Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Strayhorn for Governor
The state comptroller recognizes that education is the key to solving Texas' problems.

Copyright 2006 Houston Chronicle

As Election Day approaches, Texas finds itself locked in a government and tax structure better suited to the 19th century than to the 21st. Its depleted natural resources can no longer finance quality education with money to spare. Its low taxes and limited government regulation are no longer enough to lure businesses looking for a skilled work force and a high quality of life for their executives and employees.

The future of Texas lies with its children, yet the state is failing many of those children on almost every level. One out of every four Texas children lives in poverty. About 70 percent of these impoverished children have parents who work but receive low pay and no benefits. Too many children growing up in Texas are poorly educated — a drag on the economy that reduces tax revenue as it drives up demand for social services.

One in four children is without health insurance — the highest rate in the United States. Uninsured children tend to be unhealthy and receive care in expensive hospital emergency rooms, burdening taxpayers and employers who pick up the tab.

Texas officials have not acted vigorously to reduce toxic air pollution, particularly in the Houston area. Perhaps the politicians in Austin are too concerned with maintaining the profits of existing businesses or don't want to offend campaign contributors — or worse, are simply indifferent to public health. Businesses have been deterred from moving here, and many residents are at increased risk for cancer and — especially with children and the elderly — respiratory disease.

Texas badly needs to change its philosophy of governing. In hopes of fostering this change, the Houston Chronicle endorses Carole Keeton Strayhorn for governor. Of the four candidates, she is best equipped to shake up the status quo in a way that balances the needs of both business and residents.

Strayhorn is running as an independent, portraying herself as an outsider who wants to give Austin a jolt. In one sense that is true. She would bring a fresh style of leadership to the executive branch. But it should be remembered that Strayhorn is no novice when it comes to working the levers of government.

She has a lifetime of experience in government and public service. Once mayor of Austin, then a member of the powerful Texas Railroad Commission, Strayhorn serves as state comptroller. She knows how state government operates and how to make it more efficient and effective. Government, she says, can be leaner without being meaner.

More than any other candidate in this race, Strayhorn recognizes that the key to solving Texas' problems and securing the state's future is education. Half of all state tax dollars go to the public schools, yet half of Texas' children drop out before graduating from high school. In the information age, good jobs require higher education, yet too few of those who graduate go on to college.

The population of Texas is rapidly becoming more Hispanic, an ethnic group in which children are disproportionately at risk of dropping out. Unless Texas does a better job of keeping all children in school and preparing them for higher education, the state will not have enough middle-class taxpayers to pay for the education and government services a civilized society requires.

Strayhorn promises to make Texas public schools a model for the nation. She has a blueprint to raise teacher pay, recruit quality teachers, provide adequate and reliable school funding, increase student performance and cut the disastrous dropout rate. She has won the backing of the state's teachers.

Unhealthy children tend to be poor students. To increase the number of Texas children with health insurance, Strayhorn vows to make maximum use of the Children's Health Insurance Program, better known as CHIP and largely financed by the federal government. She decries decisions in recent years to cut the program's services and send hundreds of millions of dollars contributed by Texans to other states. She would end the contract that left registration and eligibility for social services in the hands of an inept and uncaring private company.

Gov. Rick Perry has missed his chance to make the kind of changes Texas needs. The other two candidates have not shown the kind of vision and leadership to do any better. The Chronicle believes only Carole Keeton Strayhorn has the experience and savvy to win election to the governorship and then use the office to improve public education and change the course of Texas for the better.

George Eliot

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Toll Road Plays Starring Role in Coming Attraction
by Ben Wear


Monday, October 09, 2006

We don't normally do movie reviews in Getting There.

But there's a new, $50,000 independent film that I wanted to tell you about, literally a road movie. Now, the title — "183A Toll" — is a tad bland, but the film itself is pretty good. And if you live in Cedar Park, Leander or points north, pretty useful.

Just so I don't bewilder folks beyond repair, be aware that the starring role in this 11-minute, mostly computer-generated travelogue is played by a toll road — U.S. 183-A — that won't open until spring.

