Reforms make it to Governor’s desk

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT: Terri Hall, Director
Texas TURF, & Texans for Toll-free Highways
(210) 275-0640

 

Anti-toll reforms finally pass Texas legislature

Reforms changed in conference, but still cripple future toll roads

(Austin, TX – Sunday, May 28, 2017) As the Texas legislature comes to a close tomorrow, a must-pass bill to continue the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), SB 312, cleared its final hurdle yesterday evening. The House passed a strong anti-toll bill May 17, adding several good anti-toll measures pushed by grassroots pro-taxpayer groups for over a decade. But rather than concur with the strong House version, the Senate chose to reject the House version (which signaled trouble ahead), forcing both the House and Senate to appoint a conference committee to work out the differences in the bill.

This is where the chicanery usually happens, and it did.

The House suspended the rules and rushed a vote to concur with the conference committee’s changes and the Senate followed before it adjourned Saturday evening as well – pushing passage of a 100-page bill before anyone could read what was in it.

The rules governing conference committees are very limited. Conferees cannot add anything into a bill that isn’t already in either version the House or Senate passed. They essentially decide what amendments stay in or get removed. However, loopholes and exceptions were added to SB 312, and the House and Senate authors did not fully notice their colleagues of the loopholes and completely new language they added.

For example, at the very end of this lengthy bill in Section 78 pertaining to the prohibition on an HOV lane being converted into a toll lane, it grants a new exception for all projects that are contained in the state’s air quality implementation plan prior to September 1, 2017. This means virtually every managed toll lane project on the books in Houston and Dallas-Ft. Worth — the Texas cities that are in non-attainment for federal air quality standards — can still convert an existing HOV lane into a toll lane, despite both chambers voting to prohibit it.

This exception was not deemed a significant problem in committee nor did it prevent passage by the full Senate when Sen. Bob Hall’s SB 1143 (which is the same language of the amendment tacked onto SB 312 in the House) passed, 29-2. Yet new language was suddenly required at the eleventh hour and was added into the bill without adequately notifying lawmakers of the change that impacts several projects, including one important to Hall’s constituents, where an HOV lane on I-635 East is slated to be converted to a toll lane.

Sen. Lois Kolkhorst and Rep. Joe Pickett‘s amendment, which was a bill that had already passed the Senate, SB 812, also had completely new language inserted. Their amendment requires toll project entities to repay any funds they receives from the state. The public resents having their ‘free’ road funds going into toll roads then having to pay again to use them. The state currently grants most toll entities road taxes to the tune of $10 billion and has rarely required any of those funds to be repaid to the state. In fact, the local toll agencies get to keep most, if not all, of the toll revenues locally.

Both the House and Senate voted to stop unrestricted grants of highway funds to toll projects and require funds to be repaid, yet a handful of conferees overruled them to allow toll projects as far back as January 1, 2014, to move forward without requiring repayment of those funds if the environmental review on those projects had commenced by that date.

“The whole purpose of this amendment is to require funds to be repaid on any project that isn’t already operating as a toll road. To retroactively continue this abuse not only betrays the legislative actions taken by the majority of the House and Senate, it also betrays the taxpayers forcing the double taxation to continue,” concluded Terri Hall, Founder/Director of Texas TURF and Texans for Toll-free highways.

For whom the bill tolls
An amendment by Rep. Ina Minjarez sought to remove criminal penalties for toll violations and drastically reduce the administrative fees and fines that could be levied against motorists. It passed by an overwhelming majority in the House by a vote of 136-3. Yet, this same handful of conferees put criminal penalties back into the bill. The House debated the criminal penalties and overwhelmingly decided to remove them. They felt strongly that no Texan should be made a criminal or have their ability to drive taken away for failure to pay a fine/fee. It’s a throw back to debtors prisons.

The new language actually captures more people as ‘violators’ by making them a criminal if they simply haven’t paid a single toll after supposedly receiving two bills. The toll could be for one trip for $.20 or $2.00 and they’ll now be punished under what used to be a habitual toll violator with 100 or more unpaid toll transactions.

Many Texans complain they never receive the first bill from the toll entity and then later get a late payment notice after being put into collections, erroneously, and after penalties are already imposed. This happened to Rep. Tom Oliverson who described his outrage at the experience during the House debate on SB 312 leading up to the overwhelming adoption of the Minjarez amendment to de-criminalize.

