Ruby is Best for Texas 6th Congressional District

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Plan would give governor leeway in spending $100 million

Plan would give governor leeway in spending $100 million
Texas A&M University System's health science school to do clinical work in Round Rock, budget says.
By Ralph K.M. Haurwitz

AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF - Plan would give governor leeway in spending $100 million
Texas A&M University System's health science school to do clinical work in Round Rock, budget says.
By Ralph K.M. Haurwitz
Texas A&M University System's health science school to do clinical work in Round Rock, budget says.
By Ralph K.M. Haurwitz - AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF - Saturday, May 26, 2007

Gov. Rick Perry created a dust-up concerning certain aspects of higher education spending. A two-year budget approved Friday by House and Senate negotiators appears to go a long way toward resolving it.

The plan would give Perry latitude in spending $100 million. The sum isn't anywhere near the $350 million Perry had sought. Still, it's more than the $75 million that had been penciled into the budget.

The governor also made gains in his effort to wield greater veto power over higher education "special items," earmarks of specific sums for construction projects and research.
Read more

Lawmakers move to push out Craddick, but he won't give in.

Mutiny in Texas House
By Laylan Copelin, Mike Ward - AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF - Saturday, May 26, 2007

Speaker Tom Craddick refused early this morning to recognize a motion to remove him from office after a long, raucous evening on the House floor.

During several hours of pandemonium and tedium (during lengthy recesses), Craddick's two parliamentarians resigned, former Reps. Terry Keel and Ron Wilson assumed those posts and members began discussing taking the speaker's ruling to court.

For weeks, mutiny against Craddick had been building, and a motion to remove him was expected to come Sunday after the $153 billion budget was approved and out of the way.

On Friday night, however, the House stumbled into open confrontation when Rep. Jim Dunnam, D-Waco, a Craddick opponent, began asking questions about the removal procedure. Dunnam said he had not intended to start a fight Friday night, but he and other House members were caught off-guard by Craddick's remarks.

Craddick said the speaker doesn't have to recognize a member with motion to remove the leader — and the speaker's ruling can't be appealed.

After several minutes of parliamentary back-and-forth, and a 45-minute break for Craddick to consult with key lieutenants, the speaker returned to the House floor about 8:40 p.m., attempting to resume approval of bills without answering more questions about his stance.

When a House member objected, Craddick recessed the House until 11 p.m. and left with a cadre of sergeants-at-arms and supporters by his side.

The House then burst into chaos, with members booing and demanding that Craddick return, that he resign and that the House continue business. Many yelled when the House clerk posted an electronic message at the front of the House Chamber announcing the delay.
Read more

House resumes business after challenge to speaker

Austin American-Statesman
Texas House Speaker Tom Craddick answers a question from the floor during a Saturday morning session at the Texas House. Tensions in the Texas House boiled over late Friday in a showdown between Craddick and a group of lawmakers trying to unseat him. Craddick's two parliamentarians resigned. Craddick was joined by newly named House Parliamentarian Terry Keel and Assistant Parliamentarian Ron Wilson, right. Bottom: Extra security was put in place Saturday at the House.
Read more

Tolls: Rumors and more rumors

May 26, 2007 by McBlogger

We all know that everyone caved on 792. Apparently, we're hearing that some of the members from Houston metro are under pressure from HCTRA, just like the North Texas folks are being attacked by NTTA. Keep in mind this bill doesn't do a damn thing and has so many loopholes it's ridiculous. Senator Nichols, for one, was quoted as saying that it was the moratorium everyone wanted.

Not so much, Senator. As soon as Amendment 13 was stripped out, it became worthless.

Time after time y'all keep worrying about people at the RMA's and Toll Authorities. It's really pretty silly since there are going to be some significant changes over the next few years in these organizations. Think I'm lying? Just look at the mood in Central Texas. The people most effected by toll roads are the ones most upset. Do you really think there won't be some changes in Williamson County over the next couple of years? Travis County had their's with the election of Sarah Eckhardt.

Sure, Houston has had toll roads for a while. So has Dallas. However, people aren't ready for (and won't be happy with) TXDoT's master plan. Further, they aren't ready for for-profit tolling. What you're doing with these bills is legalizing extortion. And you won't get any cover from your party.

It's time to flip and call 39%'s bluff

Friday, May 25, 2007

Clear Channel accepts latest bid from Lee, Bain

Dallas Business Journal - May 18, 2007
Clear Channel Communications Inc. said Friday its board of directors has accepted a revised buyout offer from two private equity firms.

Boston-based Thomas H. Lee Partners LP and Boston-based Bain Capital LLC have been bidding for the advertising and radio company since November but have been unable to gain shareholder approval. Friday, San Antonio-based Clear Channel said directors unanimously approved the latest offer of $39.20 a share, 20 cents higher than a previously rejected bid.

