"Merger" nothing short of hostile takeover of Via by RMA

Link to proposed draft legislation here.

TURF Statement on proposed creation of Consolidated Transportation Authority
RMA Board Meeting
February 11, 2009

The RMA’s involvement in lobbying for this change in legislation is obvious to any casual observer, especially in trying to persuade the Transportation Task Force to modify their initial plan to simply dissolve the RMA and turn it into a merger instead. This constitutes illegal lobbying for the passage of specific legislation (violation of Texas Government Code Chapter 556.005), particularly in the RMA’s attempts to lobby to keep their jobs. We are bringing this to the attention of law enforcement officials.

The fundamental question is, why a merger instead of just dissolving the RMA? The ATD can do toll projects as well as most every other type of transportation project. We do not need to continue $1 million in salaries and benefits for employees who perform the same function of an existing board.

The language of this proposed legislation is so broad and liberal (it even states to construe it as liberally as possible in the text) that its powers could be construed to mean just about anything!

Here’s just the start of our list of concerns:
It allows the authority to toll a road without a vote if they use local funds instead of state money! The bill allows CDAs, including concession fees, which the people of Bexar County are adamantly opposed to, and even Judge Nelson Wolff himself stated publicly that he’s against a CDA with concession fees that take the money and control of our highways away from the people of Texas.

This bill throws fiscal responsibility and accountability to the wind. The authority could impose ANY kind of tax allowing total runaway taxation and bureaucracy run amok. The bill likewise allows the authority to steal money from one project to pay for another known as “system financing,” which results in one part of the community being overtaxed to subsidize projects elsewhere.

This lacks transparency and makes following the money trail near impossible. It allows un-elected bureaucrats to use taxes for purposes the taxpayers never intended. A tax should be tied to a specific project and sunset when the project is paid for, period. If more money is needed down the road, then you come to the voters and ask for it. Taxation in perpetuity in the hands of a band of unelected bureaucrats is legalized thievery.

If a road is tolled, it should be paying for the pavement those motorists are driving on, not used as a targeted tax to subsidize projects elsewhere. This bill creates the ability to co-mingle funds and pots of money to deceive voters and hide the fact that certain projects are not self-sustaining or truly viable projects. This authority would be more of the same elitist attitude we’ve seen from this Board….just give us your money because we know how to spend it better than you do.

The bill would allow the authority to form its own government-owned corporation to finance its own projects, which was defeated by the last Legislature. Talk about the fox guarding the henhouse, the level of self-interest and incentive to make poor investment decisions (knowing the taxpayers will bail you out) is staggering!!

Lastly, it’s clear the intent of this authority is to engulf the Hill County and outlying counties into its boundaries by hook or by crook. The people and their elected representatives in the outlying areas have clearly spoken at past MPO meetings that they DO NOT WANT THIS!

A more detailed analysis of our concerns are attached. When will the public comment on the specific proposed legislation begin since last week’s hearing failed to produce the bill?

Specific areas of concern by section:
1) Sec 451.901 6) (c) allows for monitoring of citizens

2) Sec 451.901 6) (f) allows for concession fees (presumably through CDAs and private sheisters)

3) Sec 451.901 7) can lump virtually any transportation project into their “system,” which allows for “system financing” (code for stealing from Peter to pay Paul; targeted tax on one set of folks to give it to another, or subsidize another)

4) Sec 451.901 13) creates the ability to co-mingle funds and pots of money to subsidize ANYTHING without coming to the voters or doing so in a transparent way. It also allows an un-elected Board to levy taxes of all sorts without direct representation. It creates the ability to deceive voters and hide the fact that certain projects are not self-sustaining or truly viable projects.

5) Sec 451.902 – allows them to “liberally construe” the law to do anything they want. [again in Sec  Sec 451.905 (d)]

6) Sec 451.903 (b) (1) mentions multiple counties. It was clear at the MPO meeting last October that the people nor their elected representatives in the Hill Country want to have anything to do with Bexar County toll roads and MPO agenda. The language of this bill makes it clear in multiple places that this new entity could perform a hostile takeover of the Hill Country through designating a project outside the county lines as a “system.”

7) Sec 451.903 (b) (2) transfers the RMA’s toxic debts and its $1 million dollar salaries, benefits, and pensions to VIA/ATD with no assurances in writing that TxDOT will continue to fund this failed agency (and why should they?).

8) Sec 451.904 references planning and development of “mobility” (code for toll) projects in the authority’s county(ies) AND region thereby allowing toll projects in areas outside Bexar County where residents may be adamantly opposed to them. Allows the authority to make transportation decisions for other counties!

9) Sec 451.904 (d) transfers RMA salaries, pensions, employees and obligations to ATD…this doesn’t shrink government for maximum efficiency, it bloats the agency with guaranteed work and wages for RMA employees who have yet to produce ANYTHING in 5 years!