“Though special interests and their lobbyists attempted to undo the intent of what they see as hostile legislation to their existence and add and remove language outside the public purview, anti-toll groups delivered a major blow to future toll roads in Texas with passage of SB 312,” Hall declared.

Perhaps the biggest victory of all was killing the bill to re-authorize public private partnership toll roads, HB 2861. Nineteen Texas highways would have been handed over in government-sanctioned monopolies giving private, foreign corporations the exclusive right to extract the highest possible toll in 50-year sweetheart deals. That era is now over. There’s also plenty to celebrate in SB 312.

Anti-toll reforms in SB 312:

1) Texans will now be protected from having their free lanes converted to toll lanes or having their free lanes downgraded to frontage roads.
2) Despite the exceptions added, HOV lanes cannot be converted into toll lanes.
3) Toll administrative fees will be capped at $48/year, and any criminal fines are capped at $250/year (versus the current system where thousands can be tacked on).
4) Tolls will be removed from Camino Columbia toll road in Laredo and the Cesar Chavez toll project in El Paso (after a vote by local El Paso officials who have indicated they support removing the tolls). This sets an important precedent to get tolls removed from other projects.
5) Any state funds for toll projects that had environmental review commence by January 1, 2014, must be repaid. The grant/subsidy, double tax gravy train is now over.

Taxpayers pushed for over a decade to get these reforms in place and finally got them in SB 312. While there’s still much work to be done to completely reform toll policy in Texas, the majority of the heavy lifting began with passage of SB 312 last night.

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HB 2861 Record Vote

Those who voted to hand 19 TX roads to private, foreign toll operators are:
Yeas 51 — Allen; Alonzo; Alvarado; Are´valo; Blanco; Burkett; Button; Coleman; Collier; Cortez; Elkins; Farrar; Flynn; Geren; Giddings; Gooden; Guerra; Gutierrez; Hernandez; Howard; Huberty; Israel; Johnson, E.; King, K.; King, P.; Koop; Longoria; Lucio; Martinez; Moody; Morrison; Murphy; Neave; Oliveira; Ortega; Perez; Phillips; Raymond; Rodriguez, E.; Rodriguez, J.; Rose; Sheffield; Shine; Smithee; Thompson, E.; Thompson, S.; Turner; Uresti; Villalba; Walle; Workman.

 

Taxpayer champions who voted against are:
Nays 82 — Anderson, C.; Anderson, R.; Bailes; Bell; Biedermann; Bohac; Bonnen, D.; Bonnen, G.; Burns; Burrows; Cain; Canales; Capriglione; Clardy; Cosper; Craddick; Cyrier; Dale; Darby; Dean; Deshotel; Dukes; Dutton; Faircloth; Fallon; Frank; Frullo; Goldman; Gonzales; Gonza´lez; Hefner; Herrero; Holland; Hunter; Isaac; Kacal; Keough; King, T.; Klick; Krause; Lambert; Landgraf; Lang; Larson; Laubenberg; Leach; Lozano; Metcalf; Meyer; Miller; Mun˜oz; Murr; Neva´rez; Oliverson; Parker; Paul; Phelan; Pickett; Price; Raney; Reynolds; Rinaldi; Roberts; Romero; Schaefer; Schofield; Schubert; Shaheen; Simmons; Springer; Stephenson; Stickland; Stucky; Swanson; Thierry; Tinderholt; VanDeaver; White; Wilson; Wray; Zedler; Zerwas.

Absent, Excused — Anchia; Paddie; Wu.
Absent, Excused, Committee Meeting — Ashby; Davis, S.; Davis, Y.; Sanford.
Absent Unexcused — Bernal; Cook; Gervin-Hawkins; Guillen; Hinojosa; Johnson, J.; Kuempel; Minjarez; Vo.

Source: House Journal Recorded Vote

See press release: VICTORY: Grassroots KILL private toll bill, secure Abbott’s vision for toll-free future

VICTORY: Grassroots KILL private toll bill…

IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: Terri Hall, (210) 275-0640

 

Defeat of private toll road bill affirms Abbott’s pledge to voters 
Promise to fix roads without new tolls or debt gets bipartisan support

(Austin, TX – Friday, May 5, 2017) Texas taxpayers can breathe a sigh of relief tonight as a bipartisan effort to defeat expansion of private toll roads in Texas went down in flames by a vote of 79-51 in the Texas House. Taxpayer champions Rep. Jeff Leach (R – Plano), Rep. Jonathan Stickland (R – Bedford), and Rep. Joe Pickett (D – El Paso) led the floor fight, noting 90% of Democrats and 95% of Republicans oppose new toll roads in Texas, and both party platforms oppose privatized toll roads in particular. Governor Greg Abbott promised to fix Texas roads without new tolls or debt, and the Texas House delivered on that promise today by killing Rep. Larry Phillips HB 2861.