The three toll roads that are about to open up Nov. 1, all of them built and operated by the Texas Department of Transportation, are not in this movie. The department didn't make a version for its roads, which is too bad.

U.S. 183-A, on the other hand, is being built and operated by the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority.

That agency's communications director, Steve Pustelnyk, came from the Orlando toll road agency, which created these computer-generated tours of their new roads. Pustelnyk, who narrates the 183-A film, brought the idea with him.

Basically, the film looks like what you might see driving the road, and from above in a virtual helicopter swooping back and forth. You find out where the toll plazas and exits are, how the frontage roads and interchanges work and what the road will actually look like.

The mobility authority is going to distribute the film every way it can, including through the Statesman Web site (go to www.statesman .com/wear to see it).

It should cut down on consumer confusion when the 11.6-mile-long road opens this spring.


Speaking of confusion, I sowed a bit of it last week.

I said in a Monday article that people would get Dash bobblehead dolls if they signed up for toll tags. Well, some will, eventually.

As John Kelso reported in his Tuesday column, the dolls of the wise-cracking toll road mascot won't be available for four or five months.

And tollway officials tell me they'll likely hand them out at promotional events rather than sending one along to each new toll tag subscriber.

Guess we'll all live.


On a related matter, after the Dash article appeared, I was besieged the next day with calls and e-mails from people wanting to know how they could get a TxTag. And pointing out that the reporter should have had that information in the article. One of the pointer-outers was, well, the editor of this newspaper, Rich Oppel. Ouch.

With that in mind: You can get a tag by calling (888) 468-9824, going to www.txtag .org, or visiting the state's tollway customer service center at 12719 Burnet Road. This is on the east side of MoPac Boulevard, just north of Parmer Lane.

The implanting of the toll tag chip in your forehead, by the way, is a relatively painless, in-patient procedure lasting about 30 minutes.

(Note to readers: The above was "humor" and untrue. The toll tag will be implanted by you on your car's forehead, that is, the windshield's interior. It may or may not be painless.)

Getting There appears Mondays. For questions, tips or story ideas, contact Getting There at 445-3698 or

by Ben Wear


Wednesday, October 18, 2006

How to Stop Spread of Special Interests in Government
By Peter Stern


ONCE AGAIN, elected officials are letting the "stew simmer." So many legislative and "special" sessions [at a cost of $2 million each] have gone up in smoke without fixing anything.

The real question is: How are elected officials getting away with doing so little to resolve crisis issues?

Seems like everyone but hardworking Texans got something for themselves. Even now there is lobbying for the gambling industry, but little is being accomplished to improve the quality of our children's education or to find a more suitable source of financing public schools. Meanwhile, homeowners still are in dire need of property tax relief; consequently, home foreclosures continue to rise. Gov. Perry is pointing the blame at legislators for not arriving at resolutions. In part, he's correct. But Perry needs to assume the responsibility for most of our problems - after all, as governor he's our state manager! Furthermore, Perry has called for and wasted more tax dollars on special sessions than any previous governor.

Currently the governor is running for reelection so he's planting "smoke & mirrors" again with his placebo cures, e.g., the implementation of the 15member committee to "study" the home tax/appraisal system. If the state would receive $100 for every "study" Perry implemented, Texas would not be in its current financial mess. Much as with the Texas Tax Reform Commission (which was supposed to find cures to financing public schools), don't expect any brilliant results.

However, during the past five years of Perry's reign special interests have reaped large profits at a huge cost to Texas taxpayers.

So who are the real culprits within our political system?

It starts at the top with an inept and/or special interest-motivated governor, lieutenant governor and House speaker. It dominoes down to most of our legislative members. Elected officials are being "bought" by special interests.

Special interests are relentless and insatiable. They are the vermin and parasites destroying the very lives of Texans and their children.

So what can Texans do to stop the vicious cycle?

