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Will Trans Texas Corridor sidetrack Perry candidacy?
Written by Terri Hall   
Thursday, 06 October 2011
Link to article here.

Scuttled highway may sidetrack Perry
By: Kendra Marr, Politico 
October 3, 2011 10:30 PM EDT

Rick Perry’s small-government record has yet another blot.

It’s called the Trans-Texas Corridor.

The governor’s 2012 rivals have latched onto his executive order mandating the HPV vaccine and his advocacy for in-state tuition for illegal immigrants, while little has been said about his unrealized 1,200-foot-wide toll road project that would have swallowed more than 500,000 acres of Texas farmland and wildlife habitats. But as the focus of debates increasingly turn toward President Barack Obama’s jobs agenda — a plan calling for a heavy dose of infrastructure investment — that may change.

“Pay to play, cronyism — all those charges can be found right here in the Trans-Texas Corridor,” said Terri Hall, founder and director of Texans United for Reform and Freedom, a group that fought the project. “We had a Texas-sized uprising.”

In 2002, Perry unveiled his $175 billion blueprint for Texas transportation, calling for 4,000 miles of new toll roads, high-speed rail lines and pipelines “as big as Texas and as ambitious as our people.” Not unlike Obama, Perry envisioned a government role in cultivating private-sector investment in infrastructure.

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Perry's pay-to-play evident with choice to lead TxDOT
Written by Terri Hall   
Friday, 30 September 2011

Perry’s pay-to-play on display in choice to head TxDOT

By Terri Hall
Examiner.com
September 29, 2011

Today, the Texas Transportation Commission announced the new Executive Director to head the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), former Secretary of State Phil Wilson. Wilson was also Governor Rick Perry’s designee for two of his corporate slush funds, the Texas Enterprise Fund and Emerging Technology Fund at that time. Wilson stepped down from Secretary of State in 2008 to become a lobbyist for Luminant, whose parent company is Energy Future Holdings Corp. (formerly TXU Corp.). Wilson also formerly served as Perry’s Chief of Staff and Communications Director.

 

Now we have two Perry political hacks running the highway department, one of the most criticized and broken state agencies in Texas. When Perry tapped Deidre Delisi to head the Transportation Commission in 2008, the move was highly criticized by many in the Texas Legislature. The Senate Transportation Committee Chair at the time, John Carona (R - Dallas), called Delisi a “political hack" with ZERO transportation experience. The same could be said of Wilson. Ultimately, Carona backed down when he got Perry to appoint Bill Meadows, former Board member of the North Texas Tollway Authority, to the Commission.

Flaming pay-to-play cronyism on display
The Transportation Commission wasted taxpayer money hiring Grant Cooper & Associates, an executive search firm based in St. Louis, Mo., to conduct a national search for a new director only to have Perry choose a crony from within Texas. Wilson’s former employer donated over $1 million to Perry through the Republican Governor’s Association when Perry chaired it. This newly released Texans for Public Justice report shows how Energy Future Holdings Corp. benefited directly with Perry appointing Wilson to five (now six) different state posts and four other employees snagging five state appointments in return for its generous donations.

For the first time, TxDOT will not be managed by a professional engineer, but rather a former politician and puppet of the governor. To add insult to injury, Wilson will be paid fully $100,000 more per year, totaling $292,000, than his predecessor (who was a professional engineer, not a former lobbyist). The 628-page management audit done by Grant Thornton recommended new leadership at the top of the troubled agency due to its entrenched culture. It said: “TxDOT has significant leadership issues that impair staff and management effectiveness and morale.” The report also reveals: “Conversations with TxDOTʼs senior leaders reveal a deep-seated belief that TxDOT is doing all the right things and that criticisms leveled against the organization will decline when TxDOT is better able to demonstrate to people how right the organization is.”

The Sunset Advisory Commission also issued two scathing reviews of TxDOT and recommended the Transportation Commission be abolished. Perry’s choice of Wilson is a slap in the face to the sunset review process and will do nothing to convince the skeptical public that this agency’s waste, fraud, and abuse has been put behind them.

The Sunset Advisory Commission report from 2009 states: “Many expressed concerns that TxDOT was 'out of control,' advancing its own agenda against objections of both the Legislature and the public. Sunset staff found that this atmosphere of distrust permeated most of TxDOT’s actions and determined that it could not be an effective state transportation agency if trust and confidence were not restored. Significant changes are needed to begin this restoration; tweaking the status quo is simply not enough.”

Well, the appointment of Wilson is not only a move to keep the status quo, it wreaks of cronyism and puts Perry’s pay-to-play cronyism on display for the national stage. Texas transportation will no more be fixed under this new regime than the old one, and likely will only get worse for taxpayers, for transparency, and for accountability.

A new, much darker era at Perry’s highway department begins....

Last Updated ( Monday, 10 October 2011 )
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State Dept holds hearings on controversial TransCanada Keystone pipeline
Written by Terri Hall   
Wednesday, 28 September 2011
IMMEDIATE RELEASE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The public can submit comments through October 9 here.

