroll taxes were used to fund the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund and workforce development activities. The Trust Fund is now empty. More than $52 million was diverted from payroll taxes last year alone, when demands on the Trust Fund were rising. Almost every month, these tax dollars are given to various favored companies, including some associated with Perry's campaign contributors. Meanwhile, Perry will have borrowed more than $2 billion from the federal government to plug its holes, without a plan for paying it back.
Three simple reforms can help avoid further hikes in state payroll taxes, establish public accountability and avoid this type of tax increase during a recession in the future.
Restore diverted funds. The Enterprise Fund should pay into the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund the full $161.5 million diverted from Texas' payroll taxes. The governor previously vetoed a bipartisan bill to limit these diversions, but there is no excuse for keeping this money in the TEF now that the Unemployment Fund is broke. When these funds are returned to the Trust Fund, all employers will benefit from the reduced tax burden and the employers--not a politician--can decide how best to allocate payroll dollars to strengthen business and expand employment.
Audit the Enterprise Fund. There should be an independent audit of tax dollars used for subsidies. The auditors should report on: (1) whether the Governor conducted sufficient and independent analysis of each application before awarding a subsidy; (2) whether each subsidy recipient fulfilled every promise made; (3) whether these dollars were necessary to accomplish the intended purposes; (4) whether there was any political influence used or lobbyist paid to influence these decisions; and (5) whether the subsidized firms competed with other Texas businesses not receiving a subsidy.
Disclose the plan for repaying borrowed federal stimulus funds. Gov. Perry declined federal grants to strengthen the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund, but has accepted federal loans under the stimulus legislation. No family or business or governmental entity should borrow money without a plan to repay, but in April the chair of the Texas Workforce Commission did not have a plan in place on how and when to repay these amounts. A repayment plan should be made public immediately.
In prior years Gov. Perry took credit for the beneficial effects of modest decreases in employer payroll taxes. Because of lack of planning during economic growth and the diversion of payroll taxes, payroll taxes have almost doubled for many Texas businesses. Obviously this hurts employment, at a time when the number of Texans unemployed is near a record level. Texas must put all payroll taxes into the Trust Fund to reduce further tax increases, the Legislature must have an independent audit of the use of TEF funds, and taxpayers should not have to wait until after an election to find out how the massive borrowings will be repaid.
Tuesday, May 11, 2010
NTTA issued the following statement:
DALLAS – The North Texas Tollway Authority (NTTA) has re-opened the Mountain Creek Lake Bridge following this afternoon’s bomb scare in which an incendiary device was found submerged under water about 20-to-25 feet away from the bridge structure by a Dallas Police Department (DPD) dive team conducting training exercises.
The device was detonated by a DPD bomb squad just before 5 p.m. To ensure the safety of motorists and NTTA personnel, the bridge remained closed while DPD inspected the bridge structure and surrounding area. No devices were found near or around the bridge and the bridge was re-opened just before 6 p.m.
The incident remains under investigation by the Dallas Police Department.
Earlier in the afternoon they had issued this media advisory:
DALLAS – The North Texas Tollway Authority’s (NTTA) Mountain Creek Lake Bridge (MCLB), located in Dallas, will remain closed until about 8 p.m. tonight following this afternoon’s bomb scare in which an incendiary device was found submerged under water about 20-to-25 feet away from the bridge structure by a Dallas Police Department (DPD) dive team conducting dive drills.
The device was detonated by a DPD bomb squad just before 5 p.m. To ensure the safety of motorists and NTTA personnel, the bridge will remain closed while DPD inspects the bridge structure and surrounding area. The bridge will re-open once it has been determined safe to do so.
Friday, April 16, 2010
TRANSPORTATION SOLUTIONS FOR TEXAS NEWS
March 17th Marks “Transportation Freedom Day” for Dallas -Ft. Worth
On March 17th, Dallas residents celebrate Transportation Freedom Day, the date a typical area household has earned enough to cover its annual transportation costs.
“Transportation Freedom Day is an eye opener,” said Representative Rafael Anchia (D-Dallas). “It shows the need for greater investments in more efficient ways to get around, such as public transit. When government makes the right kind of transportation investments, citizens save a lot of money.”
Americans on average spend an astounding 17 percent of their annual income on transportation, far more than they pay for food, clothing, entertainment, income taxes or even health care. New findings released by the Texas Public Interest Research Group (TexPIRG) show that a typical Dallas-Ft.Worth household shells out the equivalent of 21 percent income to pay for transportation, or 76 days to pay for annual transportation costs.
