Friday, May 15, 2009

"Rick Perry gives a speech at a Tea Party rally, but as governor, all he's done is promote taxing, tolling, big spending, and big government."

Texas Governor's Race 2010: Vote for Anybody But Rick Perry


by Robert Morrow
Copyright 2009

On April 15, Rick Perry had the nerve to speak at Tea Party rallies in Austin, Arlington, and Ft. Worth, where the public came out to protest high taxes and big government programs draining our economy. Yet, as governor, Rick Perry strongly promoted a new business margins tax (small-business killer) that came into effect two years ago, and he has done nothing but promote BIG government for nine years.

Rick Perry has pushed through a gargantuan toll road taxing and spending scheme, and the biggest tax increase in Texas history. Billions and billions of dollars of tax revenues, all for his special interest toll road friends.

Rick Perry gives a speech at a Tea Party rally, but as governor, all he's done is promote taxing, tolling, big spending, and big government. He's desperate and may now realize that he can't win on a "pro-life" position alone, while being funded with toll road money.

I am not supporting this idiot. I am for anyone but Rick Perry in 2010, and this is because I am sick of Rick Perry’s BIG GOVERNMENT CRAP.

It is time to flush Rick Perry’s CRAP agenda down the toilet. And what kind of big government CRAP does Rick Perry promote?

CRAP #1 -- The Trans Texas Corridor and the gargantuan, multi-billion dollar toll road fiasco. The TTC and the toll roads are the biggest taxing, spending, and tolling increases in the history of Texas! The toll road scam screws Texas taxpayers, consumers, drivers and landowners. Rick Perry shoved toll roads down the throats of millions of Texans. It is a prime example of the big government, pro-tax, pro-toll agenda of Rick Perry. Then he wants to sell these roads off for quick cash like a fool.

CRAP #2 -- How about that NEW business margins tax that Rick Perry pushed through in 2006? These victims get to pay taxes on some formula of the total revenue of their companies. That means these small companies pay taxes on revenue, not income or profits. So you still pay taxes even if you are losing money!! That’s pure Rick Perry CRAP.

CRAP #3 -- Rick Perry tried to mandate that all the young girls in Texas be FORCED to take an HPV vaccine (manufactured by Merck & Co.), with the parents required to pay $400.00 for the shot! That was a tremendous invasion into the family lives of millions of Texans and this idiotic "Big Brother" CRAP is reason enough to vote for anyone but Rick Perry. He wants to stick a needle filled with a possibly dangerous, probably ineffective chemical into the arms of every 6th grade girl in Texas.

CRAP #4 -- It was really tragic for Rick Perry to support the raid in the FLDS community and removal of 439 children from their parents on the basis of an out-of-state crank phone call. Think of all the tears, trauma and family destruction that Rick Perry and an out-of-control Child “Protective” Services caused when they pulled that CRAP. As of today, all but ONE of the children have been sent back to their parents; it just shows you what CRAP this case was.

Rick Perry at the Arlington Tea Party.CRAP #5 -- Have you heard of the Texas Enterprise Fund? That is Rick Perry’s slush fund to dole out your money to political supporters. Looks like some socialistic/fascist CRAP to me.

CRAP #6 -- How about that $3 Billion in medical research pork barrel spending for that Lance Armstrong cancer deal? More BIG GOVERNMENT from Rick Perry. Or banning smoking in all those restaurants and bars? Or the $5 door fee Rick Perry supported to TAX every patron of a topless club? He wants to oppress strippers and their patrons now -- What CRAP!

Whether you are at home, driving on a road, running a business, raising a family, or dancing at a topless bar, Rick Perry wants BIG Government to be there with you, taxing you, tolling you, sticking needles in your daughter, and taking $5 every time you go to a topless bar. It is time to flush out Rick Perry’s CRAP!

Robert Morrow is a conservative activist and heads Conservative Republicans Against Perry (CRAP), a grassroots organization in Austin, Texas.

© 2009 Citizine:

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Thursday, May 14, 2009

"For years, Texans have been fighting the state's leadership & TxDOT to abolish the Trans-Texas Corridor, but their concerns have fallen on deaf ears"

New amendments on the Trans-Texas Corridor, toll roads

By David McQuade Leibowitz - Guest Commentary
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2009

I recently attached five amendments to House Bill 300, the Sunset bill of the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT).