Clear Channel Communications owns Dallas stations KZPS-FM (92.5), KEGL-FM (97.1), KDGE-FM (102.1), KDMX-FM (102.9) and KHKS-FM (106.1).
Read more

Interstate expansion, bridges aim to ease traffic as Cowboys arrive in 2009

Arlington bridges to improve I-30 access
By JEFF MOSIER - The Dallas Morning News - Saturday, May 12, 2007
jmosier@dallasnews.com


ARLINGTON – EuroCater is so isolated that owner Kristen Ariola had to walk outside last week and wave her arms to flag down a lost customer.

The catering business and its shopping center have been hidden for years, tucked way behind the Guitar Center and Waffle House and enveloped by the giant cloverleaf interchange at Collins Street and Interstate 30.
Read more

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Public Meetings - Transportation and Environment

Click headline link to see enlarged image

Toll-road pact is still in talks

By AMAN BATHEJA - Star-Telegram Staff Writer -Posted on Thu, May. 24, 2007
AUSTIN -- Key negotiators were still working Wednesday night to hammer out a compromise version of a toll-road moratorium bill that Gov. Rick Perry won't veto.

Earlier Wednesday, Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, said a compromise between the House and Senate versions of a transportation bill had been negotiated, but key House members quickly insisted that a deal had not been reached.

The compromise version would require both chambers' approval.

Perry vetoed a toll-road moratorium bill last week, citing concerns that it would cost the state federal funding of transportation projects. Different versions of a second moratorium passed both chambers last week. If Perry were to veto that one, it would likely be after the end of the legislative session and too late for lawmakers to override it.

Perry has threatened to call a special legislative session on transportation if he doesn't receive a bill to his liking.

Meanwhile, lawmakers remain determined to get a moratorium passed to block development of Perry's proposed Trans-Texas Corridor.

House and Senate negotiators were haggling Wednesday over an amendment that Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, added to the House version of the bill. The amendment added a special arrangement called "facilities agreements." Critics say such agreements constitute a huge loophole through which private toll roads could still be built even while under the two-year moratorium.

Early Wednesday, Kolkhorst indicated that she plans to work with Perry to learn his concerns about the amendment.

"I think that if he can give me assurance that TTC 35 won't be built [with facility agreements] before Sept. 1, 2009, I think we can work out a compromise," Kolkhorst said.
Read more

Electric bill waters down ratepayer benefits

By R.A. DYER - Star-Telegram Staff Writer -Thu, May. 24, 2007
AUSTIN -- Although the legislation was unveiled three months ago as a potential antidote to unfair rates, North Texans paying the most for electricity may not get much savings under a bill approved Wednesday by key lawmakers.

House and Senate negotiators also removed or watered down major provisions that TXU lobbyists had said would undermine the pending sale of TXU to private-equity companies.

However, sponsors noted that the far-reaching legislation includes new penalties for companies that abuse their position in the electric market and new rate protections and discounts for low-income Texans.
Read more

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

TX - Action Alert - Tic Tic Tic the Clock is tickin' - TTC bomb buried in legislation

by Faith Chatham - Daily Kos and Texas Kaos -Wed May 23, 2007
Gov. Perry insisted that MARKET VALUATION be inserted into Texas Senate Bill 792. This is a long bill. They did not open this bill to public testimony. They rushed it through the Senate, suspending the rules so that they could take all three reading in one day and vote it out of the Senate untouched. It became known as Perry's compromise transportation bill and was seen as the last chance to get the 2 year moratorium on toll roads passed and signed into law by the Governor.

Fortunately on the floor of the Texas House there were a few people with more spine than the lap dogs in the Senate who red stamped Perry’s dictates. Some DFW area reps argued against application of Market Valuation on SH 161. They didn't touch the real problem but only complained that it might slow down the projects. The big problem in that adding market valuation turns all toll projects into CDAs requiring rates high enough to generate billions of dollars of surplus toll revenue to be paid as concession payments to the RTCs and TxDOT!
Read more

House turns up heat on speaker

Rivals line up for Craddick's job as call made for him to quit
By KAREN BROOKS / The Dallas Morning News - Monday, May 21, 2007
kmbrooks@dallasnews.com


AUSTIN – The slow drip of speaker politics turned into a steady stream Monday, when a North Texas lawmaker announced his intent to run for House speaker before the session ends in a week and two of his colleagues said they may follow suit.

And in a rare personal privilege speech, Rep. Byron Cook, a committee chairman under Speaker Tom Craddick, called for the Midland Republican to resign his leadership post. He said the House had been damaged by "tyranny and bullying [and] threats" from the speaker's team in recent weeks.