Pickett and Stickland made impassioned speeches opposing the bill. Leach emphasized both party platforms oppose this type of toll project and that the voters just gave the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) $5 billion a year in new funding by passing Proposition 1 and Proposition 7.

He asked the bill’s author, “Why do we need this bill now?”

Then Leach directly asked Pickett whether or not the House needed to pass HB 2861 to get the projects done, and he answered with a firm, ‘No.’

Stickland bluntly argued the reason why he’s now serving in the House is because his predecessor Todd Smith voted to turn 183 and 121 into toll roads that devastated his community. He intimated that voters took out their vengeance by electing a new representative.

“My constituents hate it,” asserted Stickland, referring to the privatized toll roads that run through Ft. Worth that are locked into 50 year contracts operated by Spain-based Cintra.

Pickett sounded the alarm about the need to draw a line in the sand, “If we don’t stop it now, it’s never going to stop.”

He warned that passage of HB 2861 would dig the debt-toll road sinkhole even deeper and told his colleagues that Prop 1 and Prop 7 expire, and they’re going to have to address the debt problem very soon. He also shared frustration that neither he nor the public has any idea where all this toll revenue is going. It lacks transparency and gets eaten up by the toll road bureaucracies, or in this case, the private entities the public cannot hold accountable.

“This is so people can make money,” contended Pickett.

Terri Hall, Founder and Director of Texans Uniting for Reform and Reform (TURF) and Texans for Toll-free Highways hailed the defeat of HB 2861, “A bipartisan coalition swept the Rick Perry-era of toll roads aside, and today we officially started the Abbott era that firmly opposes new toll roads, especially privatized toll roads that give an exclusive right to a single company to extract the highest possible toll from the traveling public for a half century at a time.”

JoAnn Fleming, Executive Director of Grassroots America – We the People agrees, “A broad coalition of groups across Texas made it clear that they would not tolerate the expansion of private toll roads and the corporate welfare they represent to continue to spread like a cancer across the Lone Star State. We applaud the work of our champions in the House and thank the Governor for his leadership in firmly setting a new course away from debt and toll roads and moving forward with a new fiscally responsible, sustainable future.”

Roads in HB 2861:
– I-35 in Austin, Dallas, and San Antonio
– I-45 in Houston
– Hwy 290 (Hempstead Tollway) Houston
– I-30 in Ft. Worth
– I-635 E in Dallas
– Loop 1604 in San Antonio
– 290 W in Austin (from MoPac to Oak Hill)
– South MoPac in Austin
– South Padre Island Second Access Causeway
– International Bridge Corridor Project
– Hidalgo County Loop project
– FM 1925 in Cameron & Hidalgo Counties
– Hwy 83 Hidalgo County
– Hwy 68 in Hidalgo County
– Outer Pkwy in Cameron County
– Loop 49 in Tyler (two projects)

Hall concludes, “Special interests continue to push these ‘innovative’ financing schemes despite the public opposition because private toll contracts and design-build procurements drive up the cost to build, putting more money into the pockets of road builders at great expense to Texas taxpayers. Our elected representatives just said, ‘No more.’ You’re not going to gouge our citizens just to get to work.”

See article: HB 2861 Record Vote

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Toll-Free Texas!

Citizen Lobby Day

Monday, April 17, 2017
8:30 AM to 5:00 PM

A joint effort for Tax-Day at the Capitol in Austin.
Show our legislators that ‘We Mean Business!’

Come help us along with like-minded grass-roots groups from across the state of Texas. 

Location: Texas State Capitol
Address: 1100 Congress Avenue
              Austin, TX 78701
(meet on the South Capitol steps)

Go to the TURF Registration Page to Register…

Your freedom to travel is at risk!

Gathering on South Capitol stepsConcerned citizens from across the state will gather in Austin to interact with lawmakers on transportation-related issues. We’ve seen a massive increase in our cost to drive through tolls, handing control of our public roads to private foreign corporations, and  unsustainable debt sweep the state, with more to come unless we make our voices heard.