In more walkable communities with better transit systems households spend less. In the Oak Lawn neighborhood between Cole and Lemon station, for instance, residents spend less of their income on transportation than other surrounding places. A typical area household could expect to spend 13 percent of their income on transportation if they lived there, the equivalent of about 4 fewer weeks of income to get around.
“People may not recognize how much they pay for transportation. Our research and these numbers show that we need long-term solutions that make it easier for Texans to drive less and to get around more efficiently,” said Melissa Cubria of TexPIRG.
Here in Dallas-Ft.Worth, Transportation Freedom Days in the region ranged from February 17th in Oak Lawn Neighborhood around Cole and Lemon Station (i.e., 13% of income), compared to April 4th in Aubrey (i.e. 25.5% of income). Averaged across the region as a whole, Transportation Freedom Day lands on March 17th.
The average American household spent more than $8,000 per year on its vehicles in 2008 according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. Americans who live in areas with good access to public transit generally spend less on transportation than those who are fully dependent on cars. Residents in transit-friendly areas tend to attain “Transportation Freedom” earlier in the year. By highlighting these dates, TexPIRG seeks to raise awareness about how access to public transportation is a crucial for saving Americans money.
“Shortchanging public transportation is a classic case of being pennywise and pound foolish,” added Cubria. “Now more than ever, public officials must make trains and buses a top priority.”
Transportation Freedom Day is the day of the year in which a median-income household has earned enough money to pay for their transportation expenditures for the year. It is based on Census data includes gas, repairs, parking, vehicle depreciation and transit fares.
The findings illustrated in Transportation Freedom Day confirm other data showing that an individual commuter switching from driving from the suburbs to using public transportation in 2010 could expect to save $8,756 in 2010, according to the American Public Transit Association.
Transportation Freedom Day data comes from the Center for Neighborhood Technology in Chicago, which is a leader in statistically based analysis of transportation and housing. Transportation costs are controlled for differences of income, family size, and number of working individuals in a household. Transportation demand is modeled using the most recent census data, and costs are calculated to include car ownership, maintenance, gas, and transit fares. A detailed description of their transportation cost methodology can be found at: http://htaindex.cnt.org/model_summary.
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
BY ROBERT CADWALLADER - Special to the Star-Telegram - April 13, 2010
ARLINGTON -- With natural-gas drilling on the rise, the Planning and Zoning Commission will look at higher road-damage fees, tighter time limits and other measures to buffer the industry's impact on the city.
The commission meets in a 4 p.m. work session today at City Hall, 101 W. Abram St., to consider what would be the third major revision of the 2003 gas well ordinance.
The commission plans to vote next week on final recommendations to the City Council.
"This is one of the main drilling hubs in the Barnett Shale," Mayor Robert Cluck said.
"There is more urban drilling now. We're closer to structures -- homes, churches -- than we ever have been."
The city has received 210 permit applications since 2006, when its first seven wells were drilled. The city so far has approved permits for 163 wells, of which about 130 have been drilled, said Darren Groth, Arlington's gas well inspector. The increase in drilling points to the need for further strengthening of the ordinance, he said.
Suggested changes include:
Charging more to cover most costs for road damage caused by heavy trucks of drilling and pipeline companies. The city used to charge about $200 per well but has gradually increased that to $480. That's still far short of the minimum $5,000 charged by the city of Mansfield, Groth said.
Limiting the time that companies can drill at a site after receiving a specific-use permit. Currently, they have up to one year to drill the first well but no limits on drilling subsequent wells.
Notifying more people when gas-drilling companies apply for permits. For a specific-use permit, the city mails notices to people living within 200 feet of the site. But in the next stage -- the drilling permit application, in which remaining details are addressed before the council -- notices are mailed to residents within 600 feet.
That means a lot more people are hearing about the project after the drilling basically has been approved. However, Cluck said that's not too late to voice concerns to the council, which can deny a drilling permit even if it meets city requirements.
In written statements to city staff, several energy companies voiced concerns about some recommendations. For example, they said limiting the time for drilling subsequent wells on the same site -- an effort to speed up drilling -- could have the opposite effect if a company misses a deadline and has to go back through the permitting process.
Councilwoman Sheri Capehart said she got an earful of gas-drilling concerns at a town hall meeting she hosted last week.