Earlier, Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, who waged an unsuccessful campaign to unseat the speaker in January, said that he filed his papers for a speaker's race in case House Republicans follow through on threats to remove Mr. Craddick. Plano GOP Rep. Brian McCall – the first Republican to challenge the speaker last year before turning his support over to Mr. Pitts – said he would "probably" do the same.

House Ways and Means Chairman Jim Keffer, R-Eastland, has already filed his intent to run for speaker in 2009. But when asked if he would get into the race earlier if the seat becomes vacant, Mr. Keffer said, "We're looking at it."
Read more

Ailing senator returns to block voter ID vote

'It is a big enough issue that I have to be here,' Democrat says, hospital bed at ready
By TERRENCE STUTZ / The Dallas Morning News - Tuesday, May 22, 2007
tstutz@dallasnews.com


AUSTIN – A Democratic blockade of a GOP-backed voter ID bill held firm Monday as an ailing Houston senator returned to the Capitol against doctors' orders, keeping a hospital bed in reserve outside the Senate chamber.

Democratic Sen. Mario Gallegos, who had a liver transplant this year, showed up to block a vote on legislation that would require Texans to provide up to two pieces of identification to vote.
Read more

House presses Senate on gas tax holiday

By JAKE BATSELL / The Dallas Morning News - Wednesday, May 23, 2007
jbatsell@dallasnews.com


AUSTIN – A summer reprieve from soaring gas prices is still in limbo, but the Texas House gave it an extra push Tuesday.

Earlier this month, House members approved a three-month suspension of the 20-cents-per-gallon state gas tax, arguing that Texas drivers need a break from record prices at the pump. The measure would cost as much as $700 million.

The Senate has offered a chilly reception because of the price tag.

On Tuesday, Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, won a 137-0 vote from his colleagues to keep pressing for the gas tax holiday.

Now it's up to a 10-member conference committee to sort out the gas tax holiday's fate.

Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, said that adding a $700 million item is "not feasible" this late in the legislative session.

"All of us would love to be able to do something about our gasoline tax," Ms. Shapiro said. "We are seeing the numbers just escalating exponentially every day. But that's not the way to do it, just decide midstream that you're going to stop getting money from the tax. ... I would hope that cooler heads will prevail."
Read more

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Suggested letter to North Texas State Reps and Senators

SUGGESTED SUBJECT LINE:
RE SB 792 - HB 2268 Market Valuation requirements for public toll authorities projects in DFW region is last straw

SUGGESTED TEXT FOR EMAIL:
ADDING "MARKET VALUATION" Requirements to public toll authority's public transportation projects and elimination of Amendment 13 from SB 792 are DEAL BREAKERS for the voters. We'll remember those who allow this to happen when the PEOPLE VOTE next time.
"Please INSIST that the Trans Texas Corridor unquestionably be INCLUDED in the moratorium by RETAINING Amendment 13 in SB 792! We're counting on you TO MAKE THIS HAPPEN!"

The NCTCOG's RTC and many local elected officials serving on the RTC descended on Austin arguing for the DFW region (NCTCOG area) to be exempted from the 2 year moratorium. Legislators in other districts fought to keep their citizens protected. In our region we have to trust TxDOT and the RTC.

I am writing to tell you that citizens in the DFW area are upset. Allowing MARKET VALUATION to be applied to public toll authorities projects in this region is the LAST STRAW. We've are taking note and rembering the names of elected officials who sold the public out by fighting to protection citizens in the North Central Texas Region from bad CDA contracts.

Members of the RTC and local elected officials only get one vote when you run again for re-election. The people get thousands of votes. Most of the voters in this region differ with the RTC on use of surplus toll revenue to fund highway projects. Most of the voters in this region differ with TxDOT on raising toll rates higher than necessary to retire the debt and maintain the roads in order to generate billions of dollars of surplus toll revenue to use on other projects.

Citizens are outraged that the Texas Legislator has refused to seriously address Public Transportation funding problems.

We are angry that you refuse to stop diversions from transportation funds to non-transportation uses.

We are angry that instead of indexing the gas tax to keep up with inflation, you avoid addressing gas gouging and propose a temporary 20cent suspension of the gas tax. That is pandering rather than problem solving. Twenty cents a gallon for three months does not address air quality in non attainment areas. It does not help us if we are forced to pay high tolls for 675 miles of stragetic highways in the DFW area.

Applying Market Valuation to public toll authorities is the last straw. Fight for us or be prepared to face our opinions and fury when you come back to your district and ask the voters to re-elect you.

[YOUR NAME]
[YOUR ADDRESS]
[YOUR TELEPHONE NO.]

