Today’s Senate hearing was a tremendous success. Senator Carona’s office told us that aside from the redistricting controversy several years back, today’s hearing had record attendance for a Senate Hearing with 800 witnesses! I’d like to thank Senator Carona for the honor of being the very first person called to testify at today’s hearing. Considering the many experts he could have called ahead of me, he chose to hear from the GRASSROOTS first and foremost!
There’s too much to tell, but we’ll do our best to do a quick summary. But let it be known…your LOUD OPPOSITION has been heard and the message got through!
SENATOR NO SHOW
Ask Senator Jeff Wentworth (210) 826-7800 what was more important than attending this hearing on the committee on which he sits. Is there any more controversial project in his district right now than tolls on 281 and 1604…and yet he doesn’t show up to hear from them?
• BOMBSHELL OF THE DAY! State Auditor gave a summary of their audit report of the Trans Texas Corridor released last Friday, and said out of 32 invoices, 21 were allocated to the wrong project and some coded “engineering” but were actually spent on public relations!!! Remember the Governor unequivocally stated NO TAXPAYER money would go to fund this corridor and yet the Auditor revealed $90 million has already been spent with potentially billions more in the hopper!
They also found projects that were financially unsustainable with tolls that would require taxpayer subsidies to build. THIS IS THE SMOKING GUN THEY TRIED TO HIDE BY KEEPING THE CONTRACT SECRET FOR 18 MONTHS and released upon threat of a lawsuit by citizens 30 days prior to the election. Read more of the Auditor’s details on the appalling MISUSE of taxpayer money and gross abuse of power by TxDOT on the TTC here.
• Carona called an expert witness on Public-Private Partnerships (PPP, or to you and I, PPP stands for “Perfect Pick Pocket”), Dennis Enright with NW Financial, who has analyzed the recent PPPs for the toll road sales to Cintra-Macquarie in Chicago and Indiana…he UNEQUIVOCALLY STATED PPPs COST THE STATE 50% MORE than if the public/govt. operated the toll road. He also stated it was ALWAYS BEST to keep toll roads in the public’s hands.
He also said this gem: “Toll roads by their very nature are monopolies.”
Enright was asked about the deal just inked with Cintra-Zachry on 121 in Dallas and he said: “I haven’t analyzed it yet because you can’t get access to them in Texas.” TELLING! Our Dept of Transportation chooses to broker back room deals and keep its contracts SECRET from the taxpayers in order to HIDE the FAVORABLE terms they’re giving these private interests! Enright also stated there was ZERO risk to the private entity on the 121 deal and said it was a perfect investment for the developer (but horrible for the public).
The private entity also has no motive reduce congestion by maximizing cars that take the toll road since they can hike the tolls and reduce the number of cars that take it and reduce their maintenance cost. They have a economic incentive for high tolls and ghost town tollways…they only need enough travelers to cover their cost and desired profit, the rest of us can go take an access road!
If they used the same toll formula Cintra-Macquarie used for the Chicago deal, it would cost $185 to travel the 121 toll road in it’s most expensive year! Once again, all TxDOT could tout was how they’d charge whatever the market will bear. They said the market would bear 28 cents a mile on 121. Compare that to 1-3 cents a mile we pay in gas taxes and you can see this is a public fleecing!
• TxDOT grillin’ – the HOT SEAT, it’s about time! In a nutshell, TxDOT’s Chief Financial Officer, James Bass, couldn’t answer the senators’ most basic questions on what the maximum toll rates would be in the most expensive year of the 50 year contract on 121 which begs the question…if their Chief Financial Officer doesn’t have a clue about the most basic details of these contracts, then what is our Dept. of Transportation busy doing? It became abundantly clear that they’re nothing more than an extension of the corporate special interests that stand to make BILLIONS on the backs of the taxpayers!
Carona had two questions of Williamson. Why not expand I-35 and why build the Trans Texas Corridor? Then, when Williamson took the HOT SEAT, after much back and forth, Carona finally got him to agree with him that expanding EXISTING I-35 is the BEST scenario vs. erecting the Trans Texas Corridor. Carona also caught he and TxDOT in a number of misleading figures about I-35’s ORIGINAL plan calling for 16 lanes in the urban areas and the true costs. They tried to say it it would cost more today to expand I-35 by two lanes than the cost of the ORIGINAL plan that called for 16 lanes. Nobody buys it!
• Michael Stevens, who Chairs the Governor’s Business Council and who hired A&M to do the study that showed we don’t need tolls to meet future transportation needs, testified that they didn’t even study the TTC or count that as one of the State’s unmet “needs” because they determined it wasn’t a need! HE STATED THE TTC WOULD NOT RELIEVE ANY CONGESTION IN URBAN AREAS so it’s NOT NEEDED! That’s right…the TTC, though the Governor and TxDOT have repeated claimed the need for it is to relieve I-35 congestion, will do ZIP, ZILCH, NADA to relieve I-35 traffic!!!!! He finished by saying EVERY analysis of public versus private toll roads showed that public toll roads were cheaper, sometimes significantly cheaper than private ones.
CALL FOR IMMEDIATE INVESTIGATION OF TXDOT!
If our government builds the Trans Texas Corridor after that declaration, we need to call for a public flogging of our officials! Folks with testimony like we heard today, I rest my case. We’re right, this Governor and his Transportation Commission are WRONG, and we need to call for immediate investigations by our Attorney General into TxDOT cooking the books and INSIST this Legislature pass legislation to redirect TxDOT’s completely wrong-headed fiscal mismanagement of a public agency forcing the MOST EXPENSIVE options upon the taxpaying public with NO OVERSIGHT or ACCOUNTABILITY with no justification WHATSOEVER except corporate enrichment!
Find out who your representatives are here.The Attorney General needs to investigate TxDOT for cooking the books NOW, heads need to roll for this gross misuse of taxpayer money! How do we do it? Ask your representatives to ask the AG to open an investigation IMMEDIATELY!