Tolls aren’t necessary, do what the public voted for

Link to Op/Ed here.

Use Prop 1, Prop 7 funds to fix Loop 1604 without tolls
By Terri Hall
Founder, Texans for Toll-free Highways
February 28, 2017
San Antonio Express-News

Much in the same way taxpayers got the message about tolls being inevitable on US 281 and I-10, the Express-News editorial told our community, ‘Tolls are necessary, deal with it.’ Taxpayers don’t appreciate being told what to do, especially when it comes to the long arm of government reaching into our wallets. Contrary to the narrative, tolls are no longer a ‘user fee’ where only those who use the toll lanes pay for them. When $326 million in our gas taxes will be used to subsidize the construction of toll lanes inside Loop 1604, everyone will pay for them. But only the select few who can fork over up to $23 a day in tolls will be able to use them.

That’s right. The plan calls for dynamic tolling where the toll rate changes in real time and can reach the maximum during peak hours, which is $.50/mile. So if you need to drive all 23 miles during rush hour, you’re looking at $23/day in new toll taxes to use lanes your gas taxes helped pay to build. That’s double taxation and warrants a taxpayer revolt. Tolls, once imposed, tend to never disappear. If it’s one thing a government bureaucrat won’t give up, it’s an unaccountable revenue stream in the hands of unelected boards. They can always find a use for your money.

Local elected officials are banking on voters having a short memory. They want you to forget about passage of Prop 1 and Prop 7 that together with the end to most gas tax diversions will boost the highway fund nearly $5 billion more per year. A recent report states that an additional $80 billion in new road funds will be available in the next 10 years. Yet the Express-News says there’s still not enough money, and you miserly taxpayers should agree to a gas tax hike, tolls, and anything else they can dream up to steal your money, like the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority’s agenda to secure another hike in your vehicle registration fee. This is AFTER the $10 fee hike Bexar county elected officials got passed in 2013.

Let’s not forget Governor Greg Abbott’s campaign promise to fix our roads without raising taxes, fees, tolls, or debt. He unveiled his Texas Clear Lanes Initiative last year promising Prop 1 and Prop 7 funds would go to the most congested roads across the state. Yet the Alamo Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (AAMPO) chose to spend our community’s new funds on lower priority projects so that they can profit off of the congestion on the north side and impose tolls. In fact, Loop 1604 on the south and east side of town will get Loop 1604 expanded without tolls, while north side commuters are told ‘tolls are necessary, deal with it.’

Taxpayers should not stand for a targeted, discriminatory toll tax to be imposed on the north side against their will. The AAMPO votes on it March 27. Make your voices heard.

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.

DOUBLE TAX: Alamo board votes to use gas taxes to put tolls on Loop 1604

On January 23, the Alamo Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (AAMPO) board, comprised of local officials, voted to grant $326 million in YOUR federal gas taxes to plop toll lanes down the middle of Loop 1604. TxDOT can’t toll anything without the MPO’s blessing, which the MPO just granted.

The toll rates are dynamic and change in real time ranging from 18 cents a mile up to 50 cents per mile – you pay the max during peak hours! The toll lanes would stretch 22.8 miles from Bandera Rd. on the west side to I-35 on the east side (see Express-News article on it here). The excuse is there isn’t enough money to fix all our roads without tolls, despite voters giving TxDOT $5 billion more PER YEAR in NEW funds to prevent tolling.

TxDOT made sure they used up all the new funds on low priority projects instead of fixing the most congested corridors FIRST, as Gov. Greg Abbott directed them to do. Governor Abbott also campaigned saying NO MORE TOLLS! The local MPO board doesn’t care about your state government trying to restrain taxes. They want a network of toll lanes on ALL San Antonio freeways (as its managed lane report revealed at this meeting) so buses and REGISTERED carpoolers get a fast ride while making solo drivers PAY MORE to get anywhere.

What does HOV require?

HOV means High Occupancy Vehicle lanes. Yesterday, the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority (or ARMA, the unelected toll authority) admitted only carpools pre-approved by their government agency get a free ride in these HOV-transit-toll managed lanes. So only government-approved co-workers going to a specific daily business destination get approval for a free ride, not you and your family hopping in the HOV lanes on the way to soccer practice.