------

Send this message to State Senators from NCTCOG Region:

kim.brimer@senate.state.tx.us, john.carona@senate.state.tx.us, bob.duell@senate.state.tx.us, craig.estes@senate.state.tx.us, chris.harris@senate.state.tx.us, jane.nelson@senate.state.tx.us, robert.nichols@senate.state.tx.us, florence.shapiro@senate.state.tx.us, royce.west@senate.state.tx.us,

Send this message State Representatives from the NCTCOG region:

roberto.alonzo@house.state.tx.us, rafael.anchia@house.state.tx.us, dan.branch@house.state.tx.us, lon.burnham@house.state.tx.us, myra.crownover@house.state.tx.us, yvonne.david@house.state.tx.us, joe.driver@house.state.tx.us, kirk.england@house.state.tx.us, charlie.geren@house.state.tx.us, helen.giddings@house.state.tx.us, tony.goolsby@house.state.tx.us, kelly.hancock@house.state.tx.us,
linda.harper-brown@house.state.tx.us,
will.hartnett@house.state.tx.us, fred.hill@house.state.tx.us, terri.hodge@house.state.tx.us, jim.jackson@house.state.tx.us, jim.keffer@house.state.tx.us, phil.king@house.state.tx.us, jodie.laubenber@house.state.tx.us, jerry.madden@house.state.tx.us, brian.mccall@house.state.tx.us, sid.miller@house.state.tx.us, anna.mowery@house.state.tx.us, rob.orr@house.state.tx.us, diane.patrick@house.state.tx.us, ken.paxton@house.state.tx.us, paula.pierson@house.state.tx.us, jim.pitts@house.state.tx.us, todd.smith@house.state.tx.us, burt.solomons@house.state.tx.us, vicki.truitt@house.state.tx.us, allen.vaught@house.state.tx.us, marc.veasey@house.state.tx.us,


The above form letter can be cut and pasted into your e-mail.
1. Open another browser window, open your e-mail, choose compose.
2. Highlight the text in SUGGESTED SUBJECT LINE of this form letter and hold down the "control key" while holding down the "c" key to copy the text in your clip board.
3. Move your cursor to the SUBJECT FIELD of the open e-mail form on the other browser window.
4. Hold down the "control key" while holding down the "V" key to paste the text into the form of your e-mail.
5. If you want to change any of the text in the SUBJECT LINE, you can use your delete key or type over existing text with your new message.
6. Highlight the text in SUGGESTED TEXT FOR MESSAGE of this form letter and hold down the "control key" while holding down the "c" key to copy the text in your clip board.
7. Move your cursor to the MESSAGE FIELD of the open e-mail form on the other browser window.
8. Hold down the "control key" while holding down the "V" key to paste the text into the form of your e-mail.
9. If you want to change any of the text in the body of your e-mail message, you can use your delete key and/or type over existing text with your new message.
10. Type over the [YOUR NAME} with your actual name
11. Type over the [YOUR ADDRESS] with your actual address
12. Type over the [YOUR TELEPHONE] with your actual telephone number

To copy the e-mail addreses of the state senators and state representatives who represent districts in the NCTCOG - North Texas DFW Region:
13. Highlight the e-mail addresses and hold down the "control key" while pressing the "C" key to copy them into your clip board.
14. Move your cursor to the TO: field of the e-mail message open in the other browser window.
15. Hold down the "control key" while pressing the "V" key to paste the e-mail addresses into the TO field of the email message.
16. Send your message.

IT IS RECOMMEND THAT YOU SEND MESSAGES TO 1/3 OF THE LIST AT A TIME TO AVOID SPAM FILTERS.

T.U.R.F. warns that Market Valuation in SB 792 allows backdoor CDAs

YOU’VE BEEN HAD! TXDOT’S GOTCHA IN SB 792

MARKET VALUATION(IE - CONCESSION FEES) WILL BE MANDATORY ON ALL TOLL PROJECTS IF SB 792 PASSES AS WRITTEN! TRADITIONAL TURNPIKES NO LONGER AN OPTION!

In seeking clarification on the implications of “market valuation” on toll projects (Sec. 228.0111), TURF has learned that if SB 792 passes as written, ALL toll projects around the state MUST USE market valuation to establish toll rates and to set toll rate escalation. Traditional turnpikes, where an entity simply sells bonds for the actual cost of building the road and the tolls pay back that debt, WILL BE OFF THE TABLE!