These amendments include a provision repealing the Trans-Texas Corridor and another banning the conversion of free roads into toll roads.

For years, Texans have been fighting the state's leadership and TXDOT to abolish the Trans-Texas Corridor and the development of toll roads, but their concerns have fallen on deaf ears.

Today was the first step in putting control of the state's transportation policy back in the hands of the people.

Amendment No. 1, abolishing the Trans-Texas Corridor: Before this session started, state leaders proclaimed that the Trans-Texas Corridor was dead, but the term "Trans-Texas Corridor" survived in one very important place, the state Transportation Code.

This would allow them to build the corridor, but just under a different name.

This amendment strikes the Trans-Texas Corridor from statute so that TxDOT no longer has the authority to develop the Trans-Texas Corridor.

Amendment No. 2, Elected Transportation Commission: There is widespread belief that TxDOT needs to be more accountable to the citizens of Texas.

One means to do this would be the creation of an elected transportation commission.

This amendment creates a 15 member Transportation Commission, where 14 members would be elected from geographic districts in Texas, and one member to serve as chairman would be elected at large from the entire state.

Amendment No. 3, ban conversion of free roads into toll roads: Existing law requires voter approval for toll road conversions.

House Bill 300 has conversion prohibition language, but removes voter approval of a conversion from the process. It also has gaping loopholes that allow for conversions without voter approval.

If House Bill 300 was left as is, it would actually be weaker than current law which at least requires voter approval to convert highways in certain situations.

Amendment No. 4, auditing of TxDOT contracts: In the state's standard contract management practices, state agency contracts are subject to audit by the state auditor's office.

One of two exemptions to these audits is TxDOT's highway construction or engineering contracts.

This amendment simply requires that every contract from TxDOT including highway construction contracts have a provision that states that the contract is subject to audit by the state auditor's office.

Amendment No. 5
, state auditor review of CDA reports: In legislation passed in 2007, tolling entities had to have the traffic and revenue report of their Comprehensive Development Agreements (CDA) reviewed by the attorney general, the state comptroller and the state auditor.

These reviews often highlighted problems with the reports.

House Bill 300 removes the state auditor from the CDA review process.

This amendment puts them back into the review process of the traffic and revenue studies.

David McQuade Leibowitz is the state representative for District 117. He can be reached in San Antonio at 372-0759 or at his Austin office at (512) 463-0269.

© 2009 San Antonio Express-News:

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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

"Are we sure we want to give a very few the power to bankrupt the entire State of Texas?"

CSHB 9, HJR 9 or whatever we're calling it at this point


Copyright 2009

CSHB 9, the gas tax bill everyone is excited about (here's the DMN and FWST coverage) isn't all it's cracked up to be...

First off, the bill diverts money from the gas tax to rail with little or no oversight. Will the projects pull traffic off our congested roads? Who knows. Obviously, no one will have a problem with building rail that increases net capacity on our roads. However, there's nothing here to make sure that happens, clearing the way for RMA vanity projects, funded by the gas tax, which do little to alleviate congestion.

Section 222.073 is where the fun really begins... it puts the extra money raised with the local option gas tax into the Texas Infrastructure bank and some private banks, to maximize 'private participation' and leverage public money. Which is a back door way of saying 'fund public-private partnerships' or private toll roads. With gas tax revenue. Which is REALLY awesome.

All this if voters in the counties that make up the MPO vote for as much as a 10 cent increase in the gas tax. Oh, and individual counties can opt out if their voters don't approve, which creates a lovely swiss cheese overlay for increased gas taxes funding projects even in deadbeat counties.

Wrapped up in all this is a constitutional amendment to index the statewide gas tax which people have been asking for FOREVER. Now, there is a cap maxing out at 5% per year and no higher than 3 cents per biennium, which isn't terrible. However, the focus on the PPI vs. actual construction costs could create problems as construction costs tend to be more volatile than PPI.

Now, there is something interesting in all that Sen. Carona's office (and the Senator himself) are busy telling every reporter in earshot that there is a prohibition in this legislation that keeps gas tax money from funding PPP's and toll roads. Of course, to this point, no one has been able to find that language in the bill.