ACTION ITEM

This isn’t going to STOP unless we make it STOP, despite promises from Abbott or any other politician.

Contact your elected officials and tell them STOP using our gas taxes to build toll roads. If a road is expanded with tax money, it should stay a FREEway!

1) Contact San Antonio city councilmembers here.
2) Contact Bexar County Commissioners here.
3) Find out who your U.S. senators, U.S. congressman and state representative and state senator are here.

(NOTE: The federal officials have allowed these local MPOs to spend federal gas taxes on toll roads and use incentives to keep tolls coming, so do your STATE officials. )

WHO ARE THE CULPRITS?

The only two courageous ‘nay’ votes were Selma Councilman Kevin Hadas and New Braunfels Councilman Ron Reaves.

Elected officials who voted to spend your gas taxes on toll roads were (it was a voice vote but here’s the best list we have):

Kevin Wolff, Bexar County Commissioner
Ron Nirenberg, San Antonio City Council
Shirley Gonzales, San Antonio City Council
Roberto Trevino, San Antonio City Council
Kevin Webb, Comal County Commissioner
Kyle Kutscher, Guadalupe County Judge
Don Keil, Seguin Mayor
Chris Riley, Leon Valley Mayor
Ron Cisneros, Boerne City Council

No shows
Tommy Calvert, Bexar County Commissioner
Chico Rodriguez, Bexar County Commissioner
Ray Lopez, San Antonio City Council

The rest of the 23 member board is comprised of unelected bureaucrats who always vote to increase your taxes through tolls.

Boerne Councilman Ron Cisneros (who’s trying to get a promotion and is running for Kendall County Commissioner) actually attacked MPO Board members trying to stick up for the taxpayer and reject double taxation. Kudos to Selma Councilman Kevin Hadas for calling tolls what they are – a new tax that grow government bureaucracy.

Cisneros said he didn’t mind paying tolls. Well, what about everyone else who can’t afford it, or those who don’t want any form of double taxation or who simply don’t want another unaccountable tax or bureaucrats trying to social engineer people out of their cars and onto buses? He represents taxpayers, not himself, on this board.

Note to Trump: Key states tossed pro-toll incumbents

Link to article here.

Trump take heed: Toll roads a factor in Florida, North Carolina, and Texas election
By Terri Hall
November 9, 2016
Selous Foundation for Public Policy Research

With the historic election of Donald Trump to the American Presidency, it signals a total repudiation of the political establishment by the working class. You could call it the election of the American worker. But analysts would be remiss if they failed to overlook how toll roads played a part in several races in key states.

One of the most notable races is for governor in North Carolina — must-win state for Trump that went red. Yet, Republican Governor Pat McCrory is in a nail biter photo finish to retain his seat in a state that went Republican last night. The very real threat by Democrat Roy Cooper who claimed victory Wednesday morning, though most still believe the race too close to call, is in part due to McCrory losing support among his base thanks to his approval of the controversial public private partnership (P3) toll project on Interstate-77 in Charlotte.

Citizens lost their battle in the courts and the legislature to stop the state from handing the public’s vital interstate over to the control of a private, foreign corporation in a 50-year deal.

Then, the focus turned to Governor McCrory to cancel the contract. Cooper, the current Attorney General, said in the Charlotte Business Journal in August that McCrory would have “to admit now that he cut a bad deal for North Carolina. He should stop stalling and cancel this contract that never should have been signed to begin with.” McCrory didn’t budge to his own peril.

In Florida, another must-win state that went red for Trump, former House Transportation Committee Chairman, Congressman John Mica lost his seat to newcomer Stephanie Murphy. While some blame his defeat on redistricting bringing in more minority voters to his suburban district, Mica lost touch with his base due in part to his longstanding support for toll roads, particularly P3s. Mica brought tolls to I-4 using congestion pricing, forcing drivers to pay a premium to drive during peak hours. The hidden tax hurts suburbanites harder than urban dwellers since they experience longer commutes and pay more in tolls. He failed to stop the toll bloodletting when taxpayers revolted. So the untold story in this race is about the rise of the middle class worker struggling to make ends meet amidst stagnant wages, staggering health premiums, and ever growing taxes.