This is a day when CITIZEN lobbyists come to the Capitol to advocate on what matters to grassroots Texans — like getting an affordable, pro-taxpayer transportation policy in place.

Lots of activities planned:

  • a press conference,
  • have our group recognized from the House and Senate floor,
  • visit offices and speak to legislators,
  • lawmakers address TURF group in special ‘Legislative Hangout’ Q&A
  • breakout sessions including: ‘Social Media ‘how to”, ‘Follow the Money’, ‘Voter Fraud’
  • and a lot more!

Go to the TURF Registration Page to Register…

Be prepared…

  • The public parking garage east of the Capitol is at 12th Street and San Jacinto. If that garage is full another is located north of the Capitol at 18th Street and Congress at the Texas History Museum. Parking costs $10-12/day.
  • Bring money for lunch. We plan to eat together on the South Capitol lawn. For a box lunch from Jason’s Deli, the cost is $12.07. We need your order by Thursday, April 6 to reserve your lunch. No orders will be taken on site. You must order in advance. Otherwise plan on getting lunch in the Capitol Grill (wait times in the food lines can exceed 30 minutes).
  • Bring a notebook to take notes (optional). Fliers, maps and materials supplied by TURF.
  • T-shirts with our message are available for $15. Please order your t-shirt by Sunday, March 26.

Citizen lobyists being oriented

We need you!

We need a HUGE crowd to show up to talk to legislators about transportation. There are already some very bad proposals being pushed by special interests (more tolls in the hands of private corporations), and without a grassroots revolt, it’ll sail through without a whimper of opposition. Plan to come and have others join you.

If you’re interested in coordinating a carpool,
contact Terri Hall or call (210) 275-0640.

Go to the TURF Registration Page to Register…

Keep Free Lanes Free Act filed by Taylor, Sanford

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

SENATOR VAN TAYLOR AND REPRESENTATIVE SCOTT SANFORD FILE LEGISLATION TO STOP PROLIFERATION OF TOLL ROADS

AUSTIN, TX – State Senator Van Taylor and State Representative Scott Sanford filed the Keep Free Lanes Free Act. Filed as S.B. 891 and H.B. 1311 respectively, these bills would prohibit the conversion of any free lanes into tolled or managed lanes.

Senator Taylor stated, “The people of Senate District 8 have spoken loud and clear that they are fed up with the excessive tolling that engulfs our communities. Tolls are just a tax by another name. The people’s tax dollars funded ‘free’ lanes to begin with and converting those lanes into tolls is simply government trying to orchestrate double tax.”

Representative Sanford added, “Tolls are extracting an additional tax on our families and businesses.  Collin County is surrounded by tolls, making us a gated community with one large transportation bill.”

Collin County represents the most heavily tolled county in Texas. In the 2016-2017 biennium, Texans pay an estimated $7,055,828,000 in gas tax. Divided by the estimated 27,862,596 Texans, every man, woman, and child accounts for about $126 per year in gas tax. Collin County residents pay an additional $288 million, or approximately $265 per man, woman, and child in tolls each year.

Senator Taylor continued, “The state should not force Collin County residents to front the infrastructure bill for the state and pay over triple the transportation tax compared to many other Texans. Over the course of a work life, the average commuter who uses a toll road twice a day in North Texas will pay over $100,000 in tolls. Collin County families could spend that money on buying a home, putting their children through college, or saving for retirement — not subsidizing the transportation needs for the rest of state.”

Over the past two sessions, the Texas Legislature approved historic transportation funding including: $1.3 billion by ending diversions from the Highway fund, $3.4 billion to date from Proposition 1 that passed in 2013, and an estimated minimum of $2.5 billion a year starting in 2018 from Proposition 7 which passed in 2015. Importantly, the Legislature accomplished this by prioritizing funding and not increasing taxes.

In 2014, the Collin County legislative delegation consisting of Senator Taylor and Representatives Jodie Laubenberg, Scott Sanford, Jeff Leach, Matt Shaheen and former Representative Scott Turner successfully blocked efforts to covert free lanes on US 75 into tolled lanes.

