October 09, 2007

Tolls : CAMPO drops us in the grease, Eckhardt puts aloe on the burn

You had to be there to believe it. The anti-toll faction even at this, the meeting to vote on the TIP which included few public comments, was still 50-55% of the crowd with the balance made up of folks who were either undecided or those who worked for the Chamber.

It's rare, but not unknown, for me to see an organization with minimal political power decide to squander what little remains. All the Chamber has done is unify the anti-toll right with the left which already hated the Chamber and is functionally capable of electing their candidates anyway. I feel bad for the Chamber because they'll think they got their way (the TIP was going to pass with or without their dumb campaign) but really all they did was fully marginalize themselves into irrelevance, especially in west Austin. Their endorsement will be nice and poisonous.

The vast majority of the anti-toll people at the CAMPO meeting last night weren't liberal Democrats. Most of them are moderate to conservative Republicans with a heavy salting of Libertarians. Traditionally, they are the pro-business folks a Chamber endorsement would appeal to. Not so much anymore. I saw three groups tonight taking pictures and gathering names of those who were part of TakeOnTraffic... they'll be looking for these people on ethics filings from now to eternity.

So, the TIP passed and Senator Watson will get his toll roads. Here's the list of those that voted for all of them...

Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe, Texas Department of Transportation Austin district engineer Bob Daigh, Travis County Commissioner Gerald Daugherty, Austin City Council Member Betty Dunkerley, Kyle Mayor Miguel Gonzalez, state Rep. Mike Krusee, Cedar Park Mayor Bob Lemon, Williamson County Commissioner Cynthia Long, Round Rock Mayor Nyle Maxwell, Austin City Council Member Brewster McCracken, Georgetown Mayor Gary Nelon, former Austin Mayor Pro Tem John Trevino and Austin Mayor Will Wynn.

Judge Biscoe looked as out of place as I've ever seen him. He won't last another cycle. Daugherty is in serious trouble and will likely be gone in 2008. Red Tag Betty is already gone, as is Brewster. Brewster tonight saw his political flame flashout and with it his hopes of being Mayor. No, Brewster, the Chamber can't help you. Truth be told, they didn't do anything for Will either (I worked on the campaign, they helped as much as they hurt). What got Wynn re-elected was the fact that Danny Thomas was a psycho homophobe and Jennifer Gale was, well, Jennifer Gale. Wanna see nasty, Brewster? Just wait for the endorsement meetings. People don't like you anyway and you've just given them another reason to treat you like shit.

Will, you've been a real disappointment on this issue. We all see we need roads, but you let impatience get the better of you. That was stupid.

As for the WilCo folks, Krusee's toast and Maxwell will join him in irrelevance. Cedar Park is a gray area for me but if the crowd tonight was any indication, I think Lemon is going to have issues as well.

As for the others...

Watson voted yes on four of them and recused himself on U.S. 290 East because he is a director of a bank with land along U.S. 290 East in Elgin. And Travis County Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt voted yes on all but Texas 45 Southwest.

Eckhardt voted yes as part of a deal to get amendments passed to the TIP (see below). Watson voted yes because he's a dumbass. To wit...

"We're not left with the ability to just say no," Watson said after the meeting adjourned. "Because if we just say no, then we saddle our community and our children with even more congestion."

Senator, enough with the hyperbole. You failed, along with your colleagues, to do anything about transportation funding last session so your talk about not being left with alternatives is worthless because you didn't do anything to create them. All those opposed were asking you to do was think about the long term impact of what you were doing and work hard for an alternative in 2009. You failed to even do that.

We have long term transportation funding problems in this state and they have to be fixed. You don't accomplish that by caving into TXDoT and saddling taxpayers, most of whom are your very constituents, with mountains of debt serviced by exorbitant tolls. It's irresponsible and stupid, Kirk.

Suprisingly, it's the no votes that were most interesting...

"I do believe there is enough money to do some or all of these roads as free roads," said CAMPO board member Jeff Mills of Sunset Valley. "TxDOT just isn't going to do it."

Mills voted against all five, as did Austin City Council Member Jennifer Kim, state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez and Hays County Judge Elizabeth Sumter.

Mad props to all those with the intelligence to stand up to TXDoT's plan and say 'NO'.

Remember Eckhardt's yes vote? Here's why...

The board also voted on a set of four "covenants" as amendments, setting out how excess revenue would be spent, stipulating that the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority would operate the roads and mandating that each road have as much or more free capacity as at present.

Just so you know, this was ALL Eckhardt. She was the one that forced these amendments. Why? Because she knew as we all did that the TIP would pass. She tried to make it as palatable as possible. One of the amendments stipulated funding from tolls to fund public transportation expansion, something that I don't think anyone can complain about. This will, of course, be the silver lining in a very dark storm cloud. EOW has more on Eckhardt's vote. NONE of the other yes votes offered anything similar.

The money quote comes from Krusee...

"We took a year this time to make sure everyone knew what they were voting on and what the consequences would be," Krusee said.

Yep. And now what comes next is inevitable. Which brings to mind an interesting conversation I had with one of the Chamber folks I happened to know. I explained to him that they'd really cut their own throats politically and that many of the people up on that stage wouldn't hold office after 2008 and 2010. He laughed and said something to the effect of 'Sal (Costello, head of the Austin Toll Party) didn't have the ability to be really effective'. I replied, 'Who said anything about Sal?'.

Make no mistake, y'all made a lot of enemies last night. Common cause is a powerful force.

Finally, there are two issues that have been bugging about this TIP.

1) None of this, other than super expensive toll road at the Y in Oak Hill, does a damn thing to solve our current congestion issues which are primarily related to bottlenecks on existing freeways. It never occurred to CAMPO that we had some more pressing issues?

2) If the toll revenue fails to be less than what's needed to service the debt used to build the roads, who's going to pay? Property taxes, anyone?

Thanks a bunch CAMPO! You've just made tolling an issue all the way into the 2010 cycle.

Posted by mcblogger at October 9, 2007 09:27 AM

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Comments

I'm confused. Why would CAMPO give a rat's ass about Eckhardt's amendments since they didn't need her vote? And, it's ok to vote no on 45 SW in a wealthy area of Travis, and yes for tolls on the east side?

While we're blasting the chamber. The AAS notes that Randi Shade, who announced her intentions to run against Kim, was a board member for the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce.

Hell, I need a scorecard

Posted by: Captain Kroc [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 9, 2007 09:48 PM

The no vote on 45 SW is on environmental grounds, I'm quite sure, and has nothing to do with funding issues. Of course, the 290 west should have been a no vote for the same reason, but there is some shred of hope that a less destructive plan will be built at the Y than what TxDOT is planning.

Posted by: Kedron Touvell [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 11, 2007 10:31 PM

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