First, we need to demand a more open form of state government. While Attorney General Greg Abbott has moved towards open government by hiring one attorney to oversee it and has made it mandatory for officials to attend classes on open government. However, the AG Offices does little to enforce the laws of open government; consequently, there is no accountability and officials continue to run hog wild at the capitol.

We need to hold elected officials more accountable for how each votes on every issue. How a legislator votes must become public knowledge and documented into the public record.

The next step is for taxpayers to take away the power wielded by special interest lobbyists and groups. Voters need to make campaign contributions less powerful. Lawmakers need to put a more rational limitation on campaign contributions and voters need to make the issues the criteria for electing our officials.

Special interests must not be permitted to lobby inside the capital during regular and special sessions - that includes private individuals. After all, we don't permit campaigning within the borders of voting halls and ballot boxes, do we?

Until Texas voters demand accountability and until the laws of open government are fully enforced, the plight of special interest vermin will continue.

By Peter Stern


George Eliot

Monday, October 16, 2006

Halliburton’s Lobbying Efforts Paid Off: Watchdog Group

Sunday, October 08, 2006

WASHINGTON — A watchdog group says that the lobbying efforts of Vice President Dick Cheney’s former company paid off big-time.

Over the last six years, Halliburton has bought influence in Washington to the tune of $4.6 million.

At the same time, its government contracts mushroomed by over 600 percent and jumped from being the 20th largest federal contractor to sixth by 2005, according to HalliburtonWatch.

As a result, the company gained $18.5 billion in revenue from contracts related to the war in Iraq from March 2003 to June 30, 2006. In 2005 alone, Halliburton received $6 billion in federal contracts.

The analysis found that Halliburton’s lobbying efforts came from three main sources: the board of directors and their spouses, Halliburton’s political action committee, and the company itself.

Halliburton’s board of directors have seen the entire value of their stock jump to over $100 million — a quadrupling between March 2003 to March 2006 due to high oil prices, contracts, and Mideast violence.

The value of shares held by Halliburton’s largest corporate shareholder — CEO David Lesar — jumped from $17.3 million in 2003 to $66.8 million in 2006, said the HalliburtonWatch report.

For more information, visit HalliburtonWatch’s website.



George Eliot

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

NAFTA Super Highway Map

This map is a conceptualization of the Super Highways now underway to connect the United States, Canada, and Mexico to help bring about the creation of a North American Union similar to the European Union.

Map information source: (North American Forum on Integration)

The map's travel corridors show the desired routes of the new Super Highways as proposed by the North American Forum on Integration (NAFI) — a group of wealthy industrialists, academics, and politicians whose aim it is to break down barriers to the North American Union. The main actors in NAFI are members of the Council on Foreign Relations or related organizations based in Mexico and Canada.

NAFI, whose first objective is to make "the public and decision-makers aware of the challenges of economic and political integration between the three NAFTA countries," is following the country-integration plan of the European Union. (Emphasis added.) That plan used the idea of "free trade" to make steps toward integration sound appealing to the public. Though the North American Union would devastate the American middle class, the Super Highways are being touted as facilitating free trade and bringing about prosperity in the three countries.

NAFI's vision is being enacted right now. Eighty separate, but interconnected, "high priority corridors" are being initiated in the United States. To find a complete list of the 80 intended Super Highway projects, go to

From The New American

George Eliot
Blog from the Trail
Post by Brad McClellan

We would like to know if you received any of the promised property tax cuts this year? We need a leader like Carole Keeton Strayhorn who shoot straight with Texans.

Texans expect their elected leaders to tell them the truth. When our leaders don’t shoot straight, then people lose trust in our government. Here is what some Texas newspapers and Tax Assessor-Collectors are saying about Rick Perry on property taxes:

What Texas Newspapers and Tax Assessor-Collectors Are Saying About Rick Perry on Property Taxes

“Bexar and Harris County tax officials said there won't be a big property tax cut. In fact, many homeowners could find higher taxes on the way.