A seventh generation Texan, local small businessman, and decorated Marine Officer, Van Taylor serves the majority of Collin County and a portion of Dallas County in the Texas Senate where he is widely recognized as a conservative leader. Taylor serves as Vice-Chairman of the Sunset Advisory Commission and is also member of the Natural Resources and Economic Development, Education, Health and Human Services, Intergovernmental Affairs, and Nominations Committees. Van and his wife, Anne, married after his return from Iraq and are the proud parents of three young girls. Van and his family reside in Plano near the land his great-grandfather farmed during the Great Depression.

Representative Sanford is a life-long Texan, and a Baylor Bear for about half of that time. He earned BBA and MTax degrees, and maintains a CPA license in the State of Texas. His career path includes positions at Ernst & Young, and ownership in two franchise endeavors. Scott has served Cottonwood Creek Baptist Church in Allen, TX (formerly First Baptist Church in Fairview) since 1997 and is currently the Executive Pastor. He married Shelly Parks in 1987. They live in McKinney, the heart of the 70th House District. Their son, Ryan, graduated from McKinney Boyd High School. He is a sophomore at Baylor. Lauren, their daughter, is a junior at McKinney Christian Academy. Scott enjoys fishing, but likes catching even better. He is a water and snow skiing enthusiast, but not at the same time. In Austin he serves on the House of Representatives Urban Affairs Committee and the Human Services Committee.

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Huffines files bills to prevent double tax toll roads, hold toll agencies accountable

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                       Contact: Brent Connett
January 27, 2017
SEN. HUFFINES FILES TRANSPORTATION REFORM & 
ACCOUNTABILITY BILLS
Senator Huffines pursues transparency, truth in taxation, and keeping Texans moving forward

AUSTIN — Senator Don Huffines (R-Dallas) today filed a package of bills to end toll roads and bring more accountability to the transportation dollars (taxpayers’ money) that are allocated by the state to Regional Mobility Authorities:

Senate Joint Resolution 35 and Senate Bill 639 – Ending Toll Expenditures out of the State Highway Fund
Senator Huffines stated, “Texans are tired of tolls. In 2013, the Legislature and voters worked together to pass Prop 1 – a much-needed surplus in transportation funding – with the condition that none of it be spent on toll roads. Then, in 2015, legislators and voters teamed up again to get even more transportation funding with Prop 7, and these funds are also restricted from toll usage. It’s time to finish the job by entirely closing the state’s major road funding account to toll roads. Texans are tired of the ever-creeping expansion of toll roads in our state. My district has been almost entirely swallowed by toll roads. It’s time for the state to end its dependency on tolls – that’s why I filed SJR 35 and SB 639, which will protect the state’s primary transportation infrastructure fund from being used on toll roads.”

Senate Bill 637 – Bringing Transparency to Regional Mobility Authorities
Senator Huffines stated, “The idea underpinning the creation of Regional Mobility Authorities (RMAs) – to deliver transportation projects at a local level was sound in theory, but has been deeply flawed in execution. To date, TxDOT has pledged loans and grants totaling $3 billion of taxpayers’ money to the nine RMAs throughout the state with very little to show for it. It’s time for Texas to hold RMAs accountable for the tax dollars they’re spending. The leading transportation researchers in the world, Texas A&M Transportation Institute, have noticed that ‘RMA reporting requirements are minimal and may not capture detailed financial and operating data.’ At this juncture, the state’s funding of RMAs is tantamount to pouring money down a well. SB 637 would require state audits of any RMA that receives state money, a measure I believe will shine a little light on exactly where our taxes are going and how they’re being used or misused.”

Senate Bill 638 – Prohibiting the Government from Lobbying Government
Senator Huffines stated, “Our laws are clear when it comes to all state agencies like TxDOT and legislative lobbying – it’s illegal. Regional Mobility Authorities, however, enjoy a loophole that allows RMAs to use tax dollars on legislative lobbying instead of on roads. We must stop cutting a taxpayer check to RMAs with one hand while shaking their lobbyists’ hands with the other. Road dollars must be spent to keep Texans moving forward.”

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Senator Don Huffines represents the North half of Dallas County in the Texas Senate. First elected in 2014 and now serving in his second legislative session, he serves as Vice Chairman of the Senate Veteran Affairs & Border Security Committee, and as a member of the Senate Committees on Natural Resources & Economic Development, Education, Intergovernmental Relations, and Administration. Senator Huffines is an advocate for free markets, fewer regulations, and believes in limited government, personal responsibility, and that individuals have the God-given right to pursue their own path.