A third party appraiser would determine the market value of the road and that amount, once agreed upon by TxDOT and the tolling entity, would be deposited in subaccounts JUST LIKE A CONCESSION FEE with CDAs! Motorists taking that tollway will then be charged OPPRESSIVELY HIGH TOLLS beyond the cost of building that specific road since the toll rate now has to cover the upfront fee (which is just like a concession fee!).
“Market valuation” is TxDOT and the Governor’s GOTCHA in SB 792. In speaking with many legislators, most DO NOT KNOW THIS and thought market valuation only applied to the buy back provisions or were optional or applied only to certain projects. Senator Robert Nichols added an amendment stating if both the tolling entity and TxDOT CANNOT AGREE on the market value the project cannot move forward. However, most legislators don’t realize this means the PROJECT DIES and cannot go forward USING THE TRADITIONAL TURNPIKE model. So unless your tolling entity can agree with this rogue agency, YOUR PROJECT DIES ALTOGETHER!

Market valuation tolling is like a back door CDA! Do we really have a CDA moratorium when this is the case? Will your constituents back home think YOU VOTED FOR A WIN when they’re going to be charged OPPRESSIVELY HIGH tolls anyway?

We fear this opens another can of worms that will bring regrets similar to HB 3588. Many wanted to “correct the sins of the past” this session in regards to tolling and for having “created a monster” in TxDOT.

Here's what Senator Robert Nichols said about market valuation in the Lone Star Report, May 21, 2007: "For the first time you're having a county toll authority or a regional mobility authority that is going to have to come up with a front end concession, kind of like a private entity. They're going to have to commit to spend those funds. Either to TxDOT or to other projects in that area."

Is getting a compromise bill signed more important than enacting good transportation policy that’s been fully vetted and had the proper public debate? Unleashing yet another monster on the taxpaying public with provisions stuck in a bill at the last minute should cause us all to pause. It’s clear few knew what they were voting on last week. This Legislature needs to step back and focus on getting a good bill passed, not on special session threats or rushing to the finish line empty-handed. May it be said you finished well, and in a way that you won’t regret back home.

Signed,
Terri Hall
Founder/Director
Texans Uniting for Reform & Freedom (TURF) &
San Antonio Toll Party
www.TexasTURF.org

David Van Os Speaks Out - The Trans-Texas Corridor moratorium bill needs YOU

by David Van Os - Texas Kaos - Monday May 21, 2007

A few days ago it looked like the people of Texas were going to get a two-year moratorium on the TTC monstrosity. It looked like overwhelming numbers of legislators in both the House and the Senate had heard the voices of the people. It looked like our House members and Senators were going to get us breathing room in which to continue to spread information and education to our fellow Texans about the intolerable scar Dictator Perry and his campaign contributors want to rip across the face of our state.
After all, the moratorium passed the House with only one dissenting vote out of 150 members, and it passed the Senate by a vote of 27-4.

But my friends, we are about to get SOLD OUT if we do not ROAR once again louder than ever.

The Dictator vetoed the first moratorium bill on May 18. Although the bill originally passed with overwhelming margins, the House and Senate are not moving to override the veto. Instead, they are working on a "compromise" with the Dictator's office that will give him and the Toll Barons everything they want.

Read more

Monday, May 21, 2007

What is so bad about the “apply market valuation” clause in SB 792?

Q. Does this clause give landowners a better price for land confiscated by eminent domain?
A. No, in this bill, they are referring to market valuation for the ENTIRE INFRASTRUCTURE PROJECT rather than for getting an appraisal on the real estate before they pay the land owner. There are rules that apply to acquisition of land by eminent domain which will not be changed by this phrase in this bill.

Q. What is Market Valuation as used in HB 792?
A. What they are referring to is HOW THEY VALUE the land years after it is acquired, how they VALUE the entire infrastructure throughout the life of the contract.

Q. Is it a common practice?
A. Applying Market Valuation to state highway projects is a new concept. Market Valuation is a private sector practice where an owner of an asset values that asset over time as the value of the real estate escalates. As demand for adjacent property rises, rental and usage fees rise to reflect what the private company would have to pay for that house or business or real estate on the day they lease it to a user. For example, a friend of mine rents a house she purchased for $20,000.00 but which appraises on today’s market for $45,000.00. Years ago she charged $150.00 a month for rent but today she charges $750.00 a month for a tenant to rent the house.
This is a common practice in the public sector because she used her personal funds or credit to acquire the property. She is not a public housing authority which uses public funds.

Q. Why is it a such "big deal" in this particular bill?
A. Until a few years ago, only public toll authorities were legally allowed to build toll roads in Texas. With changes in the law, we now allow private companies to partner with the state to build toll roads. We also have public toll authorities which build toll roads in Texas. Public and private toll companies are in competition for bids on lucrative projects. Public toll companies (like NTTA) have an advantage in the bidding process because they operate on different rules than private companies like Cintra. A private company is supposed to invest private investor capital into the project and the private investors, wherever they live in the world, get a return on their investment and they can spend or invest that money anywhere in the world in any kind of project they choose. A public authority uses taxpayers money as an agent of the people and the return or user fees goes back into the public coffers, not to private investors. The return must remain in the region for use on public works projects for the public good.