“The average homeowner living in the Houston Independent School District with a house assessed at $160,000 will pay $140 more, or a 4.2 percent increase over last year, Harris County Tax Collector-Assessor Paul Bettencourt said. ‘Anyone who is running on a big tax cut is making a mistake because the numbers don't support it. Call it what it is, it's property tax relief. It's not a tax cut,’ Bettencourt said. (The Houston Chronicle, September 30, 2006)

“Bexar County Tax Assessor-Collector Sylvia Romo expects her office to come under siege from angry taxpayers when the first batch of about 600,000 tax notices get mailed next week.

“Romo said Perry's promise of a $2,000 tax cut for the average homeowner inflated hopes. “They're going to say, 'Hey, they promised me I'm going to get a tax cut. Why am I paying more?'”

“Romo said she figured Perry's TV and radio spots would cause trouble because she knew that average San Antonio homeowners wouldn't see the promised savings.

“Most Texans will get their tax notices just days or weeks before the Nov. 7 election. These people are going to vote emotionally," she said. "They are going to say, 'You lied to us.' That's the bottom line." (The San Antonio Express-News, September 30, 2006)

Posted by Brad McClellan on Tuesday, October 03, 2006 at 10:54:13 PM

You can find a link to this blog on the front page of

George Eliot

Monday, October 02, 2006

Bill Ware and Carol Caul are featured in Chronicle reporter Rad Sallee's story about opening of the redesigned West Loop. Too bad there is no mention that their lawsuit against TxDOT includes allegations that TxDOT misled the federal government as to its intentions when TxDOT applied for federal funds to pay for the redesign.

Bill is an engineer and Carol is a lawyer. They have done important work ferreting out deceptions in the noise analysis work prepared by TxDOT.
Anyone in a fight with a transportation agency that involves questions about noise impacts needs to keep this lawsuit in mind.

- Barry Klein

Carol Caul, left, and her husband, Bill Ware, who live about 750 feet from the Loop near its Katy Freeway interchange, have sued TxDOT, contending the agency should have performed an environmental impact study and taken steps to mitigate noise produced by the new exit.
Nick de la Torre: CHRONICLE

Mixed Reviews for West Loop
Ramps praised for traffic flow, criticized for noise

Copyright 2006 Houston Chronicle

At 5 a.m. last Wednesday, the Texas Department of Transportation reopened all lanes of the spectacularly reconstructed West Loop for the first time in four years. At 6:30 p.m. Friday, southbound traffic on the Loop between the Katy Freeway and Westheimer was crawling at 20 mph.

Rush hour is still rush hour.

It was the second remarkable freeway project to be completed in Houston this year. Like the first, the rebuilding of Spur 527 and extension of the below-ground Southwest Freeway, it's getting mixed reviews.

Both engineering feats had their high points — in the case of the West Loop, long elevated ramps designed to reduce traffic weaving by letting motorists exit far in advance of their destination without fighting traffic entering the freeway.

"This is a conceptually different freeway than what has historically been constructed," said John Breeding, president of the Uptown Houston District.

"In the past, you would come up from an intersection, get on the frontage road, come up an on-ramp and blend in with traffic," he said. Now you can exit to Woodway and Memorial, or to Bellaire, by taking the long ramps, he said.

Sometimes referred to as "flyovers" or "Godzillas," the ramps were key parts of an ingenious response to a complex task — improving traffic flow in a tight space without adding lanes.

The design, which also involved relocating several other entrance and exit ramps, was a last resort. Public outcry had quashed earlier designs for a 24-lane freeway cutting into Memorial Park and a double-deck version like I-35 in Austin.

Ed Browne of the grass-roots Citizens Transportation Coalition, which advocates against urban sprawl and for public transit and compact development, acknowledged that "as a user, the road is nice."

But he added, "If I lived in adjacent neighborhoods, I would worry about pollution, soot, noise, and property values.

"Of course, the argument is that before, it was a parking lot so there was more pollution, etc. To which I say that in a few years (or sooner) it will just be a bigger parking lot."

Bill Ware and Carol Caul, who live about 750 feet from the Loop near its Katy Freeway interchange, have sued TxDOT, contending the agency should have performed an environmental impact study and taken steps to mitigate the additional noise from increased, faster traffic.