Smith record on tolls making opponent raise Cain

Link to article…

ELECTION 2016
Smith record causing opponent to raise Cain
By Terri Hall
Examiner.com
October 29, 2015

It’s shaping up to be a tough re-election season for incumbents. One of them may be Baytown’s ethically challenged Wayne Smith. His voting record on transportation reflects a disconnect with many Texans in District 128 who oppose toll roads, especially the privatization of public roads. It’s a record that got challenger Briscoe Cain to take notice, and he’s running to replace Smith as a more conservative voice in the Texas House.

Elected to seven terms in the Texas House, Smith chairs the Committee on Licensing and Administrative Procedures. As a former member of the Transportation Committee and as Chair of the Licensing Committee, Smith has potential conflicts of interest as a licensed Professional Engineer who owned Wayne Smith and Associates Consulting Engineers up until his election to the House. He also served as Legislative & Government Affairs Chairman for the Texas Society of Professional Engineers as well as serving as its President prior to taking office. Smith’s committee has oversight over the Texas Society of Professional Engineers.

Despite Texas law prohibiting politicians from using campaign funds for personal use, Smith violated Section 253.035 of the Election Code on 32 separate occasions between July 2002 and June of 2007 to pay dues to the National Society of Professional Engineers, among other professional associations.

His wife, Brenda, picked up where he left off, serving as an attorney for Lockwood, Andrews & Newnam, who, you guessed it, builds roads, including toll roads. So Smith is in the unique position of personally profiting from his connections to lawmakers and his influence over transportation and licensing policy.

Though Smith authored a bill, HB 1892, in 2007 to place a moratorium on private, corporate toll roads known as Comprehensive Development Agreements (CDAs) or public private partnerships, former Governor Rick Perry vetoed the bill and advanced a severely compromised bill, SB 792, in its place. Smith immediately caved to the governor, became his henchman on the bill, and even lied to his colleagues about the nature of market value tolling, claiming it only applied to the Grand Parkway project not every toll project across the state. Of course, once the bill passed, it was made very clear by legal experts and attorneys representing toll agencies that market value tolling did, in fact, apply to all toll projects in Texas.

So what is market valuation? It essentially allows a public toll entity to view the toll project as an ATM machine, similar to a private toll contract, and determine an upfront payment to be used on other projects based on its determined worth. This is just like Cintra offering Dallas officials $2.8 billion up front for Hwy 121 in exchange for the right to collect tolls for 50 years. It results in charging the highest possible tolls to use public highways since the toll is no longer based on the costs of constructing the road and paying off its debt. It would instead be based on how much officials think they could milk commuters for during congested hours. Market valuation is runaway taxation in the hands of un-elected toll boards.

William Lutz with Lone Star Report wrote in May 2007 of the ramifications of SB 792:
“A further flaw is it allows continuation of current policy, whereby the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) may require up-front ‘concession fees’ in exchange for building some new toll projects. The tolls that pay these concession fees are taxes, not user fees, because concession fees result in tolls over and above the amount required to build and maintain the road. Since the fees are paid back over time from toll revenue, it increases the burden of debt on our children and grandchildren. In short, concession fees, which are continued by the ‘market valuation’ language in SB 792, allow the government to raise taxes and do off-budget spending in a manner concealed to the public and without proper legislative oversight and authorization.”

The San Antonio Express-News on June 3, 2007, describes the Robin Hood scheme, “The provision would require market valuations to gauge how much money a toll road could bring in, including what motorists are willing to pay, and earmarking the profits to other area projects. ‘I’m uncomfortable with it,’ Bill Thornton (Chairman of the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority) said of the mandate. ‘Government is not here to make a profit, government is here to provide a service.’”

Governor’s puppet
The word given to House members in the back rooms prior to the vote on the House floor was ‘follow Wayne Smith.’ The leadership said if he votes for something, follow. If he votes against, follow. That’s what the governor wants.

A report in the Austin American Statesman, May 17, 2007, echoed the same sentiment when Smith said, “We could end up with another bill on the governor’s desk that he’ll veto” if members push too far with changes.

That statement summarizes Smith’s approach to governing. Go along to get along. If you push too hard, you might make waves or get leadership mad at you. Never mind if leadership is asking you to go against your own constituents’ best interests or your own values and principles.