Q. What about use of right of way?
A. If a private company use right of way owned by the state, frequently they must pay a today’s value for that right of way when they acquire the right to use it because they are a company of private investors making a profit off of the taxpayer’s assets. A public authority should not have to pay today's value for acquisition of the right of way because they are agents of the people, whose money was used to acquire the asset and who will be the customers who use the finished transportation project. Profit (or return on stockholders investment) should not apply to public works (public toll authorities) projects.

A. Are there any exceptions?Q. In some versions of legislation that have been passed by various houses of the Texas Legislature (but which have not to date been signed by the Governor), there was language to allow private or public toll authorities to utilize the right of way at the same cost or no cost and not include the difference between what it actually cost the state to acquire the right of way and what the right of way costs today (market valuation) into the project cost. The idea is to try to keep project cost down so lower costs would allow lower usage fees to the public. But that language was an EXCEPTION to normal practices in the private market place.

Q. When Market Valuation is applied to a project, does it apply to anything other than the real estate cost?
A, Yes. By applying market valuation to a project means each year value would would be base on what it would have cost to build that project that year, instead of what it actually cost to build it when it was built. That means calculating what supplies would have cost at current rates of inflation, what real estate would cost if acquired during the year when they are computing the current year's market valuation, what labor would cost now vs. during the year it was actually built. Applying market valuation means that building supplies, labor, land cost, engineering fees, studies, actually every project cost is calculated based on the current rate of inflation and cost for those design/build/acquire elements for the project based on the cost in each year of the contract. It is suspected that projects will cost much more 50 years from now than they do today. Applying market valuation to a project means that what it would cost to build that project 50 years from now is the cost that will be used to calcuate the rates in the formula used to calculate user fees and potential buy-back costs.

Michael Morris of the NCTCOG RTC says that every project they have escalates in cost about a billion dollars a year. Applying Market Valuation to a public toll project would mean that instead of the project costs remaining what was ACTUALLY SPENT by the government on behalf of the people to build that project, they will be artificially applying a bookkeeping model to the project cost each year which will include what it would cost should they build that project at different years in the contract.

Q. Why did Gov. Perry insist that this language be inserted in SB 792?
A. That is a good question and the only way to answer it is to speculate. Pushing application of Market Valuation to public toll projects levels the playing field between Cintra and the NTTA. It removes the advantage of using a public toll authority to build the project. Rick Perry received substantial campaign contributions from Zachry and Zachry family members and associates during each election cycle he has been in office. Zachry is Cintra's partner and TxDOT favors Zachry-Cintra as contractor for the lucrative TTC project and for SH121. TxDOT was not pleased when legislation was passed which required allowing public toll authorities have the "right of first refusal" in bidding on projects in their region.

I think that requiring application of Market Valuation to public toll authorities bids is a tool that Perry’s administration is trying to use so that Cintra and private investors will have a better chance to win state highway toll contracts. (Private investors charge the taxpayer twice what most public toll authorities charge the public to use the infrastructure).

Q. Why shouldn't they apply Market Valuation to a public project?
A.MARKET VALUATION OF A PROJECT IN THE PUBLIC SECTOR SHOULD NOT APPLY BECAUSE THE PUBLIC IS BOTH THE INVESTOR AND THE USER.
A public toll authority is supposed to build the project at as low a cost as possible and any return on investment is actually taxpayer’s money and must be invested in other public infrastructure in the region for the benefit of the people or returned to the taxpayer through payments to the government.
The funding for a public toll project is taxpayer funding – either gas money, public bonds, etc.

Market valuation is not something they push so that land owners get more when their land is claimed by eminent domain. It is a technique they are trying to misapply to public toll authorities to make them act like private companies like Cintra. A public company's assets belong to the state/taxpayer and they are supposed to operate at the lowest cost to the taxpayer to use those assets. That is why states and public toll authorities buy right of way years in advance at lower costs than what the market would value that real estate in the year they actually break ground or later in the contract, in the year in which the driver is actually driving on that real estate. After all, it is taxpayer money that pays for the real estate and for the bonds that build the infrastructure.

Q. What is the difference between a private and a public toll authority?
A. In a private company, private investor money is investedto acquire the asset. Their stockowners want as great a return as possible on their investment. They apply market valuation to the project each year they own the asset, modeling what the land and construction costs would be if acquired and built each year instead of what it actually cost them to acquire and build the asset when the land was actually bought and the project was actually built. Each year, market valuation is used to set rental rates and prices charged to "customers" or tenants. This allows the investors, private people, to get the greatest return on their initial investment. The investors are different from the customers.