In Texas, a state without which no Republican can win the White House, Dallas State Representative Kenneth Sheets also became tone deaf to his conservative base on toll roads. The Dallas-Ft.Worth metroplex is ground zero for toll managed lane projects and soon will boast the largest managed lane network in the country. Taxpayers are none too happy. Though Sheets didn’t go all-in for tolling, he cozied up to the establishment, played footsy with too many controversial bills, scored poorly on legislative report cards, and lost his base. As a result, Sheets lost his seat to Democrat Victoria Neave, who said tolls are a hidden tax and should not advance without local support.

Now back to Mr. Trump. Days before the election, Trump announced his plan to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure without raising taxes by harnessing the private sector. Voters in these key states know that’s code for P3s and toll roads. They’re not fooled into thinking tolls are not a tax. Their pocketbooks have already been sufficiently raided enough to know the dangers of handing the sovereignty over our public roads to private for-profit companies who are given a blank check to charge punitive tolls during congested periods.

Trump’s anti-free trade message resonated because it hurt the American worker. Tolls likewise, hurt the American working class — and hard. Considering these three must-win states for a Republican president just tossed incumbents over toll projects, voters trust Mr. Trump will read the tea leaves and advance a transportation vision and policy that’s pro-freedom, pro-taxpayer, and pro-worker. Voters need to watch closely who he appoints as Transportation Secretary.

Former governors like Rick Perry made road privatization and tolls the centerpiece of his transportation policy for 14 years, and he’s vying for a position in the new Trump administration. Perry would be a disastrous choice considering Texans just elected a new Governor Greg Abbott who campaigned against toll roads and has made a marked departure from privatization. Americans expect Trump to surround himself with like-minded advisers who will set a course consistent with his campaign message. Millions will be watching and waiting.

BOMBSHELL: Senators find out tolls charged on roads that are paid for

Sparks fly as senators discover numerous toll roads with no debt on them, prompts call to remove tolls
By Terri Hall
September 15, 2016

It’s not often that the very sleepy subject of transportation offers a fiery discussion, but yesterday’s Senate Transportation Committee meeting did not disappoint. In a rare olive branch extended to grassroots anti-toll advocacy groups, Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom and Texans for Toll-free Highways, Chairman Senator Robert Nichols invited them to address the committee about one of its interim studies – a study on the elimination of toll roads.

Just the title evokes strong emotions on both sides of the issue, and those emotions were in plain view Wednesday. Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) Executive Director James Bass laid out the numbers of how much it would cost to retire tolls on roads built with state funds. Let me say that again, toll roads that were built with state money. That means gasoline taxes and other state funds were used to build the road, but Texas drivers are being charged again, through tolls, to use it — a double tax scheme.

An early pay-off would cost $24.2 billion, while the existing debt as of January 1, 2016, was $21.6 billion. That’s what building roads with debt begets. It costs far more than paying cash, anywhere from 40% more to 100% more. TxDOT now spends over $1 billion a year in payments to cover its debt. If the toll bonds stay on course to the final pay-off dates, the cost mushrooms to $39.9 billion.

The use of public funds to, in essence, bail out toll projects that cannot pay for themselves with the toll revenues only, was the subject of much consternation by the conservatives on the committee. Senator Lois Kolkhorst has twice authored the bill to make tolls come off the road when the debt is repaid. She was quick to jump in and grill Bass on the Loop 375 Border West Highway toll project in El Paso.

Bass called it a unique financial arrangement, and Kolkhorst, visibly irritated, responded, ’Well, explain that ‘unique’ arrangement.”

First, the entire project is paid for state funds. Not one penny of debt is owed, yet drivers will be be charged tolls to use it (it’s currently under construction). The project is jointly owned by the state and the Camino Real Regional Mobility Authority (or RMA), even though the RMA put no funds into the project. In fact, the state gave them $500 million in Texas Mobility Funds which granted the RMA ownership in proportion to that dollar amount, and the state paid the $130 million balance of the $630 million project with gasoline taxes. So the state gave away over 80% ownership to an unelected toll authority who will reap over 80% of the toll revenues for a 100% paid for highway.