Smith also authored bills to give money to rail boondoggles (HB 2434, 81st session) and to grant eminent domain powers to what amounts to private developers who control Municipal Utility Districts (HB 4201, 84th session). He voted to allow toll entities to ‘own’ their toll projects in perpetuity (HB 1112, 82nd session), virtually clinching their ability to continue to charge tolls indefinitely, which make tolls a permanent new tax.

In addition, he’s a big fan of Transportation Reinvestment Zones (TRZ), patterned after Tax Increment Reinvestment Zones (TIRZ), and voted to allow TRZ property taxes to be used to subsidize toll roads, a double tax. Smith’s wife served on a TIRZ board in Harris County, posing another potential conflict for a sitting legislator. How can he see clearly on legislation pertaining to TIRZ when his wife was part of one? Many grassroots groups and even the Houston Chronicle and Houston Press view TIRZs as placing taxing authority in the hands of un-elected boards, opening the door to corruption and mismanagement.

With friends like this, who needs enemies. Smith has become a career politician, serving for 12 years. It’s clear he represents special interests instead of his constituents’. Taxpayers deserve better and now they have a choice in the race for Texas House District 128. For more information on Cain, go to: http://briscoecain.com/.

Plan to put San Antonio on a ‘road diet’

Alamo city transportation board approves road diet for Hwy 281

Today, the Alamo Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (AAMPO) unanimously voted to approve a resolution to do the US 281 project (from Loop 1604 to the Bexar County line) in San Antonio without tolls. However, the new proposal involves converting one existing, unrestricted freeway lane into an HOV-bus lane (a restricted lane), shrinking existing capacity open to all cars rather than expanding it. While there are six general purpose (unrestricted) highway lanes today, once the conversion is completed, there will be only four.

Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) officials claim the current roadway is akin to a frontage road, despite maps from the U.S. Geological Survey and documents from the Federal Highway Administration showing otherwise. TxDOT argues they’re not shrinking highway main lanes by crediting the addition of new frontage lanes to the outside of the existing highway in the lane count. This fuzzy math enables them to assert they’re ‘doubling’ existing capacity.

While commuters are celebrating the removal of tolls from this project, which has experienced two rounds of litigation and years of political wrangling to achieve, residents still struggle to see how taking away an existing, unrestricted highway lane open to all cars and converting it into a restricted HOV-bus lane will alleviate congestion.

Officials admit it’s designed to change behavior and force people out of their cars and into a carpool or a bus, which many consider a form of social engineering. Carpooling or taking a bus is impractical for the vast majority of commuters. Via Metropolitan Transit is insisting on shrinking the highway capacity with its HOV-bus lane conversion to incentivize commuters to ride the bus in order to support its new $15 million Park-n-Ride at the corner of Stone Oak and US 281. However, this bus-carpool lane is only for seven miles.

The Park-n-Ride buses don’t begin until Stone Oak Parkway, so in reality, the benefit of the exclusive bus lane is only for three miles. It’s been dubbed the ‘lane to nowhere.’ It doesn’t connect to any other HOV-bus lanes anywhere in San Antonio because there are none. Buses can utilize the new frontage roads alongside US 281 without creating exclusive lanes.

The AAMPO consultant from WSP-Parsons Brinkerhoff who gave a presentation to the board on August 28, admitted HOV lanes do not solve congestion. HOV lanes are persistently underutilized and most buses still run empty. Even with the exclusive lanes, buses still add to your overall commute time due to wait times and stops.

In a 2004, Pravin Varaiya, a professor at the University of California at Berkeley, did an academic study of HOV lanes and highway congestion which states: “An HOV lane suffers a 20% capacity loss compared with multi-lane freeways. HOV lanes are either under utilized or suffer degraded operations.  HOV lanes do not measurably increase car pooling.  HOV lanes do not reduce overall highway congestion.”

Part of a ‘road diet’
Mayor Ivy Taylor recently unveiled her vision for San Antonio a few weeks ago to the city council to put San Antonio on a ‘road diet.’ It’s unprecedented to take an existing unrestricted lane and turn it into a restricted HOV-bus lane. Up until now, HOV lanes have been new lanes or special lanes utilizing the shoulders of medians. Never before has a lane open to all autos been converted into an HOV-bus lane.

If the plan moves forward as is, this HOV-bus lane would be the first installment of what will eventually be such lanes on every highway in San Antonio. The AAMPO board is spending $300,000 to study imposing HOV-transit-toll lanes across the Alamo city. But that will take decades. Regardless, when single occupancy vehicle commuters are faced with deliberate government-imposed road scarcity, they’ll remain stuck in congestion.