However, the crap about the infrastructure bank was hella easy to find. Oh, and we still have a problem with Carona's bank in that it's a really, really stupid idea. Again, no one in the Senate has any idea how much trouble the folks who will be running this 'bank' can get into. AIG and Lehman didn't either and now they're both broke.

Are we sure we want to give a very few the power to bankrupt the entire State of Texas? Of course not... so why is the Texas Senate, and more specifically Senators Carona, Nichols and Ogden, so hell bent on doing just that?

© 2009 McBlogger:

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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Texas Senate stands in the way of true eminent domain reform

Fate of true eminent domain reform now in hands of Texas Senate after House passes strong constitutional amendment 144-0

Media Contact: Matt Miller (512) 480-5936
Institute for Justice
Copyright 2009

Austin, TX.—In an overwhelming show of support for Texas property owners, the Texas House of Representatives unanimously passed a constitutional amendment late last night that would give Texas voters a chance to incorporate some of the strongest property rights protections in the nation into their Bill of Rights in November. House Joint Resolution 14, by Frank Corte of San Antonio, passed the House around midnight by a vote of 144-0.

HJR 14 has emerged as the frontrunner from a handful of eminent domain amendments that were introduced earlier this session because it clearly targets the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Kelo v. City of New London, which found that the phrase “public use” in the U.S. Constitution really means “public benefit.” Under Kelo, a government is free to take your home or business and give it to anyone who might create more jobs or pay more taxes with your land than you do. HJR 14 fixes Kelo in Texas by making it clear that “public use” means a use of the property by the government, the condemning authority or the public at large.

“The Texas Senate is now the only thing standing between this vital constitutional amendment and Texas voters in November,”
said Matt Miller, executive director of the Texas Chapter of the Institute for Justice. “The House just sent a powerful and unanimous message about the importance of HJR 14 for Texas property rights. We trust that the Senate will get the message, and will step up and do the right thing for Texas home and business owners.”

One potential stumbling block is the fact that HJR 14 will likely be assigned to a Senate committee controlled by Sen. Robert Duncan (Lubbock). So far this session, Duncan has proven unwilling to allow strong eminent domain reform to pass through his committee.
Duncan’s own much weaker constitutional amendment, Senate Joint Resolution 42, passed the Senate 31-0 yesterday.

“If I were a city that wanted to condemn land for private development, I would be very happy with SJR 42, but if I were a small business or a homeowner that wanted to protect what was rightfully mine from abusive takings, SJR 42 would leave me very worried,” said Miller. “SJR 42 merely forces cities to be more creative in how they package these eminent domain deals for private gain. SJR 42 will not end Texas’s Kelo problem. Only HJR 14 can do that.”

Sen. Duncan also oversaw negotiations that stripped strong public use language from Senate Bill 18, the statutory eminent domain bill that is now pending in the House.

“We hope Senator Duncan will allow the Senate to consider HJR 14,” said Miller. “The House passed HJR 14 unanimously. The proposal deserves to see the light of day on the other side of the Capitol.”

If the Senate passes HJR 14 by a two-thirds majority, it will head to voters in November.

© 2009 Institute for Justice:

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"Audits need to be shielded from the public's simply not in the best interest of the public to have that information..."

Opponents Call NTTA Bill 'Kangaroo Court'


Bennett Cunningham
CBS 11 News (Dallas/Fort Worth)
Copyright 2009

Some call it the fox guarding the hen house. The North Texas Tollway Authority (NTTA), that runs local toll roads, now wants its own legal system.

State Senator John Carona authored a bill working its way through the legislature. He believes the bill will streamline the legal process and relieve the Justice of the Peace Courts from hearing tollway cases. NTTA Interim Executive Director, Janice Davis, agrees "We are going after those people who have fines between $60 to $600."

Tollway riders like Warren Norred think the bill is a bad idea. "I think the layman's term for that is kangaroo court," he said.

Senate Bill 882 is causing all the controversy. It would allow the NTTA to create an administrative adjudication hearing procedure and appoint its own "judge" to rule on fines. NTTA officials say the person hearing cases will be employed by the NTTA. When asked if they see a conflict of interest with the judge being an employee of the NTTA and hearing cases related to tollway violations, Davis stated "no not at all."