It’s no wonder the senators suffered from shock.

“So we paid the RMA for their ownership. That’s a pretty good deal,” Kolkhorst quipped sarcastically.

“Let me get this straight. The state of Texas put money into a project and then gave half of the ownership to an RMA where they will forever in perpetuity get half of the revenue?”

Bass corrected her and said it was actually more than half the ownership and revenue.

“So this is what I don’t understand and this is the problem. The road is paid for. Now we’re going to create a toll road for the people of El Paso, and I’m just going to say this okay, because all of that is tax money, and that’s worse than I’ve ever seen…this is not right,” Kolkhorst expressed with frustration.

“At what point do you say, we shouldn’t toll this because it’s paid for? At what point do we say there’s no debt on this road, it’s paid for, and, by the way, you get to pay for it again, AND to add insult to injury, the people that paid for it never get the money back? Does that make sense to anybody in this room? This is what frustrates lawmakers like me when we try to give TxDOT money… It’s more expensive to build a toll road, so we paid more for it than we would have it had been non-tolled,…so enough!”

Senator Bob Hall echoed her frustration and pursued it further, “There are numerous toll roads that have no debt on them, and they’re still being tolled.”

Camino Columbia in Laredo, Cesar Chavez in El Paso, SH 130 (the state-operated northern 49 miles from Georgetown to Mustang Ridge) and SH 45 in the Austin area, the Katy Freeway managed toll lanes and the entire Metro High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes in Houston, parts of the Grand Parkway around Houston (segments 1-2A), the DFW connector, and the I-30 managed toll lanes (in fact most all of the managed toll lanes) in Dallas all have no debt and should have the tolls come down immediately. Every one of those lanes was built with state and federal funds, no debt is owed, and yet officials charge tolls simply to profit off of congestion and as a means to manipulate people and traffic.

Hall keyed in on Bass’ statement that several of the toll managed lane projects in Dallas-Ft. Worth had no debt and charged tolls to ‘control traffic through pricing.’ That’s a staggering admission for a highway department run by a conservative governor who prides himself on lowering taxes and taking on government overreach.

Hall insisted TxDOT drop such a punitive approach that seeks to control people, punish and discriminate against the poor, and use something that’s cheaper to implement and doesn’t cost the driver anything, like today’s technologically advanced ramp metering.

Senator Don Huffines chimed in with similar sentiments concluding tolls “are segmenting society between those who can afford tolls and those who can’t and it’s bad policy.”

Public testimony brought in the taxpayers’ perspective and gave a glimpse into the rage over tolls being charged on roads that are paid for. The GOP platform has a plank to remove tolls when the debt is repaid as well as a plank opposing the use of any public funds to build, subsidize or otherwise bail out toll projects. The Democratic platform also opposes toll roads. That’s the tip of the iceberg, though. A group of outraged citizens are preparing a class action lawsuit over the abusive toll collection practices that are are imposing fines and fees that financially ruin people and that allows unelected toll authorities to impound vehicles and block vehicle registration.

Many Texans are paying upwards of $300 a month in tolls just to get to work. Since the privatized toll projects opened, one has gone bankrupt, SH 130 (segments 5 & 6), and two in the Dallas-Ft. Worth metroplex use dynamic or ‘congestion pricing’ (where the toll is based on the level of congestion) to soak the traveling public, charging up to $50 a day in tolls.

Perhaps the most surprising concessions of the day came from Nichols’ himself. Known as the most ardent opponent of removing tolls in order to keep paying for road maintenance, Nichols actually advocated removing tolls from the Camino Columbia toll road. Tolls are generating ten times the cost of maintaining it.

Taking tolls off Camino Columbia would “to me, be a no brainer…you could pull the tolls down tomorrow if you wanted to,” suggested Nichols.

Nichols also asked TxDOT to study the effectiveness of HOV lanes. HOV lanes have come under fire as many of them now have a toll element for single occupant vehicles known as High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes, which are highly underutilized and actually make congestion worse on the surrounding general purpose lanes. He suggested the Department look at pre-HOV traffic data and post-HOV traffic data to actually see whether or not HOV lanes have successfully changed behavior and encouraged more carpooling or simply captured those who were already carpooling.

