Part II – SB 792 about summer break, not passing a good bill

The REAL truth behind today is that Governor Perry called the Legislature’s bluff. He successfully did what he did to win re-election…he got North Texas and Harris County to drink his poison pill last weekend (remember that three extra days he bought himself for arm-twisting by refusing to accept HB 1892), which was evidenced by the unanimous vote of the Senate Monday.

This is why veto overrides are so rare. The whole thing was a ruse. The Senate used HB 1892’s vote margins as leverage to get Perry to the table. They never intended to override him. Harvey Kronberg was right! The rest of this was a foregone conclusion ever since. Our San Antonio guys were ready to vote against this disastrous “compromise,” but voted for it since HB 1892 had a loophole for the corridor. So SB 792 with all it’s horrific flaws was the only means to get a moratorium that also included TTC 35. San Antonio roads were already in both (even stronger language made it into SB 792).

However, there are so many exceptions to this moratorium, that of all the CDAs currently being negotiated, only TTC 35, San Antonio, and El Paso are in it. The moratorium does stop TxDOT from signing more. So here we are again in yet another session where a last minute omnibus transportation bill where the good stuff gets watered down and the bad stuff gets rushed through with people voting on things WITH NO DEBATE. They had a shell of a debate with foregone conclusions at the outset. It ended up being like what happened to Senator Robert Nichols who was sandbagged and brought in and asked for his opinion on the bill AFTER they had the votes to outnumber him.

They had a special room off to the side of the House floor with TxDOT arm twisters…they defeated Macias’ amendment to restore open government and allow PUBLIC access to toll feasibility studies….they shut down EVERYTHING. That’s what they were being told would avoid a special session.

I don’t know how these guys sleep at night when they worry more about missing summer vacation, and hence the commencement of fundraising for the next election, than passing a good bill (stripping this “market valuation” language) or doing what the citizens ask. Don’t get mad at our San Antonio reps who heard you loud and clear; they asked us how to vote…we did the best we could given the circumstances. At least we could get the TTC 35 fixed. It’s the North Texas and Harris County reps that sold the rest of the state out.

If you want to take out your venom on someone, it’s the Senate. John Carona’s office assured us “no compromises” on the key provisions like the buy-back clauses. They said they were pushing to get the equivalent of HB 1892 or better. I beg to differ, it’s worse, far worse! This bill kicks the teeth out of the killer clause that would have chased off private operators for good. Instead, they’re just crippled. We could have knocked it out of the ballpark, but our representatives acted more like politicians than public servants. That market valuation language will bury this state under oppressive tolls if we don’t beat that door down next session. The Senate set the example of caving into the pressure so the House followed suit. They didn’t have the guts to take this Governor down and override his veto. They wanted summer break more than fighting FOR the citizens of Texas. The motivation to avoid special sessions is tied to our politicians’ ability to fundraise. Every day they’re in session, they cannot accept campaign contributions.

Guess Senator Carona’s concerns about high tolls only applies when they’re going to Cintra instead of his tolling authority. Both fleece the taxpayer, except under the PUBLIC toll road fleecing they justify it this way: “at least those high tolls go to build more roads.” Goodie! Are these Republicans we’re talking about here? Because this sounds like tax and spend if I’ve ever heard it.
We did get an amendment that PUT 281/1604 UNDER the moratorium (stronger than previous intent language)…but our REAL problem now is Perry’s NEW language that allows the same “market value” poison to be inflicted on us through PUBLIC tolling entities…we only stopped CDAs, not the toll train. They get you coming and going…

Market valuation just opened a new can of worms. TTC 69 is still on the table though support for it as a CDA is already starting to crack. The best medicine? VOTE the rascals out.

Perry is poison for this State and no one will go up against him even though we handed them the golden opportunity for a showdown with this Governor. Even Rep. Joe Pickett voted with KRUSEE!!!

