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The “Suits” aren’t the majority on moratorium bill

It seems Peter Samuel has had a break with reality. We attended the SAME hearing he’s referring to in this article, and it’s all spin. The Senate Transportation Committee didn’t fall for the entourage orchestrated by the BIG MONEY and TxDOT. In fact, the senators were quite contentious with many of the local government representatives and TxDOT. At one point, Senator Shapleigh essentially called a County Judge a liar and Senator Shapiro was practically yelling at the Judge for advocating she vote to “gouge our citizens for the next 50 years” on the Hwy 121 project in Collin County. This is hardly the glowing report Samuel tries to paint.

Senator Nichols in particular was sharp, on point, filled with supporting facts, and a stalwart defender of the moratorium. He also made perfectly clear that the moratorium DOES NOT HALT ALL ROAD PROJECT or even toll projects, it simply puts private toll road deals on hold. In fact, this committee has spent nearly two full hearings discussing how the tolling authority in Dallas can do the 121 deal WITHOUT using a controversial and exponentially more expensive CDA (private toll equity deal for 50 years).

Every one of those committee members knows that taxpayer funded trips to the Capitol to testify in favor of increasing government and taxes is nothing new for local governments and that the “suits” can’t come close to representing the majority of scores of grassroots citizens who managed to get two-thirds of the legislature to support this moratorium! They’re paid to be there. Your average citizen cannot take a day off work, get to Austin AT THEIR OWN EXPENSE, and wait around all day to be called to testify in favor of a bill. That’s because they’re out working to pay the taxes these guys are spending! The PEOPLE have already garnered support by calling their representative to SIGN-ON to the bill…a veto-proof two-thirds majority in each House is proof positive of the support for this bill (not a pre-meditated plan to bring in “suits” by the road lobby and local governments drinking the privatization Kool-Aid)!

We know the road lobby is paying top dollar to change minds and peel off votes, but WE THE PEOPLE will also keep the pressure on until the moratorium becomes LAW!

Link to Toll Road News article here.

Texas concession freezer melts – Carona wants compromise, won’t move SB1267
By Peter Samuel
Toll Road News
March 22, 2007

State senator John Carona chair of the Texas senate transport committee says he won’t move SB1267, the bill which would block the signing of any toll concessions over a 30 month period until Sept 1, 2009. Carona was one of the early signatories to the freeze bill and has been a fierce critic of the concession process and has clashed bitterly with Texas Transportation Commission’s Ric Williamson and the TxDOT establishment.But in a major turnup he told the Austin Statesman newspaper today: “I don’t intend to move (SB1267, the freeze bill).”

Carona won’t allow a vote on the very bill he promoted and signed onto!

His explanation: he now sees a need for a compromise bill.

From someone who ran into Carona informally yesterday and talked the freeze bill with the senator we get the impression he has completely turned against the bill.

Carona told him bluntly: “This moratorium would just be bad public policy.”

Carona represents the area of north Dallas where local officials are thoroughly invested in toll concessions and he has been feeling the heat from them over the past week.

At one point yesterday Carona said: “With North Texas in need of so many major road projects, a moratorium at this time in my opinion would be disastrous.”

“A stake through the heart for many of us”

One local official in Dallas Ft Worth says the proposed freeze “is like a stake in the heart for many of us.”

And Michael Morris the transport director at the local council of governments calls it “devastating” in its impact on planned road improvements in the whole region around Dallas Ft Worth.

The largest concession agreed to – for SH121 – is alone worth $3.5b to the region. Several other concessions are in the selection pipeline worth probably $10b or so in total.

Senate hearing gets pro-concession sentiment

At a public comment session of the senate transport committee yesterday in Austin the majority of speakers were against the freeze.

Carona and other compromisers are talking indexing the gas tax, but that would only provide pennies by comparison. Concessions are for now the only generator of real project money. And why, opponents of the gas tax say, should people who won’t use the new roads pay higher gas taxes when user fees (tolls) would fund them?

The freeze makes sense for those who want to kill all major road improvements, but a lot of Texans think they are needed.

It now looks more likely that there will be a compromise bill tweaking the concession process than the sweeping moratorium. But nothing is assured. The political battle is just beginning.

TOLLROADSnews 2007-03-22 11:00

Freezers react with outrage: ADDITION

Who can blame them? The freeze organizers have reacted with howls of outrage to Carona’s turn-around.