If it hasn’t actually successfully changed behavior, “I have a real problem with it,” expressed Nichols. “Police have more important things to do than count heads in an HOV lane.”

The research is virtually unanimous already. According to Jack Mallinckrodt’s study The Best Evidence of HOV Lane Effectiveness, he determined, “In all the known complete transportation modeling studies that have quantitatively evaluated (overall congestion and/or polluting emissions), optimal performance occurs in the natural, unrestricted Mixed-Flow operational mode. In all these cases, any attempt to preferentially restrict the natural free distribution of traffic, whether by HOV or HOT (High Occupancy Toll) operation, made overall congestion and emissions worse… And the findings are essentially unanimous in saying that under typical conditions, maximum transportation benefit…is afforded by unrestricted, mixed-flow, rather than HOV operation.”

HOV/HOT lanes may very well be on the ropes in Texas. House Transportation Committee Chair Joe Pickett shares Nichols’ distaste for HOV lanes calling them ineffective and a waste of capacity in a growing state. Pickett also argues they make congestion worse, which studies confirm, like the one recently conducted by Inrix that concluded congestion on the general purpose lanes got worse after the HOT lanes opened.

This is good news for congestion weary, toll weary commuters who are tired of being the guinea pigs of urban planners, who delight in imposing road scarcity to manipulate people out of their cars and into a bus or carpool. Conservatives clearly got the message that tolls play into the hands of social engineers who want to control the populace, and that tolls are abusive and double taxing Texans, which threatens the sustainability of the Texas economic miracle.

Biedermann trounces Miller, but Miller on war path to trample property rights

Link to article here. (Click on the link at this site to view the video of Miller gettin’ cozy with a lobbyist)

Despite defeat, Miller executes more damage to property rights
By Terri Hall
June 1, 2016

After an onslaught of threats that remain unresolved, residents of the Texas Hill Country just got a little retribution. From issues with land development and water to toll roads and property rights, Texas House District 73 yearned for new leadership. After an ugly, heated run-off election last week, it got it. Incumbent State Representative Doug Miller, an establishment Republican and staunch supporter of liberal Republican Speaker Joe Straus, was ousted by newcomer conservative businessman Kyle Biedermann of Fredericksburg. With Miller set to appear as an ‘expert witness’ on behalf of the developer of the controversial Johnson Ranch housing development, a very public showdown between neighboring landowners and this lame duck representative is taking shape.

The vast majority of the problems facing Hill Country residents over the last decade stem from out of control development. Between commercial development and massive new residential housing developments popping up across the scenic and once pristine Hill Country, issues like traffic, water shortages and rate hikes, sewage dumping, and even flooding have plagued residents, and they’re not getting much help from their elected representatives. Indeed, many see Miller as part of the problem.

The latest in the dispute over a wastewater permit involving the Johnson Ranch has emerged through the Johnson Ranch Municipal Utility District (MUD), which is a quasi-governmental entity controlled by the developer of Johnson Ranch. MUDs, which are controlled by private developers, allow private corporations to gain access to the governmental power of eminent domain. Naturally, landowners who have their private property stolen in the name of a public use for what amounts to private gain fight back. Such is the case with Terrell and Pat Graham who have been forced to spend a small fortune in legal fees defending Pat’s family homestead that’s been a continuous working cattle ranch for over one hundred years — the Lux family ranch.

Miller is set to serve as an expert witness for the Johnson Ranch MUD, testifying against the Lux-Graham family, which puts Miller at odds with the private property rights that Texans hold sacred. While it comes as no surprise to the Grahams, who have received no help from Miller for three years, it’s sent a shockwave through Bulverde residents who see Miller’s provocative move as a thumb in the eye and proves his coziness with well-connected special interests who funded his re-election campaign has wholly clouded his objectivity when it comes to his role as a public servant. What makes this move by Miller more breathtaking is the fact that he Chairs the Special Purpose District Committee that oversees the creation and governance of MUDs.