10) Sec 451.905 (a) grants virtually unlimited powers to itself by this nebulous statement “has the power necessary or convenient to carry out this subchapter or to effect a purpose of this subchapter” (“to effect purpose” has staggering legal implications)

11) Sec 451.905 (f) can impose ANY kind of tax (except property tax)…total runaway taxation and bureaucracy run amok

12) Sec 451.905 (i) – this section is governed by Sec. 451.705.  “SUBSEQUENT ELECTIONS.  (a)  If the initial election under Section 451.702 is held only in the principal municipality, or if the voters of another municipality or the unincorporated area of a county do not vote to join the district at the initial election under Section 451.702, the governing body of the other municipality or the commissioners court of the county may order an election in the municipality or the county at a later date on the question of joining the district…”

People would only be able to vote for or against the proposed tax hike, and aren’t given a real choice of between methods of financing and the specific projects that a tax hike would fund. A tax should be tied to specific projects, not placed in a pot of money that can be used on things the voters didn’t directly approve. That would be the only fair way to do an election on transportation issues…you are given choices, not yes or no roads!

13) Sec 451.905 (i) could form its own government-owned corporation to finance its own projects! Talk about the fox guarding the henhouse, the level of self-interest and incentive to make poor investment decisions (knowing the taxpayers will bail you out) is staggering!!

14) Sec 451.907 (4) (b) allows two RMA board members to be holdovers (not to mention Henry Munoz is already running the board).

15) Sec 451.907 (f) (2) prohibits elected official to serve as director of this taxing entity. That’s precisely who should be serving on this Board, it’s called taxation WITH representation, not the other way around!

16) Sec 451.907 (D) allows board member to receive financial compensation for real property acquired by the authority if he/she can claim it wasn’t known at the time of his/her initial appointment. The Board member ought to resign from the Board in such an instance and, at a minimum, recuse himself by abstaining from voting on the item. (Basic conflict of interest and bad ethics to not force recusal!)

17) Sec 451.909 (b) allows them to still issue debt without it being its report to the county/city in its strategic plan, so what’s the point of the reporting to them and having a plan if it can be ignored? This isn’t accountability; it’s just checking a box!

18) Sec 451.910 potentially allows the authority to overtake/govern outlying areas by designating a project a “system” without that territory’s permission. This section allows them to steal from one project or area to subsidize another. Bad public policy and co-mingles the money making transparency difficult.

19) Sec 451.911 (d) allows debt to be sold to private entities for private gain and allows debt for up to 50 years versus the traditional 30 yr municipal bond terms.

20) Sec 451.912 vague wording, “all powers are cumulative” and can be exercised either independently or in combination (with who? or what?) What does this mean? Could it mean in concert with a private toll operator like a Cintra?

21) Sec 451.913 this section should tie ANY sales and use tax to specific projects. By allowing a big pot of money to be used at the board’s sole discretion without notifying voters of what projects types it could fund, they could finance a toll road WITHOUT A PUBLIC VOTE, which was promised when the ATD was formed. So this is a loophole, even Tuggey admitted they could toll without a vote if they didn’t use state money and used local money instead! You can be sure they’ll exploit it!

22) Sec 451.918 E. would allow CDAs, which the people of Bexar County have consistently rejected (hence the moratorium and the kabosh on the 281/12604 CDA in the 2007 legislative session (SB 792).

Subchapter M of Sec 451 in the Transportation Code allows for the withdrawl from an authority, so surely there’s a away to dissolve the RMA, too. However, when you look at the procedure to withdrawl, in some cases, up to 20% of registered voters must sign a petition for a withdrawl election, which is a near impossible threshold to meet! After withdrawl, the region withdrawing has to pay back all the funds it ever received from the authority (again making it near impossible to withdraw)!

By contrast, the existing law on the public hearings to create a Metropolitan Rapid Transit Authority takes just 500 signatures and the City can call for election to create one, but it takes 20% of ALL voters to dissolve it. That’s NUTS! The RMA and Via gave less than a week’s notice for its public hearing February 5, this law says it should be at least 2 weeks and published in the paper for those 2 weeks. Without a bill to scrutinize or comment on, Sec 451.653 could not be fulfilled. See below…

Sec. 451.652.  NOTICE OF HEARING.  (a)  Notice of the time and place of the hearing on the creation of an authority, including a description of the area proposed to be included in the authority, shall be published once each week for two consecutive weeks in a newspaper of general circulation in the alternate municipality. The first publication of the notice must be published not later than 15 days before the date scheduled for the hearing.

(b)  The governing body of the alternate municipality shall furnish a copy of the notice under Subsection (a) to the Texas Department of Transportation.

Acts 1995, 74th Leg., ch. 165, Sec. 1, eff. Sept. 1, 1995.

Sec. 451.653.  CONDUCT OF HEARING.  (a)  The governing body of the alternate municipality shall conduct the hearing on the creation of the authority at the place and time specified in the notice of the hearing. The hearing may be continued during the periods necessary to complete the hearing.

(b)  Any interested person may appear at the hearing and offer:

(1)  evidence on the issues described by Section 451.654(a); or

(2)  other facts bearing on the creation, construction, or operation of the proposed transit authority system.

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