TollRoadsNews, a staple of my daily Google Reader diet, is an interesting blend of news on developments in the toll road industry (as the name would imply) with the often-unhinged rants of site proprietor Peter Samuel on developments in the toll road industry. Of late, most of these rants have been in support of the beleaguered owners of Detroit’s Ambassador Bridge, who have so spectacularly failed in their efforts to make friends and influence people in the Detroit-Windsor area that politicians on both sides of the border have decided to put them out of business once and for all by building a nearby bridge to siphon off the company’s traffic; the latter are so irritated, in fact, that they’d apparently rather spend hundreds of millions on a new project from scratch than just exercise eminent domain over the Ambassador Bridge, which presumably would be a far less expensive option.
Today, however, Samuel turns his ire on a local TV reporter in Houston who has the temerity to point out that the Harris County Toll Road Authority has reneged on a promise made in the 1980s to remove tolls once the Sam Houston and Hardy toll roads were completed and their initial construction costs were recovered. Now, it is true that circumstances have changed since those promises were made, but it is also true that the promise was made in the first place and that similar promises made elsewhere have, at times, actually been fulfilled (for example, in the case of the Kentucky parkway system, albeit in some cases due to the generosity of the federal taxpayer at the behest of Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Kentucky).
At the very least, the public is owed an explanation from those who made the promises as to why they were not fulfilled, particularly if the initial promises were disingenuous, at best. I don’t think Samuel would disagree with this notion in the general case (for example, given his apparently-conservative politics, I’d imagine he’d have rather choice words for the Obamacare advocates who are championing its mythical cost-savings), so it is disappointing that in this particular case he seems to be giving public-sector tollers a pass.
Paul Burka at Texas Monthly connects all the dots in Rick Perry’s plan to remold Texas’ two flagship higher education systems. At some level, though, I can’t blame Perry as much as the allegedly-well-meaning liberals down the food chain who spend a lot of time before faculty distancing themselves from Perry’s policies yet implement them (and, worse, hare-brained, half-thought-out extensions of them) with the zeal of a convert. At the flagships at least faculty and campus administrators appear to have grown a pair and recognize the threat Phoenixization/Capellaization of the academy—the ultimate end-point of the Perry agenda—poses; in the relative boonies of the A&M System, not so much.
Update: More here. And today UT’s leadership is at least making the right noises, confirming that at least one university system in Texas isn’t completely tone-deaf.
Our esteemed governor apparently thinks there isn’t a recession in Texas. I’ll gladly concede that the economy here is doing significantly better than in many other states, but the idea that there’s no economic downturn here is either optimism run amok or crazy talk. Perhaps both.
Today’s Laredo Morning Times has a lengthy article discussing the wrangling over whether or not the various local government agencies should create a Regional Mobility Authority to help advance local transportation projects in a more timely fashion. Frankly I find this passage in the article to reflect the lack of contact with reality in the discussion:
Because other cities and counties in the state have created RMAs to build toll roads, RMAs are sometimes associated with tolls, according to Jerry Garza.
“I want to stress, and I cannot stress enough that we here in Laredo, Webb County would never consider a toll road,” Jerry Garza said.
He meant turning the loop into a toll road, but added that he personally would not support a toll road in any part of the county.
I think realistically, if Laredo wants anything beyond the bare minimum of transportation improvements, it is going to have to turn to using tolls to finance them. Certainly Laredo’s experience with tolls has been mixed—the spectacular failure of the Camino Colombia under private ownership being the most obvious example—but all four international road bridges are tolled with few objections in evidence. Tolls may be the only way to ensure that truck traffic—which is the user group most likely to see economic benefits from overpasses and direct ramps along the loop—is paying its fair share for avoiding congestion.
More to the point, despite the mini-revolt over tolls in Austin at the legislature, it is highly likely that federal and state transportation funds derived from gas taxes—to say nothing of carbon taxes, or however “cap-and-trade” will be implemented for motor fuels—are going to be diverted away from road construction to other efforts such as urban mass transit and high-speed rail (projects that, frankly, Laredo will see little benefit from in any realistic time horizon, unless private investors can be conned into building a high-speed rail line from Monterrey to San Antonio and building a station here too) or general fund demands like shoring up Social Security and Medicare. Like it or not, I think more tolls are coming sooner rather than later.