The Grahams’ property adjacent to Johnson Ranch is under threat of eminent domain by the Johnson Ranch MUD. The developer, David Hill Johnson Brothers (DHJB), wants to dump up to 350,000 gallons a day of treated sewage onto the Graham’s ranch, causing problems for cattle grazing and robbing them of the use and enjoyment of their property. An administrative law judge agreed with the Grahams and recommended that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) deny the wastewater permit, but TCEQ granted it anyway. The Grahams are appealing that decision.

But in the meantime, the developer tried to do an end run around the Graham’s lawsuit by reviving a dormant MUD where it could use eminent domain to take their land instead of wait for a final ruling that may go against the developer. Miller is now a party to the MUD’s abusive actions. Rather than defend the public interest as an elected official, he’s siding with special interests who have rewarded Miller financially. Miller is wholly owned by those special interests, so much so that he’s willing to throw his own constituents under the bus in order to allow an entity controlled by a developer to steal private property from one Texan using forcible eminent domain for the developer’s own private gain. Yet, Miller claimed he was strong in defending property rights.

This is why Miller was defeated. His constituents realized, whether it was during the campaign or in their own dealings with him, that he no longer represented them but special interests. The best course of action when an elected official is this bought and paid for is to boot them from office. It’s refreshing when voters do just that. Sadly, it may not be in time to help the Graham-Lux family hang onto their property.

However, residents of House District 73 can look forward to having an advocate in their newly elected representative, Mr. Biedermann. As a landowner himself, Biedermann understands first-hand the tie Texans have with their land and the threats that come from both government itself and from private entities that team up with big government to take it. Most importantly, Biedermann knows his constituents will hold him accountable if he ever wavers, as they did with Doug Miller.

Give Doug Miller the boot!

We endorse Kyle Biedermann for Texas House District 73. Kyle earned an ‘A’ rating from anti-toll watchdog Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom and signed onto the anti-toll pledge and legislative priorities for Texans for Toll-free Highways.

Time to oust pro-toll Doug Miller
Incumbent for Texas House District 73
Average grade on Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF) Transportation and Property Rights Legislative Report Card is a ‘D-‘

Miller voted to allow (HB 1112, in 2011) unelected toll bureaucracies to keep tolls on our roads even after they’re paid for (hence perpetual taxation), and to authorize Robin Hood ’system financing’ for toll roads that take toll revenues from one corridor to pay for another so that it’s no longer the user of the road paying for the road, but stealing from Peter to pay Paul, which is socialism for roads. The bill also allows multi-leveraged debt, which is what necessitated the $1 trillion Fannie Mae mortgage bailout. So Miller approved building roads, in essence, with credit cards that’s the equivalent of taking out a second mortgage on our highway system.

Miller voted for, SB 1110 (in 2013), that heists property taxes (through appraisal increases) for transportation projects and expands the use of Transportation Reinvestment Zones (TRZ) from strictly FREEways to toll roads, rail, transit, and dedicated bike lanes. So Miller wants your local property taxes to be used to bail out toll roads that can’t pay for themselves. Don’t count on your property tax bill going down when unelected boards obligate your taxes to bail out loser toll projects for a half century.

The bill also allows unelected toll bureaucracies to grab LOCAL sales tax in the ‘zone’ for STATE highway projects. So TRZs allow state officials to pass its obligation to properly fund and maintain the state highway system onto LOCAL taxpayers while they spend our gasoline taxes on non-road uses. This is also how state and local officials do an end run around voters for bond elections and empower an unelected toll authority to issue bonds that obligate generations of Texans to pay for toll projects and other things they don’t approve of.

Miller also voted for SB 1730 (in 2013) that authorizes nearly two dozen highway projects to be sold-off to private toll operators in sweetheart deals for a half century. These public private partnership contracts erode state sovereignty over public infrastructure, permit eminent domain for private gain, allow private corporations the power to charge punitively high toll taxes without limit to use public roads, contain non-compete clauses that penalize or prohibit expansion of free routes, and dole out taxpayer money to guarantee the private firm’s losses along with other taxpayer guarantees to ensure the private developer never loses money on the deal. Such deals cost DFW commuters up to $24 a day to get to work using a 10-mile private toll lane on I-635. In fact, Miller authored an amendment (amendment #3) to sell-off SH 16 between Fredericksburg and Kerrville to one of these foreign corporations!