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

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Last Updated ( Wednesday, 28 September 2011 )
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Perry pushes toll agency to sell, privatize I-35 in Denton
Written by Terri Hall   
Tuesday, 27 September 2011
Link to article here.

It's significant to note that Deirdre Delisi is Chairwoman of Perry's Texas Transportation Commission and running his presidential campaign at a time when she has the power to direct billions in state contracts to potential campaign donors, like the corporations who will benefit from privatization. The NTTA already knows this project isn't toll viable, so why is Perry's Commission pushing to have it privatized? How will they make money? The same way they all do -- taxpayer subsidies, or public money for private profits.

Gas taxes would build it, but can't use it without paying again through toll taxes:
"With half-a-billon dollars in public money (note: total project cost $3 billion), TxDOT could attract private firms to build the tolled portion of the project -- ie, the two managed lanes in each direction -- and perhaps a small portion of the improvements to the main lanes first. The revenue from those toll lanes would then, supporters hope, be sufficient to help finance the subsequent improvements."

This also shows how diabolical Perry's highway department remains, even after two scathing and a 628 page management audit sunset reviews that could have abolished the agency altogether. So now that the sunset review is over, they're up to their usual bullying that got them into trouble in the first place. Commissioner Ted Houghton even promised TxDOT was no longer in the business of toll roads and that it would defer to the LOCAL toll entities to do it, if they chose. Now that the sunset review is over, TxDOT is NOT deferring to the LOCALS and is foisting its agenda upon them with the MOST expensive way to fund roads that result in toll rates as high as 75 cents PER MILE!

The most shocking statement in this article:
"NTTA executives said this morning that there is no way NTTA could borrow enough to pay for the road because it would take decades before its projected toll revenues would be enough to pay both the debt service on the necessary loans and the operations and maintenance of the road -- even if it is built in stages."

With pressure from state, NTTA board poised to clear way for privatization of I-35E toll project to Denton
By Michael Lindenberger/Reporter
Dallas Morning News
9:50 AM on Wed., Sep. 21, 2011

Free lanes would be expanded; new tolled managed lanes added to I-35E

Update: The board voted 9-0 to waive its rights to develop the project, with the controversial caveat deleted.

Should the NTTA waive its right to develop the Interstate 35E project between Dallas and Denton?

It's a $3.2 billon construction project, and would stretch 29 miles and cover two tolled lanes in each direction, two to three frontage roads lanes in each direction, and between three and four lanes of rebuilt interstate lanes -- big enough, in other words, to make it the largest and most expensive project in NTTA history.

Support for the project is near unanimous from Dallas to Denton to Arlington to Austin. And expectations are high that work on at least part of the project could get underway in the next couple of years, despite its high costs.

But those costs and a strong preference for privatization on behalf of the Governor and his appointees who run the Texas Transportation Commission have likely sidelined NTTA for this project.

Here's why: NTTA executives said this morning that there is no way NTTA could borrow enough to pay for the road because it would take decades before its projected toll revenues would be enough to pay both the debt service on the necessary loans and the operations and maintenance of the road -- even if it is built in stages.

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 27 September 2011 )
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Obama gives green light to toll existing interstate, I-95
Written by Terri Hall   
Tuesday, 27 September 2011
Link to editorial here.

EDITORIAL: Taking Virginia taxpayers for a ride

Obama administration approves multimillion-dollar tax hike on drivers

By THE WASHINGTON TIMES
The Dulles Toll Road proved its notoriety for traffic congestion. The Northern Virginia Transportation Authority seeks to levy taxes for road improvements that would ease such commuting hassles. (Barbara L. Salisbury/The Washington Times)The Dulles Toll Road proved its notoriety for traffic congestion. The Northern Virginia Transportation Authority seeks to levy taxes for road improvements that would ease such commuting hassles. (Barbara L. Salisbury/The Washington Times)

The freedom of the open road could soon be a thing of the past for Virginia motorists. Big-government bureaucrats of all political stripes yearn to return to the days when toll barriers were used to shake down anyone using main thoroughfares. They’ve been upset ever since President Eisenhower’s system of gas-tax-funded freeways spurred commerce, industry and travel across the country. On Friday, the Obama administration gave the green light to turn back the clock.

Republican Gov. Robert F. McDonnell received preliminary federal approval to hit people in the wallet as they pass over the North Carolina border on Interstate 95. Tolls of around $2 per axle will be levied at several points all the way up to Fredericksburg, where the planned High Occupancy Toll (HOT) charges will take over. The ultimate goal is to make all free lanes disappear, according to the Virginia Department of Transportation tolling application, which stated, “VDOT believes that the ability to extend [tolls] past mile post 126 would be beneficial in the future.”

With HOT lanes on the Beltway, and additional plans to toll I-66, taxpayers won’t be able to move anywhere in Northern Virginia without being nickeled-and-dimed. The I-95 plan would fatten Richmond’s coffers to the tune of at least $50 million per year, although the agency admits, “Toll-rate increases have not been included in the analysis.”

