Victory #6 with caveats…grassroots amend bill to close corridor loophole

The House got its chance to vote on the Governor’s compromise bill. When the good guys stepped into the House chambers this afternoon to deliberate SB 792, the Governor’s compromise bill, they were ready to defeat SB 792 that spit in the face of Texans. THEN, the grassroots actually managed to stage a coup of its own…

Trans Texas Corridor expert and grassroots hero, David Stall of Corridor Watch, found a loophole in both HB 1892 and SB 792 that WOULD HAVE ALLOWED TXDOT TO EXPLOIT the language to CONTINUE THE TTC! Since TxDOT already signed the CDA private toll contract for the Trans Texas Corridor, they then moved to use a different type of contract to actually build each segment called a “facility agreement.” Unless this type of agreement was explicitly laid out in the moratorium language, we would have all thought we had a moratorium that covered the Trans Texas Corridor but didn’t, leaving the Governor and TxDOT a gaping LOOPHOLE that would have fooled everyone!

So in order to make certain the Trans Texas Corridor was IN FACT PART OF the moratorium, Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, original author of the moratorium bill, passed an amendment to fix it. Once she did, now the only way to prevent the TTC was to support SB 792 since HB 1892 didn’t stop the corridor.

Now that said, there was a HEAP of HORRIFIC provisions in SB 792 that we still attempted to fix. The BIG WIN was Rep. Joe Farias adding an explicit amendment (not just an intent dialogue like we did with HB 1892 since Wentworth left the door open to tolling 1604) to ensure both 281 AND Loop 1604 are INCLUDED in the moratorium.

Rep. Nathan Macias (backed up by our San Antonio delegation and many rural reps) tried to defend open government by preventing a clause that made toll feasibility studies and financial forecasts CONFIDENTIAL. We realized both HB 1892 and SB 792 made these studies that are currently PUBLIC, CONFIDENTIAL. Of course, Mike Krusee stood up to defeat it along with some North Texas legislators who were more concerned about getting this compromise bill to the Governor than passing a bill that promotes open government and transparency. Every rep who voted AGAINST open government ought to pay a price!

Many reps shared our concerns about the market valuation provisions, but at the end of the day, they preferred getting a bill through that the Senate (who suddenly made nicey nice with a detested Governor rather than grow a back bone) and Governor would accept. There were technical problems with HB 1892 that North Texas wanted to fix and it was clear they were pulling their support from HB 1892 (with the help of Senator Jeff Wentworth who worked the House floor the ENTIRE debate!). Also, the TTC was not under the moratorium in that bill, so we directed our reps to support the amended SB 792, in spite of it being gutted. We shouldn’t have to hold our noses to get what the PEOPLE clearly want. I particularly applaud our San Antonio reps for being willing to stick with us AGAINST SB 792, but for the sake of the TTC, we asked them to vote FOR it.

There’s plenty in SB 792 to claim victory, but it presents even more BAD provisions we’ll have to tackle next session when both TxDOT and CDAs will sunset. Victories include getting the TTC, 281/1604, and El Paso under the moratorium, much tighter CDA provisions like limiting non-competes for the contracts NOT under the moratorium, end to ALL CDAs in 2009, doubling TxDOT’s bonding capacity, and requiring public disclosure of toll rates and other financial information PRIOR to any contracts being signed.

The bill passed 145-2, with Rep. Macias and Rep. Riddle protesting the bad provisions and due to their colleagues rejecting their attempted reforms. Macias said, “I didn’t want to look back 4 years from now and regret voting for such a bad bill.”

Let’s remember…if the Governor signs SB 792, we will have achieved a private toll moratorium on 281/1604 and the TTC that NO ONE thought possible only 5 months ago! It’s still a MAJOR victory for the grassroots….we killed $106 billion total in private toll deals currently on the table that would have given a foreign company access to our wallets for 50+ years!