Corridor Watch’s David and Linda Stall ask under a headline Has Senator Carona Been Crushed by TxDOT Special Interest Toll Pressure?:

“What the heck is going on? You may have a plan senator but right now we feel ripped off and sold out.” (see http://www.corridorwatch.org)

Sal Costello leader of the movement in Austin (see http://salcostello.blogspot.com/2007/03/2-year-moritorium-creators-killing-slam.html) says he is sickened and that the creators of the moratorium bills are killing what they called “slam dunk bills.”

Costello contrasts a quote from Carona in December in which he said toll concessions would “bring free roads in the state to a condition of ruin” with his statement yesterday that there are too many urgent projectsHe initially hit out at Sen Robert Nichols as having deserted the cause, as well as Carona.

Nichols says he remains faithful to the freeze

Nichols is sticking with the freeze and wants SB1267 to go forward. He issued this statement this afternoon:

“The effort to halt private toll road deals is not over. We will continue working to prevent Texas from entering into bad agreements that will hold our transportation system hostage for the next half century.

“Pursuing a short-term solution with dangerous long-term consequences is not the answer to alleviating traffic congestion. A two year cooling-down period gives us a chance to get these contracts right before we sign away control of our transportation system.”

Nichols has never explained why it should take two years to cool down and get the concessions “right”. And of course Sept 1, 2009 is 25% more than two years by our calendar.

Carona issues press release late afternoon

Carona’s office released this reproduced in full below:

“”I have received a number of calls about the status of Senate Bill 1267. Many of these callers seem to be under the impression that SB 1267 kills the Trans Texas Corridor, and they cannot understand why the bill has not yet come out of committee. The bill does not do that.” [see excerpt from Legislative Budget Board analysis, below.]

“Some callers think that if this bill passes, it solves our transportation problems. But there are necessary items this bill does not address. It does not address the things that we need to change about the Comprehensive Development Agreement (CDA) laws, such as noncompete agreements, up-front payments, and duration of contracts. There is no reason to wait years to fix those problems.”

“It does not say how we will address our mobility problems in the meantime. There are things we need to accomplish this session, such as stopping or reducing diversion of transportation revenues, and indexing the motor fuels taxes. If all we do is pass SB 1267, then we have told TxDOT it is okay to build all future roads as toll roads, just not CDA toll roads. That is not the message the Legislature should send.”

“We have heard the public loud and clear about toll roads, public private partnerships, and the Trans Texas Corridor. We have also heard from Tarrant County and others for whom SB 1267 creates a hardship, and we have an obligation to listen to them as well.”

“I appreciate the public’s input and concern and would compare where we are to fixing a car. If your car is broken, you might have to pull the engine block, but you don’t stop there and say you have fixed the car. We have a huge task before us, and this is the part of the session that inspired someone to compare watching the making of laws to watching the making of sausage. I greatly appreciate the public’s attention to the session and patience as we work to get the best legislation we can for mobility in Texas.”

Excerpt from summary of SB1267 provided by Nichols:

“The bill would amend the Transportation Code to impose a two-year moratorium on certain provisions in contracts between a private entity and a toll project entity, including the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), a regional tollway authority, a regional mobility authority, or a county. The bill would specify that a toll project entity could not enter into a comprehensive development agreement (CDA) containing a provision permitting a private participant to operate and collect revenue from a toll project or enter into a contract to sell a toll project to a private entity. The bill would create a legislative study committee to study the public policy implications of such agreements with private participants and submit a written report of the committee’s findings to the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives. The committee would be abolished on December 31, 2008. The provisions of the bill would expire on September 1, 2009. Source: Fiscal Note, SB 1267.

TOLLROADSnews 2007-03-22 21:30

2 Responses to “The “Suits” aren’t the majority on moratorium bill”

  1. Cynthia Saha Says:

    It seems as if the people who placed all the elected officials into office no longer have a voice in matters concerning our state. Officials think that the Texas voters are bascially stupid! Well, the people are not dumb and we demand common sense in government.

  2. Dan Jasinski Says:

    Collaborating kickbacks among self-serving interests lieu public welfare are prevalent in the CAMPO and CTRMA tolling programs and warrant investigations and prosecutions. Citizens’ comments at March 1st Senate hearing identify similar problems in northern Texas, too. Big money obviously has been corrupting Texas government. Silent majority needs to be recognized by incumbents.

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