But a close reading of the bill shows lawmakers aren't just creating a kind of "court." They are also trying to give the NTTA special power; allowing them to hide some audit working papers from the public. If the bill passes taxpayers might never be able to see how some of their money is spent.

Read Senate Bill 882 in its entirety.

Davis says the draft audits need to be shielded from the public because, "It could interfere with the way they ride our toll road - what they do to avoid paying tolls and it's simply not in the best interest of the public to have that information available to everyone".

State Senator Carona disagrees and said we have an "obligation to tighten up the oversight of the NTTA." Carona is specifically referring to a tollway junket to Vienna, Austria. In October 2007, CBS 11 News followed some top tollway executives and board members to Europe. They flew first and business class using tollway money. Instead of attending a conference on tollways, some board members spent the day touring the sights and shopping. And they were reimbursed for meals using tollway funds, although they were eating for free.

The NTTA says, based on estimates using this year's numbers, there could be a little over 400,000 candidates for the administrative court process. The said individuals would have had to ignored 3 requests for payment, which is a 75-day process.

To avoid becoming part of the NTTA court process, NTTA officials recommend that drivers pay toll costs when they receive a request for payment or getting a Toll Tag which saves 45-percent off the cash price.

The NTTA plans to model the court based on how other toll roads operate in Texas. Violators would still be able to able appeal their case to a Justice of the Peace court.

Currently Senate Bill 882 is in front of the house committee on transportation.

Click here for more on Bill 882.

© 2009 CBS-TV:

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"Texans are getting the idea that the lobbyists and the foreign toll corporations are having their way with our elected officials."

Texans OUTRAGED at TxDOT sunset railroad job!

House joins Senate in voting to sell our highways to corporations


Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom
Copyright 2009

(Austin, TX ) Texans don’t want their PUBLIC highway system sold to the highest bidder, nor do they want corporate-run toll roads that cost commuters 75 cents a mile to get to work.

Today, the Texas House voted to extend these contracts called Comprehensive Development Agreements (CDAs) in Texas also known as public private partnerships (PPPs), reversing themselves from just 2 years ago when they voted for a moratorium 139-1.

Private toll road contracts are due to sunset this fall. Last Thursday, the TxDOT sunset bill had swelled to 200 pages long and there were 166 amendments (400 pages worth) offered. Few, if any, lawmakers read every page or knew what they voting on.

Amendment #134, authored by Rep. Larry Phillips, that re-authorized private toll contracts (or CDAs) was slipped into HB 300 on Friday, without a record vote, when many members were not on the floor. Texans cried foul and instead of REPEAL the amendment today, they RE-AUTHORIZED it again without a RECORD VOTE again so they wouldn't have to go ON THE RECORD so that the people of Texas can hold them accountable.

"So if that's the way they want it, they can all hang together," promises Terri Hall, Founder/Director of Texas TURF. "Even our 'good guys' did not vote in opposition or request a record vote."


First, during floor debate last Thursday, House Transportation Committee Chairman Joe Pickett added an amendment to the REPEAL of the Trans Texas Corridor amendment that would have UNDONE the repeal. Pickett actually had the unmitigated gall to say his amendment to UNDO the repeal of the TTC was "acceptable to the author" (Rep. Leibowitz) when, in fact, it was a sneaky trick to UNDO the repeal of the TTC. Thankfully, they caught it in time and moved to strip Pickett's amendment and again REPEAL the Trans Texas Corridor.

Then, when the Larry Phillips amendment was snuck into the bill Friday when few legislators were even on the floor, it created a NEW chapter of the code that referenced the Trans Texas Corridor and Chapter 227 and threatened the repeal of the corridor once again, and it also extended CDA authority to ALL toll project entities, which has NEVER been debated either in committee or on the floor for HB 300.

"Texans are getting the idea that the lobbyists and the foreign toll corporations are having their way with our elected officials who REFUSE to listen to the will of Texans and nix these CDAs," Hall notes. "This is a total embarrassment, to bow the knee to Cintra and to come begging for money to build roads when we ALL know what the sensible, affordable solution is: raise the gas tax and index it to inflation with a cap."

HB 300 author Rep. Carl Isett said NO funding mechanisms would be included in the Sunset bill and he told legislators the CDA discussion was going to happen in committee this week, not in the Sunset bill, only to allow Phillips' amendment into the bill under the radar Friday and again today.