The Dulles Toll Road is a perfect example of how that works out. This major commuter route will see the price of a round trip rise to $17 over the next five years, and to $34 by 2040. That huge expense doesn’t go to fund any road improvements. Instead, it foots the bill for the $6 billion Metrorail to Dulles International Airport. These outrageous rates are set by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, an unconstitutional body that doesn’t answer to the residents of Northern Virginia.

Tolling advocates insist there is no other way to fund improvements to I-95 because the state is broke. Perhaps that has something to do with blowing $6 billion on an airport trolley. What’s really happening is that the General Assembly has outsourced the politically unpopular duty of revenue raising to unaccountable agencies and foreign corporations. It’s a thinly disguised tax hike that used to be the sort of thing one expected from Democrats.

In 2003, the Federal Highway Administration granted the request of then-Gov. Mark Warner, a Democrat, to force drivers to toss coins into the government basket when driving on I-81. Fortunately, widespread public opposition forced the legislature to pass a law blocking the deal. Lawmakers need to do the same with the current Republican governor’s plan.

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Perry's cronies: The Shelley-Cintra-Giuliani connection
Written by Terri Hall   
Thursday, 22 September 2011
Link to article here.

Perry & his cronies: The Shelley-Cintra-Giuliani connection

  • By Terri Hall, Examiner.com, September 21, 2011
  • With the pay-to-play Solyndra scandal rocking the White House, presidential hopeful Rick Perry is embroiled in a mountain of crony capitalism controversy all his own. During the September 12 GOP presidential debate, Michelle Bachmann exposed the money trail behind Perry’s Executive Order mandating all 6th grade girls in Texas receive the Gardasil HPV vaccine made by the drug company, Merck, the employer of Perry’s former Chief of Staff, Mike Toomey, at the time. Merck funneled money to Perry, initially $5,000, but eventually adding up to the tidy sum of closer to $400,000, sparking outrage across Texas and now the nation.

    Toomey’s just the tip of the ice berg.

    A recent bill pushed through the Texas Legislature benefited the company Waste Control Specialists, owned by #2 donor to Gov. Rick Perry, Harold Simmons.  Just days after the bill was signed into law, Mr. Simmons wrote a $100,000 check to Americans for Rick Perry, the super PAC supporting Gov. Perry's candidacy for president notes Debra Medina of We Texans.

    Janet Ahmad, President of Homeowners for Better Building, pointed to similar problems in the construction industry.  Top Rick Perry donor, Bob Perry, paid nearly $8 million in campaign contributions and sought and received his own regulatory agency called the Texas Residential Construction Commission in 2003.  Gov. Perry appointed industry-connected people to that agency, including Perry Homes VP, corporate counsel John Krugh. “The resulting agency was so anti-consumer and so counter-productive that the Texas Legislature later decided to abolish it,” Ahmad concludes.

    Texas for Sale

    Then there’s Perry's penchant for selling off Texas infrastructure to the highest bidder, particularly to the employer of his former staffer Dan Shelley, a Spanish company, Cintra. Shelley worked as a ‘consultant’ for Cintra (in 2004), became Perry’s liaison to the legislature during the time that Cintra was awarded the development rights to the $7 billion dollar Trans Texas Corridor (in 2005), then went back to work as a lobbyist for Cintra (in 2006). He and has daughter reportedly earned between $50,000-$100,000 on lobbying for Cintra that year.

    Two key bills that just passed the Texas Legislature and signed into law by Perry further illustrate the crony capitalism and pattern of governance in the Perry Administration, both of which will benefit Cintra, in particular.

    SB 1420 makes 15 Texas roads eligible for public private partnerships (P3s) that sell- off Texas sovereign land/public roads to private entities in 50 year monopolies. P3s involve public money for private profits (including gas taxes and other public subsidies), contain non-compete clauses that penalize or prohibit the expansion of surrounding free routes, and put the power to tax in the hands of private corporations that result in toll rates as high as 75 cents per mile ($13/day or like adding $15 to every gallon of gas you buy). It’s selling off Texas to the highest bidder, which is the MOST expensive, anti-taxpayer method of funding infrastructure.

    Four road projects under SB 1420 have already been awarded to Cintra. In fact, every single P3 for roads in Texas has gone to Cintra: SH 130 (segments 5 & 6) and I-635 and the North Tarrant Express (comprised of multiple projects, primarily on I-820) in Dallas/Ft.Worth. All have been heavily subsidized with gas taxes and other public money (see pages 2 & 3), yet Cintra walks away with a sweetheart deal and guaranteed profits. Despite Cintra’s shaky financial situation (its debt rating just got lowered due to fears of the Cintra-controlled Indiana Toll Road going into default), Perry’s highway department continues to press ahead with these extremely controversial and unpopular privatization projects.

     
    Last Updated ( Thursday, 22 September 2011 )
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