Miller chairs the Special Purpose District Committee that authorizes Municipal Utility Districts (MUDs). This is the primary means for private developers to gain access to eminent domain for private gain. MUDs are being used to heist land across the Hill Country, and rather than shield landowners from these abuses, Miller facilitates it. Developers reward Miller by filling his campaign coffers. That’s how he’s fueled his nasty million dollar re-election campaign.

It’s past time for Miller to get the boot!

Vote for Kyle Biedermann on May 24.
Polls are open from 7 AM – 7 PM.

Villalba dogs anti-toll senators over LBJ East

Just when you think you’ve seen it all, something else happens that still manages to shock you. Well, this mean-spirirted editorial by State Rep. Jason Villalba and Dallas Councilman Adam McGough takes toll road politics to a whole new level. Read this outrageous hit piece that actually claims the survival of the Dallas area as a ‘world class city’ depends on a toll lane on I-635 East. Our response is below it.

ACTION ITEM
Support our anti-toll Good Guys! Send in a Letter to the Editor in support of Sen. Bob Hall and Sen. Don Huffines for their efforts to secure a non-toll LBJ East.
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Link to editorial here.
EDITORIAL: Villalba and McGough: Stop stalling the LBJ 635 East Project
By Jason Villalba and Adam McGough
Dallas Morning News
April 4, 2016

When running for political office in North Texas, whether for State Senate, the Texas House or the Dallas City Council, one quickly learns there is a single issue that unifies all citizens, political parties, business leaders, chambers of commerce, rotary clubs and community groups. To a person, all agree there is a current and growing need for more robust and efficient transportation infrastructure in Dallas County and all of North Texas.

Nowhere is this problem more salient than on Highway 635 from Central Expressway to Interstate Highway 30. The congestion, disrepair and clumsy layout of the primary transport artery in the north east quadrant of the county becomes evident after driving just a few minutes on that roadway.

As Dallas continues to grow at a pace that eclipses the rest of the state, our elected officials must endeavor to immediately find and implement solutions that address these needs in a way that works for all of our citizenry and our businesses. In the age of righteous indignation and well-intentioned fealty to ideological shibboleths, Dallas simply cannot afford to stand athwart the progress that is such a vital component of our growth and survival as a world class city.

And yet, certain of our officials continue to do just that. Anger and good intentions may win at the ballot box, but they will not fund the projects necessary to keep our highways running smoothly and efficiently.

No Texan, including the authors of this editorial, wants to utilize tolled roads to address our transportation shortfalls. We recognize that the hard working people of Texas pay their taxes to the state and that the state owes them a duty to find a way to provide the necessary services of government, including transportation. A tolled highway can, in some cases, become an additional tax on drivers.

But with respect to the proposed plan to create seven new lanes (each way) on Highway 635 from Central Expressway to IH-30, a project often referred to as the LBJ 635 East Project, the toll lanes are managed. This means you will only drive on a tolled lane if you choose to do so, similar to the Disney Fast Pass, which allows visitors to the theme parks to pay a fee to save a place in line. If you want to skip traffic at a busy hour or take advantage of a guaranteed travel speed to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, a managed toll lane will give you that opportunity. If you aren’t in a rush, you can choose not to pay. That is not a tax. That is Texas-style freedom.

The experts with the Department of Transportation and the Regional Transportation Council tell us that without the managed toll lanes, the LBJ 635 East Project will either never get completed in its current proposed form or will take more than twice as long to complete than currently projected. Yet, State Senators Don Huffines and Bob Hall, neither of whom have any particular expertise in transportation, have fought vociferously and adamantly to oppose any project whatsoever that contains a tolled component. These principled positions might be admirable if they were not so detrimental to those who are impacted every day by such inaction. The lack of construction sound walls and the presence of unwieldy and severe congestion on 635 East make it one of the most unpleasant and dangerous stretches of highway in the region.

The citizens of Dallas should be outraged at this intransigence. We should be well on our way to getting the transportation infrastructure our great city needs. And yet here we stand, into the second quarter of 2016 and eight short months until the next legislative session, and not one shovel of dirt has been moved to fix one of Dallas’ most pressing problems.