Not only does traffic noise arrive in the neighborhood directly, it also is reflected downward off the bottom of the long Woodway-Memorial ramp," Ware said.

"It is definitely far louder now," said Caul.

She also said that noise levels across the Loop in Memorial Park and the Houston Arboretum and Nature Center are unlawfully high for such protected spaces.

Christof Spieler, a Citizens Transportation Coalition board member whose blog, Intermodality, comments on local transportation issues, drove the reopened Loop from U.S. 290 to Woodway during the Friday evening rush.

Although the new ramps have helped ease some problems, he said, that particular segment was "a sea of slow-moving cars."

"It's ironic that the Loop was initially a way to bypass around the city, and now it's the most congested road in the city."

"There's just so much that clever engineering can accomplish," Spieler said.

Spieler said that where the West Loop meets the Southwest Freeway, "they have made traffic better through smarter design. But up around U.S. 290 and Interstate 10 that's not the problem.

"The problem is simply too many cars and no place to put them."

And there's more to come, he said, when future toll lanes feed in from U.S. 290, the Katy Freeway and the Fort Bend Tollway.

George Eliot

Saturday, September 30, 2006

What's Up With that Absent Exit and Idle Bridge?
Monday, September 25, 2006

by Ben Wear

What's Up With That returns today after a lengthy vacation and fact-finding tour to the Bridge to Nowhere in Alaska, the Trans-Rhode Island Corridor toll road project and the Marfa light rail system.

If you don't recall, What's Up With That is a (very, very) occasional feature in Getting There where I attempt to satisfy your curiosity (or mine) about oddities or outrages on Central Texas roads. So, without further ado . . .

Q: I was headed southbound recently on that new highway section of U.S. 183 in Northeast Austin and I wanted to exit and then go east on U.S. 290 toward Elgin. To my shock, there was no exit, and I ended up having to making a U-ie at the next exit beyond 290. What's up with that?

A: Well, there is an exit, actually. But it's a full mile and a half back to the northwest, just past Interstate 35 and before you get to Cameron Road. Which means that to go from one major, newly refurbished highway to a major route to Houston, you have go through two or three stoplights.

If you know when to exit.

Bob Daigh, the Austin district engineer for the Texas Department of Transportation, points out that there are three signs back to the northwest on U.S. 183 telling you that there is a Cameron Road/U.S. 290 exit coming up. That's true, but when you're that far away from U.S. 290, you might not realize that's the only exit.

Daigh said there was room near U.S. 290 only for the entrance onto U.S. 183, not for an exit. He said a flyover bridge is planned for that left turn to U.S. 290 when the segment east of there is upgraded as a tollway. Pending resolution of the great toll road debate, that project could begin within a year. Or not.

Q: That upgrade of Texas 71 east of I-35 to Riverside Drive seems to be taking forever. And why hasn't that last flyover bridge from westbound 71 to northbound I-35 opened? It was finished more than a year ago.

A: The $53 million, 2.1-mile Texas 71 project now is predicted to finish around Christmas, after almost four years of construction. In that same time frame, the state will have built 40 miles of toll roads from scratch in North Austin and Williamson County. For something close to $2 billion.

As for that last flyover bridge, which has basically been a very tall piece of public art since the summer of 2005, it has been waiting on work to finish near Burleson Road. It will open when the Texas 71 project opens.

Q: Will motorcycles be allowed on the toll roads opening soon, and will they pay more or less than cars? And what about bicycles?

A: First on the bicycles: No, cyclists won't be allowed to ride on the toll roads.

As for motorcycles, because they typically have no windshield they will get special TxTags that can be affixed to nonmetallic surfaces like the front fender.

Unlike car/truck tags, which for now are being handed out free, motorcycle TxTags will cost a $20 tag deposit. That deposit will be refunded when the user closes the TxTag account. The toll charges for a motorcycle will be the same as for cars.

Getting There appears Mondays. For questions, tips or story ideas, contact Getting There at 445-3698 or

By Ben Wear

George Eliot