Many residents said the city needs to do more to monitor compliance with landscaping, trucking hours, noise limits and other stipulations in drilling permits. They noted that the city has only one gas well inspector.
Others suggested increasing the percentage of property owners who must sign waivers before a company can drill within 600 feet of residences. They also want fines for well-related violations raised beyond the standard $2,000 for most ordinance infractions.
"I just want us to do this right," Capehart said. "I'm not anti-gas wells, because I think a lot of people benefit. But I want us to do it appropriately and with a vision of what this means to our future."
Read more: http://www.star-telegram.com/2010/04/13/2112329/arlington-considers-tighter-rules.html#ixzz0l62S3VDd
Thursday, February 25, 2010
Former Texas State Democratic Vice Chair Roy LaVerne Brooks wins second round of strategic legal assault by financier Dick Abrams. Unable to get County Chair Steve Maxwell to remove Ms. Brooks from the Tarrant County Democratic Primary Ballot so that he could run unopposed for Justice of the Peace, Pct. 6, Democratic donor and bundler, Dick Abrams brought suit in District Court. Abrams' suit against Roy LaVerne Brooks and Tarrant County Democratic Chair Steve Maxwell was dismissed with prejudice Friday. (aka - don't refile this case)
The contrast between the two candidates is stark. Abrams, former C.E.O. / C.O.B. of failed Surety Bank and Surety Holding, engendered support of Democratic incumbents and some Democratic "want-a-be's" by writing substantial checks to most incumbents and Democratic Clubs, creating a buzz about him being a "viable candidate." Simple Google searches bring up numerous Federal S.E.C. and Comptroller of the Currency documents chronicling Abrams less than stellar performance at the helm of Surety Bank and its holding company. Those touting how "viable" avoid mentioning that Abrams was barred from banking for failure to comply with Federal Banking laws! He settled with the Comptroller of the Currency by agreeing not to participate in any capacity in any federal funded housing, federal loans, banks, or savings and loans because of fiduciary irregularities, misrepresentation of fact on Federal Reports, and failure to follow Federal Law, and the use of bank premises for “for profit endeavors by board members and members of the family of board members.” However, because he can write max allowable checks to high profile candidates some think that he deserved to be the nominee.
In contrast, a Google search on Roy LaVerne Brooks profiles a Democratic Party activist, community servant and civic leader who was named the "Outstanding Woman Citizen of Fort Worth" and inducted into the "Texas Hall of Fame" for 30 years of civic leadership and consistent service to her hometown and the State of Texas. Brooks, a graduate of Prairie View A&M, with M.A. in Divinity from Southwestern, has chaired the handicap transportation authority (MI.T.S.A.C) in Fort Worth and served as Vice-Chair of the Fort Worth "T". Conservative with her finances, Ms. Brooks does not have as deep pockets as her opponent. The contrast between a social workers' salary and the check-writing resources of her opponent are substantial.
Abrams' lawsuit drained much of Brooks "Get out the Vote" resources. None of the newspapers or television stations are mentioning that Texas or Federal Law does not prohibit individuals who are barred from banking for violations of Federal Law from running for (and possibly winning) judicial seats in Texas, or election as State Representatives and State Senators.
Contributions to the Brooks Campaign can be made on-line at WWW.BROOKSFORJP6.ORG. $35.00 can reach half of the registered voters in the precinct by robocall. The primary is March 2nd. Act now if you want to support a qualified woman candidate for public office. The Court ruled that the people have the right to decide who their nominee should be. Money will determine whether the voters get to learn about the differences in the two candidates.
I am not pretending to be unbiased. I know Roy LaVerne Brooks and admire and respect her for her lifetime of service, incredible leadership skills, and understanding of the challenges facing individuals who come before the bench in that Justice of the Peace Precinct. If Mr. Abrams had chosen to campaign to win rather than to use the courts to remove his opponent, this race would probably have avoided my radar. As I examined the court documents, signatures on the petitions, candidate’s credentials, and the needs of the precinct, sharp contrast between the candidates convinced me that Roy LaVerne Brooks is the candidate who can truly best serve the people as Justice of the Peace. The way to build the party is to bring honor to it by fielding and electing people whose life reflects consistent integrity, service and honor. Roy LaVerne Brooks is a woman of integrity, and possesses a heart for the people and the intellect and discernment to do the job.
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A government big enough to give you everything you want, is strong enough to take everything you have. - Thomas Jefferson