"Instead of right this OUTRAGEOUS wrong, they voted to sell out the PEOPLE of Texas, again without a record vote," said Hall. "This is no way to enact some of the most important legislation of the session. Legislating on the fly may be standard operating procedure, but it's a disgrace. These policies impact EVERY Texan and ultimately control every mile we drive."

Texans haven't changed their minds

In 2007, Texans stood-up and demanded a moratorium on CDAs and sent a bill to the Governor with a combined vote of 169-5. So what happened to our politicians? Do they think Texans have changed their mind and will choke down the loss of control of our public highways and accept such oppressive taxation? Hardly, says Hall.

"The public is largely unaware of what our politicians are about to ram through, and those that are, have weighed in LOUD and CLEAR that they do NOT want CDAs. The people think they took care of it two years ago only to wake-up to find the nightmare continues unabated," Hall contends.

These deals cost taxpayers 50% more, are failing all over the country, and result in extremely high tolls, like the DFW contracts just signed with Spain-based Cintra that will charge commuters 75 cents a mile to get to work. That’s $3,000 a year in new toll taxes. Especially in these economic times, that’s completely unsustainable. There were 20 lawyers present at the signing of the SH 130 CDA. TxDOT has squandered at least $18 million on legal fees alone for just the TTC-35 CDA. When TxDOT is claiming we’re out of money for roads, CDAs are the height of hypocrisy.

CDAs are the most risky and expensive method of delivering toll projects. "So why are CDAs being discussed at all? Because our politicians lack the spines to take on the Governor and his BIG MONEY cronies," Hall observes.

TURF believes public infrastructure that Texans depend on for daily living shouldn’t be under the control of private companies whose primary motive, naturally, is profit, not the public interest.

Texas examples...

The recently signed I-820 deal includes gas taxes, federal TIFIA loans, and other public money yet Cintra gets the right to toll Texans for 50 years and take all the profits out of state. In fact, TxDOT plunked down more cash for the project than did Cintra! (Read it here:

The LBJ project to toll I-635 uses public employee pension funds to invest in the deal, which is risky and fiscally irresponsible, with toll rates of 75 cents a mile and can rise monthly. TxDOT will even pay Cintra for the loss of the "prevailing toll" revenues due to HOV users and Cintra is guaranteed 12% to 23% PROFIT!

Their models show only 10 & 11% of all traffic will be able to afford to take these billion dollar toll lanes. The congestion or variable tolling is the most insidious of all where they jack-up the toll rates to guarantee certain speeds or pay TxDOT a penalty for slower travel times. This means they purposely price cars off the toll lanes as a financial incentive.

"So what's the point of all this risky, multi-generational leveraged debt? Mobility or making money? We’re headed for an infrastructure bubble that is destined to fail, which is likely to ensure massive taxpayer bailouts when they do," Hall predicts.

All those cars not on the toll road will be sitting in traffic, contributing to our air quality issues and being late to work while still paying taxes for highways (gas tax) and not getting a thing for it!

"Call your state lawmakers and tell them not to let private corporations takeover our public highways. Tell them NO CDAs, and NO to more sweetheart deals. Yes to elected leadership at TxDOT, yes to the Leibowitz' version of the ban on tolling existing roads, and yes to REPEALING the Trans Texas Corridor once and for all," implores Hall.

Read how CDAs are failing all over the world on our CDA Fact Sheet here:

Terri Hall is the Founder of Texas TURF. TURF is a non-partisan grassroots group of citizens concerned about toll road policy and the Trans Texas Corridor. TURF promotes non-toll transportation solutions. For more information, please visit their web site at:

Contacts: Terri Hall, Founder/Director, Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF), (210) 275-0640


© 2009 TURF:

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Monday, May 11, 2009

"The Sunset process will turn out to be a complete failure when it comes to improving the governance of TxDOT."

TxDOT Sunset: Worse than I thought


Paul Burka
Texas Monthly
Copyright 2009

UPDATE: I overlooked one other significant change to the bill (and no doubt there are others). Amendment 134 extended the authority for Comprehensive Development Agreements — that is, privatized roads. The authority was extended to 2015. This was done in spite of representations that the bill would not deal with methods of financing roads. This was a breach of faith with the overwhelming majority of members who have concerns about TxDOT. The Senate should substitute the original Sunset bill for the House bill and start over.