A governmental (public) entity building an infrastructure project is acting as an agent of the people. Their customer or renter is the taxpayer, and the government as an agent of the taxpayer, invests the taxpayers money as capital to build the project. Market Valuation is not applied to public projects because the taxpayer, (who is also the investor who puts up the capital), is not seeking PROFIT like a private shareholder. The public, or taxpayer, is seeking to have access to the infrastructure at the lowest possible cost.
It is of no benefit to the investor (taxpayer) in a public project to apply MARKET VALUATION BOOKKEEPING MODELING TECHNIQUES to the project each year the road is used. The investor is the user and the user wants the cost to remain as low as possible for him (the taxpayer) to use their public infrastructure asset.

Q. What harm does it do if they track what it would cost to build the project each year if it were built in that year?
A. Knowing what it would cost to build it each year is somewhat different from "Applying Market Valuation" to a project as used in SB 792. Applying market valuation to SH 161 could allow use of inflated building costs and land values to influence the rate of the tolls. It could mean that more public money would be required should the state decided to terminate the contract before the 50th year. Applying Market Valuation means using each year's market valuation in the modeling for toll rates rather than "just knowing" the value of the infrastructure.

A. Why is it so important that we call all the North Texas Delegation and object to their voting to allow Market Valuation to remain in this bill?
B. The cost to the taxpayer to use a public assess constructed by a public toll authority using taxpayers resources should not escalate over time as adjacent real estate escalates n price. Appling MARKET VALUATION to public toll authorities projects as used in SB 792 will force public toll authorities to pretend like they are private entities and they will be raising the cost to the user over time as the real estate costs rises in the market place for adjacent land. Even though the state acquired the land years ago with taxpayer money so that the cost to the taxpayer to use the infrastructure would be low, the rules will be turned upside down and the taxpayer will see their user fees rise as adjacent real estate costs rise.


Q. What is so bad about the “apply market valuation” clause in SB 792?
A. Gov. Perry and TxDOT wants MARKET VALUATION APPLIED because this will generate “more revenue out of the ground” for right of way already owned by the state and paid for by taxpayer dollars without giving any additional benefit to the taxpayer.
TxDOT and Perry and probably the NCTCOG RTC favors applying MARKET VALUATION to public toll projects because it will “justify” higher tolls and enable greater amounts of surplus toll revenue to travel from the project into the TxDOT/RTC coffers for use on other projects. (We’ll see how much of it trickles down and actually gets spent on infrastructure and how much evaporates in transit). TxDOT favors it because it insures lots of transportation engineers will continue getting paychecks should federal funds dry up because we miss air quality attainment standards.

Q. Who loses if SB 762 is passed with language requring application of Market Valuation to public toll projects in it?
A. The taxpayer. Taxpayers pay for the right of way then it is acquired with gas tax money. Applying market valuation to the project gives private investment companies like Cintra an advantage in bidding. It costs the taxpayer about twice more to use a project constructed by a private toll authority than it should cost if constructed by a public toll authority. Then by applying market valuation to the project, the project cost escalates on paper each year with inflation removing the advantage of having used tax money years ago to acquire right of way. The people get charged on paper artificially high prices for the right of way that was already paid for with the people's money when it is incorporated into a toll project. Then each year, as inflation increases and what it would have cost to build that project in each successive year of the contract rises, they get to apply this MARKET VALUATION TOOL to the project, and can use it to possibly charge greater cost to the public when citizen-taxpayers drive on the highway.
On every front, the taxpayer gets gouged. Double taxation. Escalated values instead of real cost. Inflated user fees “justified” by market valuation in different years of the project.

What they are attempting to do is to jack up the COST of the project on paper so that they can "justify" higher toll rates and higher project costs so that they'll be able to justify artificially jacking up the project pay off cost should the state decide to reacquire the project at some time in the future. The higher the project cost, the easier it is to justify billions more of surplus toll revenue.

We purchase right of way years in advance so that it will require less of the taxpayers money when it is time for us to build new highway infrastructure and it will cost less to the taxpayers to use that infrastructure. Because public taxpayer money was used, the public should be able to use that infrastructure at as low a cost as is absolutely possible during every year of the contract or life of that infrastructure. The entire CDA to generate surplus toll revenue to give to the RTC concept turns the entire concept on its head. Instead of doing it so the citizens can use it as inexpensively as possible, it is build it and now APPLY MARKET VALUATION TO IT in such a way that the citizen will be fleeced as much as possible every time they put their tires on the highway.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Future of small-claims courts is uncertain

By DAVE LIEBER - Star-Telegram staff writer
The future of the Texas small-claims court system is up in the air because of pending legislation in Austin that could radically change the makeup of one of the strongest pro-consumer tools in the state.

A bill passed by the Senate and now before the House in the Legislature's final full week would eliminate the existing small-claims court system.