The time is now for real and courageous leadership on the issue of transportation in Dallas. The authors of this opinion piece and many other elected officials in the region stand with you, the people of Dallas, Garland and Mesquite, and we demand that the LBJ 635 East Project, in its current proposed form, be approved and initiated immediately. We ask you to call your senator, state house representative or city council member and urge them to approve the proposed changes or to explain to you why they oppose progress for Dallas. This issue is simply too important to wait on the sidelines while the just-say-no caucus finds its way.

Jason Villalba is a Republican representative in the Texas House and can be reached at jason.villalba@house.state.tx.us Twitter @jasonvillalba. Adam McGough is a Dallas City Council member. Reach him at adam.mcgough@dallascityhall.com.

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TURF response

Unlike Villalba and McGough, anti-toll champions, Senator Bob Hall and Senator Don Huffnes, are actually working to fix LBJ East without raising taxes rather than hide behind the empty propaganda of a politcially motivated editorial. Shame on the Dallas Morning News for allowing such an attack piece to run in its paper without at least giving the other side equal time on the same page.

These two senators campaigned against toll roads and won their races against entrenched incumbents who supported and voted for toll roads. Huffines even knocked out the former Senate Tranpsortation Committee Chair, John Carona. They stand with Governor Greg Abbott who also campaigned with the promise to fix our roads without raising taxes, fees, or tolls, and he was elected by a wide margin over his pro-toll opponent, Wendy Davis. So it’s clear what the voters want and it ain’t more toll roads.

Elected officials have a duty to represent their constituents and to keep their campaign promises. Villalba and McGough claim that these senators are somehow causing some sort of delay in fixing Interstate 635 East (from US-75 to I-30) yet few have worked harder to prioritize this project and secure funding for expansion of I-635 E and to do it without tolls.

Villalba neglects to mention that the Texas Senate made Prop 7 a priority and passed it early last session as one of Governor Abbott’s emergency items. However, the House dragged its feet and delayed passage until the final days of the session. Together with Prop 1 and finally ending many of the diversions of the state gasoline tax to non-road purposes amounts to the largest infusion of road funding in Texas history. TxDOT said it needed $5 billion a year to stop having to resort to toll roads, and thanks to our great new senators Bob Hall and Don Huffines, TxDOT now has $5 billion a year more in the state highway fund for non-toll projects.

Building and maintaining roads and infrastructure is one of the core functions of government, and it’s clealry a top priority for both senators since they both sit on the Senate Transportation Committee. Villalba, however, is the one with no transportation experience. He’s never sat on the House Transportation Committee or lifted a finger to help stop the toll onslaught or address transportation issues as a House member. In contrast, Senators Hall and Huffines promised to fight toll roads and that’s exactly what they’re doing.

Villalba and McGough also claim tolls are needed in order to fund I-635 E. Yet the Texas Department of Transportation’s traffic and revenue studies show that tolls are insufficient to fund the proposed tolled portion of this project. So pushing tolls on I-635 E is a double tax scheme since tolls are not remotely economically feasible and tax dollars are needed to make any toll scenario work. That’s double taxation and it’s unacceptable.

Villalba and McGough whine that “elected officials must endeavor to immediately find and implement solutions that address these needs in a way that works for all of our citizenry.” Yet, toll lanes are designed to price the vast majority of drivers out of the lanes, so tolling is not a solution that ‘works.’

Let’s not forget who the real beneficiary of a tolled I-635 E is — Cintra. Cintra operates and collects the enormously expensive tolls on I-635 W that, conveniently, feeds right into the proposed toll lanes on I-635 E.

In fact, such ‘congestion pricing’ actually bases the toll rate on the level of congestion, not the actual cost of building the project or retiring its debt. So during peak hours, Texans pay a premium to drive.

Tolls don’t equal ‘progress,’ or ‘Texas-style freedom,’ but rather they represent Rick Perry’s failed toll-leveraged debt model that allows big spending politicians like Villalba an easy way out of fiscal restraint, which would be funding priorities instead of more waste. All citizens, not just the elites deserve equal access to our state highways. Advocating a runaway tax on Texans is far from ‘courageous leadership,’ it’s tired political rhetoric from the past to cloak an economically unfeasible toll project as the silver bullet to traffic problems.