* * * *

The more I learn about what’s in the House Sunset bill, the more concerned I am that the Sunset process will turn out to be a complete failure when it comes to improving the governance of TxDOT.

1. Governance (or the lack thereof)

Not only is the plan adopted in the Leibowitz amendment (15 elected commissioners, one statewide) unworkable, but it also knocks out of the bill a governing scheme that had some real promise: keeping the five member commission but breaking the governor’s monopoly by allowing the lieutenant governor and the speaker each to appoint one of the members. This is no longer in the bill and will not be part of the side-by-side, and so the TxDOT haters have managed to empower Rick Perry. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

2. More empowerment of the governor.

From the start of the Sunset process, critics were concerned that Isett was in the governor’s pocket. Their fears were realized when he amended the bill to require that the terms of all commissioners will expire September 1. This will strengthen Perry’s hand, because new appointees will not know the history and will be more likely to go along with what the governor wants, and the endless war between TxDOT and the Legislature will go on and on. The accelerated expiration date also allows the governor to get rid of the most independent member of the commission, Ned Holmes, of Houston, who is a Hutchison supporter, and replace him with a loyalist.

3. Weakening primacy

Critics of TxDOT have labored long and hard to establish that local toll authorities
in Houston and Dallas would have primacy in their own areas. The bill went in the opposite direction, allowing toll authorities in Collin and Grayson counties to do their own projects. NTTA has the financing and the expertise and the mandate to provide projects for the region. The bill further weakens the local toll authorities by limiting their ability to lobby. Why shouldn’t HCTRA and NTTA, the Harris County Toll Road Authority, have the opportunity to make their case to Legislature when TxDOT has a history of regarding them as competitors. I thought that the situation there had improved, but it seems to me that the likely source of these amendments was either TxDOT or the governor’s office. I do like the limitations on contributons to the Harris County commissioners, who constitute the board of HCTRA; the authority has been scandal-free, and let’s keep it that way. It is a huge step backwards to weaken the entities that have done the most to achieve urban mobility.

4. Bureacracy

One of the best things about the proposed Sunset bill was a mandatory downsizing of the engineering staff by 50%. Why do we need 5,000 people at an agency that is underfunded and almost out of money by its own admission? Can’t 2,500 people sit around and wait until hell freezes over for the Legislature to fund them as easily as 5,000? Floor amendments changed the downsizing into a study. I thought Republicans want to make government smaller and more efficient. Not in the TxDOT Sunset bill. This is why people think government doesn’t work. How much time and money was spent on Sunset by the agency and by the Legislature, only to give birth to a study? Perhaps Obama should take over TxDOT and follow the plan for the auto industry: Keep the engineers around in case the market comes back?

It would be better to move TxDOT Sunset to 2011 than to implement these egregious positions in the House bill.

© 2009 Texas Monthly:

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Senate eminent domain amendment "allows creative governments plenty of room to declare economic development as a secondary reason to condemn land. "

Senate passes private property amendment


Associated Press
Copyright 2009

AUSTIN, Texas — State and local governments would face new limits to when they can take private property, under a proposed constitutional amendment passed Monday by the Texas Senate.

The amendment would ban taking property and giving it to a private group or developer "for the primary purpose of economic development or enhancement of tax revenues."

Supporters say the amendment would boost private property rights. But it also faces critics who say it could hamstring major public improvements, such as new airport development, and from some private property advocates who say it doesn't go far enough to protect landowners.

The amendment passed the Senate on a unanimous vote and now goes to the House, which is considering a separate amendment. If approved there, it would go before Texas voters in November.

In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Kelo et al v. City of New London that cities can seize homes under eminent domain for use by private developers. Texas lawmakers in 2005 passed a law to protect taking private land for economic development or private purposes, but critics have said it left too many loopholes.

Gov. Rick Perry and U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison have both weighed in on eminent domain, signaling the likelihood that it will be a campaign issue in their 2010 Republican primary.

Hutchison has said state government is ignoring private property rights in a quest to cover the state with toll roads. Perry, who vetoed an eminent domain bill in 2007, has said he wants a state constitutional amendment to protect land owners from abuses.

Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, sponsor of the amendment, said the Kelo case created a "major uproar in this country over the inappropriate use of eminent domain."