It asks the Texas Supreme Court to rewrite the rules for handling small-claims court procedures, meaning there's no way to know what could happen.

Supporters of the bill, including some justices of the peace -- who serve as small-claims judges in Texas -- say change is needed because there are few uniform rules governing small-claims court.

JPs have tremendous leeway, meaning rulings can vary wildly from court to court.

Others say such leeway is part of what makes the system effective at helping resolve consumers' problems.

"They need to leave small-claims court intact," said former Tarrant County Justice of the Peace Sandy Prindle, a past president of the Justices of the Peace and Constables Association of Texas.

Small-claims courts were created 54 years ago.

One supporter at the time described it as "a far-reaching poor man's court" that would settle "thousands of little bills," according to news reports then.

The original filing fee of $2 is now $10.

People who file small-claims lawsuits do not need a lawyer and can present their own evidence.

Senate Bill 1204 would completely eliminate the chapter in state law that deals with small-claims court.
Read more

State's actions affecting commuters

By GORDON DICKSON - Star-Telegram staff writer - Fri, May. 18, 2007
How are the state's actions affecting commuters? The Legislature is wrapping up its 2007 session, and the House passed a compromise bill Thursday that would put the brakes on some future toll road projects but allow others. The Senate will be asked to give final approval today.

Want examples of what you'll see on the street? This guide uses a thumbs up to show projects moving forward, thumbs down to show projects in trouble and fingers crossed to show projects somewhere in between.

1. Grapevine funnel

Expansion of Texas 114/121 in Grapevine is funded and scheduled to start in 2008. It's not included in the state's toll road moratorium.

2. Regional rail

A proposed half-cent sales tax hardly got a hearing. It's a setback for cities that don't belong to the T. Fort Worth and Grapevine may have Cotton Belt service to D/FW Airport by 2012, but others such as Arlington may wait.

3. North Tarrant Express

Managed toll lanes on Airport Freeway, Northeast Loop 820 and Interstate 35W aren't part of the two-year moratorium. But the project still isn't environmentally cleared and is only partially funded. A private partner is needed.

4. Texas 161

The long-awaited alternative to Texas 360 is under construction but may get caught in the same political dispute as Texas 121 in Denton and Collin counties. The question will be: Should a private company, or the North Texas Tollway Authority, be in charge of this road?

5. Southwest Parkway

This project was never in question, but people often ask about it. Ground should break before the end of the year. The North Texas Tollway Authority is the lead agency.

Trans-Texas Corridor (not shown)

Consider it on the back burner. It will be delayed at least two years by the moratorium. By then, proponent Gov. Rick Perry will be near the end of his term.

gdickson@star-telegram.com
Gordon Dickson, 817-685-3816

Read more See map of roads affected in NCTexas

Toll-road ban includes exemptions

By AMAN BATHEJA - Star-Telegram staff writer -Fri, May. 18, 2007

AUSTIN -- Maybe the second time's the charm.

After three hours of tweaking, the Texas House on Thursday overwhelmingly approved a second bill calling for a two-year moratorium on most new privately built and operated toll roads after Gov. Rick Perry threatened to veto a similar measure sitting on his desk.

"The citizens want to take a look at how we're building private entity toll roads and ... make sure it's the right way to go," said Rep. Wayne Smith, R-Baytown, the bill's sponsor in the House.

What happened?

After considering a flurry of amendments, the bill passed 145-2. Reps. Debbie Riddle, R-Tomball, and Nathan Macias, R-Bulverde, voted against it.

The bill had passed the Senate on Monday. The measure retains the moratorium on private toll roads but carves out more exemptions in parts of the state.

Several North Texas lawmakers strongly lobbied to make sure no amendments would jeopardize projects already under way in the region.

At one point, Rep. Vicki Truitt, R-Keller, told Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, that the wording in her amendment could be misinterpreted to include North Texas projects that were already in the works. Kolkhorst insisted those projects were exempt from her amendment, but Truitt wasn't buying that explanation.

"Unless you can stand there and tell me unequivocally that these changes don't affect projects in our area ... I'm going to ask you why you can't keep your nose out of our business," Truitt said.

Kolkhorst later revised the amendment and it was adopted.

Several lawmakers relayed serious concerns from constituents with Perry's proposed Trans-Texas Corridor, especially the specter of having major roads around the state privately owned for decades.

"This is a tip of the hat to the grassroots," Kolkhorst said. "The populists said, 'We don't like what you're doing.'"

The problem

Perry said he wouldn't sign the original version of the bill because it contained language that would hamper North Texas officials trying to go forward with much-needed projects such as the North Tarrant Express and improvements to Texas 121 between downtown Fort Worth and Dallas/Fort Worth Airport.

Read more

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