All we truly got today was TTC 35 in the moratorium…everything else just got worse. The Governor beat them with his billy club and they said Uncle inside of 30 seconds without a whimper. Like Lee Iacocca says in his new book, Where have all the Leaders Gone?

Look, at this Ben Wear story (below)…today was all about making it acceptable to the Governor, and turf battles over the pot of money they can extract from “market-based” highways rather than about the PEOPLE of TX that have to pay for these horrific decisions for generations (with interest!)!


Hitchhikers bogging down toll road bill
House treating Senate legislation as vehicle to move other stalled measures.

By Ben Wear
Thursday, May 17, 2007
Senate Bill 792’s sprint through the Legislature has run into some head winds.

On Wednesday, odds appeared increasingly slim that the key toll road bill will make it to Gov. Rick Perry’s desk in time to avert a veto on another bill that SB 792 would replace.

And when it does get there, it probably will be carrying a fair amount of baggage.

SB 792, which passed the Senate unanimously Monday and then shot through bill sponsor Rep. Wayne Smith’s County Affairs Committee that evening, is on today’s House calendar.

A growing number of House members, according to Smith’s office, have begun to regard the must-pass toll road legislation as a handy vehicle on which to hang dead or dying bills.

By one estimate, there could be several dozen suggested amendments offered when the bill comes up today.

“I would hope that we could pass 792 without amendments, but that’s not likely,” Smith, a Baytown Republican, said Wednesday. “I hope that the members understand that their amendments should fit the spirit of the bill.”

Translated, that means: Don’t try to put anything on there that Perry wouldn’t like.

Given the rowdy nature of the House, and public pressure about toll roads, that might be asking too much.

For instance, Rep. Harvey Hilderbran, R-Kerrville, said Wednesday that he couldn’t support the bill without an amendment saying that no Trans-Texas Corridor projects would be built west of Interstate 35. Given that the Trans-Texas Corridor plan of cross-state tollways, railroads and utility lines is Perry’s centerpiece transportation policy, that amendment is not likely to sit well with the governor.

“We could end up with another bill on the governor’s desk that he’ll veto” if members push too far with changes, Smith said.

Perry’s office said he has until Friday at 11:59 p.m. to sign or veto House Bill 1892, or let it become law without his signature.

That bill contains many of the same elements as SB 792 — a partial moratorium on private toll road contracts, new limits on the terms of such contracts, sections giving local toll road agencies first shot at turnpikes in their areas — but was judged lacking by Perry.

He made it clear he would veto the bill and raised the specter of calling the Legislature into special session this summer if HB 1892 wasn’t replaced with a bill to his liking.

Senate Bill 792, which began life this session as HB 1892’s twin, became that vehicle.

Senators, the governor’s office and the Texas Department of Transportation spent several days working out the compromise passed by the Senate on Monday. Perry pronounced himself satisfied with that version.

Supporters hoped to run the bill through the House unchanged this week in time for Perry to sign it Friday, before the veto deadline for HB 1892. Under that scenario, HB 1892 would then be recalled from Perry by a legislative resolution and laid to rest.

But the sudden effusion of amendments, along with unease among House members about getting a complex, significant bill late in the session, slowed the process.

To address this, Smith’s office took the unusual step Wednesday of setting up a legislators-only room in a conference room behind the House chamber, complete with maps, the 64-page bill and other educational materials, so lawmakers could go by and learn how it might affect their House district.

At midafternoon, despite a desultory pace of legislating on the House floor, no members had yet visited the room.

If SB 792 does not get final passage in the House until Friday, and is loaded with amendments, it could be difficult to quickly reach accord with the Senate on a final bill. That in turn would force Perry to veto HB 1892, something that Smith and legislators working on the alternative bill have hoped to avoid.

Might they vote to pull HB 1892 back from the governor’s desk even before SB 792 is fully cooked?

No, Smith said. “I think the members would revolt if we withdraw 1892 before the governor signs 792.”