Duncan said his plan would give private property owners protections while still allowing governments to pursue major projects such as sports stadiums and airports.

"The intent here is to very clearly put a check and balance on government entities," Duncan said.

The Institute for Justice, which represented the property owner in the Kelo case before Supreme Court, called the amendment "dangerous" and said it would still allow governments to take land for economic development. The group says eminent domain should only be used for public use projects such as a new courthouse or library, and supports the House version of the amendment which it says has stronger protections for property owners.

The two sides disagree on how to interpret the word "primary" in the amendment.

Property rights groups say it allows creative governments plenty of room to declare economic development as a secondary reason to condemn land.

Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, argued the amendment was too strong and predicted it would hamstring governments pursuing major public projects that may include contracts with private companies.

For example, an airport expansion would need large tracts of land but be prevented from leasing to hotels, restaurants and parking services which would serve the public airport and boost the local tax base, Davis said.

Duncan disagreed, saying the amendment would not likely block such contracts.

Property rights groups also said it wouldn't stop cities from taking property in run-down neighborhoods. Duncan said his bill will place some limits, but cities should still be allowed to use eminent domain to clean up some blighted areas.

© 2009 Associated Press:

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House Bill 300 lurches to Senate

TxDOT bill, in all its glory, advances


Robert T. Garrett/Reporter
The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2009

The House, after adding about 18 more changes, finally today disgorged the bill to extend the life of the Texas Department of Transportation. The vote was 138-6, with five of the "nays" coming from North Texas: Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas; Dan Flynn, R-Van; Will Hartnett, R-Dallas; Brian McCall, R-Plano; and Vicki Truitt, R-Keller.

The bill, by Rep. Carl Isett, R-Lubbock, now varooms over to the Senate, where it is almost certain to see substantial changes.

The last minute maneuvering included a proposal by Rep. Ken Paxton, R-McKinney, to exempt Collin and Denton counties from a Houston area lawmaker's amendment that -- in North Texas, at least -- would vastly strengthen the hand of the North Texas Tollway Authority.

"They're trying to control it so they're the only ones who get the work," Paxton said of NTTA and toll roads. "That's fine, as long as there's competition and they do it the most efficiently -- and when we want the roads built, at the best price."

The bill would radically alter the state's highway building agency, known as TxDOT. It would scrap the five member, gubernatorially appointed Transportation Commission that has final say on which roads get built. There would instead be a single statewide elected commissioner. There also would be a number of regionally elected sub-commissioenrs -- 14 at last count. And a new legislative overseer committee, consisting of six lawmakers, would butt in a lot during intervals when the Legislature is not in session.

After a flurry of excitement this morning over toll roads, Reps. Larry Phillips, R-Sherman, and Jim Dunnam, D-Waco, jointly authored an amendment approved this afternoon that clarified that five provisions restricting toll road contracts and vendors would not be voided by a Phillips amendment Friday that extended the life of "comprehensive development agreements." Phillips is now extending those complicated arrangements, often used to build new toll roads, for four more years, not six.

© 2009 The Dallas Morning News:

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Rep Larry Phillips runs interference for special interest tollers

Checks against toll roads vanish in TxDOT bill


Robert T. Garrett/Reporter
The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2009

There's a big huddle on the House floor about a possible glitch in the TxDOT sunset bill, which was expected to receive final approval today.

Some members fear that several amendments tacked onto the bill by toll-road critics -- a ban on "no compete" clauses, limits on how long tolls can be charged, more transparency -- might be voided by another floor amendment offered by Rep. Larry Phillips, R-Sherman

Phillips' provision would extend for six years the ability to do "comprehensive development agreements." House Democratic Leader Jim Dunnam of Waco says some members fear the provision, by creating a new section of transportation law, could wipe out amendments designed to curtail toll roads.

Moments ago, Dunnam successfully asked the House to waive a rule so changes can be made with a simple majority, not a two thirds vote.

UPDATE: Phillips says there is no problem. He said some members fear his amendment revived the Trans Texas Corridor, Gov. Rick Perry's big vision of toll roads and pipelines criss-crossing the state. But Phillips says that while his amendment referred to the Trans Texas Corridor law, it wouldn't breathe new life into it. And there's no other "collateral damage" to other toll-related amendments, he said..

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