According to AAMPO documents, congestion weary commuters were promised an additional general purpose lane on US 281 since the late 1990s. Commuters desperately need the additional lane for the project to be successful in relieving congestion.

Texas House Speaker Joe Straus was instrumental in getting the tolls off US 281 in recent weeks, so residents say they’ll continue to seek his help to secure the new, general purpose lane that was promised to residents nearly 20 years ago.

SEE related documents and images…

TURF releases 2015 Report Card for 84th Legislature

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Anti-toll group releases Report Card for 84th legislature
More anti-toll stars than ever

(Austin, TX, September 9, 2015) With voters overwhelmingly embracing a move away from toll roads by electing Greg Abbott as the new Texas Governor, many voters want to know how their elected leaders did in delivering on their promises. Anti-toll and property rights watchdog group Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF) just released its Report Card from the 84th Legislature today. Over 75 anti-toll bills were filed. Combined with property rights legislation, the total came to 96.

Nine lawmakers achieved the distinction of earning an A+. Those legislators are: Jeff Leach, Matt Rinaldi, Scott Sanford, Matt Shaheen, Jonathan Stickland, and James White in the House, and Bob Hall, Don Huffines, and Lois Kolkhorst in the Senate.

“Having this many anti-toll champions in the legislature is a big improvement over last session when only Rep. Jonathan Stickland achieved the top grade of A+ with just three others achieving ‘A’s. However, there’s lots more work to be done and many lawmakers have a lot of room for improvement. Most anti-toll and property rights bills were watered down or never even got to the floor. That’s got to change in order to protect taxpayers from rampant double and triple taxation,” related Terri Hall, Founder/Director of TURF.

Other stars who earned an ‘A’ grade were Bryan Hughes and Will Metcalf in the House, and Charles Schwerter and Van Taylor in the Senate. Leadership overall fared better in the 84th session than in prior sessions with the Governor, Lt. Governor, and Speaker going from ‘F’s to ‘C’s.

In 2015, there are significantly fewer failing grades. In the House, it went from over 110 ‘F’s down to 54. In the Senate, it went from 28 ‘F’s to just 3. Most fell somewhere in the middle with ‘C’s, but many more came close to earning an ‘A’ with a big jump in those with ‘B’s.

A total of twelve bills, seven amendments and two riders to the budget were used to determine the grades. Most related to tolling and transportation, but a few bills or amendments related to property rights. Some were only relevant in one chamber. TURF lists the complete methodology and specific legislation at the end of the Report Card.

“With campaign season in full swing in many areas of the state, it’s vital for voters to know how their representatives voted while in office so they can hold them accountable,” notes Hall. “Now’s the time to compare notes to what was promised and what was actually delivered.”

TURF’s top priorities included:
• Stopping the flow of public money to toll roads (especially gasoline taxes – SJR 43/SB 1182, SB 1172, HB 122 by Huffines, Nichols, Pickett).
• Taking the tolls off the road when they’re paid for (SB 485/HB 1734/HB 3725 – by Kolkhorst, Shaheen, Sanford).
• Removing loopholes that allow freeway lanes to be converted to toll lanes (HB 1835/SB 1238/SB 937 by Sanford, Taylor, V., Kolkhorst).
• Stripping eminent domain authority from a grandfathered private toll corporation (HB 565/SB 444/HB 1004 by Burkett, Hall, and Davis, Y.).
• Prohibit the authorization of more public private partnership toll roads.
End diversions of the gasoline tax (SJR 12, SB 61, HJR 36, HJR 27/HJR 28/HJR 29, HB 2737/HJR 114 by Perry, Huffines, Larson, Pickett, and Capriglione).
• Dedicate the vehicle sales tax to highways (SB 5/SJR 5, SB 341, HB 202, HB 373, HB 469/HJR 53, HB 1081/HJR 53, HB 2686 by Nichols, Huffines, Leach, Simmons, Metcalf, Paul, and Shaheen)
• Abolish Regional Mobility Authorities (SB 1150, SB 721/HB 528, SB 1184/HB 3114, HB 1257 by Hall, Burton, Larson, Huffines, Dale, Shaheen).

TURF achieved versions of six out of eight of their top priorities.

For a complete list of TURF’s legislative agenda and bills filed, go here.

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