The geniuses up in Austin have diagnosed TxDOT’s problems and decided that the solution is, in part, to have an elected state transportation commission who doubtless will be high-minded representatives of the popular will rather than endless seekers of pork-barrel projects for their geographic districts. Because we all know how helpful having an elected State Board of Education has been in keeping politics out of the public school curriculum.
Orin Kerr and Eugene Volokh are talking up the likely run for state attorney general by Ted Cruz, the state’s former solicitor general. While I can’t say I’m thrilled about all of Cruz’s political positions, particularly on the social conservative dimension where Cruz makes much of his advocacy for Ten Commandments tomfoolery and takes pride in undermining foreign relations, he does at least seem to be eminently qualified for the post.
As a semi-related aside (perhaps brought on by my learning-more-about-while-teaching Texas government this semester), while in general I’d favor taking a rather large scythe to the number of statewide elected offices in Texas in favor of more gubernatorial appointees in line with the federal model, I’d probably favor keeping the attorney general’s office a separately-elected post, mostly to better promote checks and balances on executive power in a more transparent way.
I expect Ike will generate a 10–15 foot storm surge along a 100-mile stretch of Texas coast from the eye landfall location, northwards. I urge Texas residents to take this storm very seriously and heed any evacuation orders given. Most of you living along the coast have never experienced a major hurricane, and Ike is capable of causing high loss of life in storm surge-prone areas. Tropical storm force winds will spread over the Texas coast beginning Friday afternoon, and evacuations must be completed by Friday morning. All airports in eastern Texas will be forced to close Friday night, and will probably remain closed most of Saturday. Ike had a good chance of becoming the most destructive hurricane in Texas history—though not the most powerful.
Steven Taylor on GOP efforts to get “spoiler” Libertarian candidates to withdraw from fall election contests:
[I]f the Texas GOP is truly that concerned about losing votes to the Libertarian Party, then perhaps they ought to try harder to please libertarian-minded voters who might be persuaded to vote Republican if the party was made more palatable to them.
Although, I have to add a caveat: that ain’t going to work unless the GOP can come up with someone less batshit than Rоn Pаul. But nobody ever said building a big tent was easy.
I’m very happy to announce to all of my readers that I’ve accepted a tenure-track position as an assistant professor of political science in the Department of Social Sciences at Texas A&M International University in Laredo, Texas beginning in the fall. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to teach and conduct research at one of America’s newest universities in a dynamic, rapidly-changing community.
Perhaps most happily, I won’t be getting there until well after all the politicians leave town!
As expected, Texas (at least this little corner of it) is a bit warmer than St. Louis today—and tomorrow looks to be positively nice. Now I’m waiting on the second attempt to get dinner tonight—the pizza place somehow managed to get completely the wrong room number for their initial delivery, and I’ve been starving in my hotel room for nearly three hours now.
In retrospect, I should have taken the search committee member up on his offer to take me somewhere after his previous engagement—even though I would have missed seeing Earl and The Office. Live and learn.
I honestly can’t think of a reason why the unanimous (!) staff recommendation would get overruled besides ideological opposition to the Voting Rights Act or a desire to see more Republicans in Congress. If anybody out there can think of better justifications, drop me a line; I’m all ears.
Perhaps the staff of the Civil Rights Division has been enforcing an interpretation of the Voting Rights Act that goes beyond the statutory requirements of Congress, and therefore has been making recommendations that do not enforce the VRA but implement something more stringent than the VRA. Thus, the political appointees at the agency felt an obligation to limit the review to the bounds of the statute, rather than the imagined law that the Civil Rights Division staff would like to see implemented. For example, the memo complains about partisan gerrymandering, yet partisan gerrymanders are not illegal under either the VRA or Supreme Court precedent (even if they probably ought to be).
After all, it is not beyond the realm of reason that young, bright attorneys might choose to join the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, and forego greater earning potential and prestige in the private sector, for ideological reasons.
Tom DeLay just got his ass indicted, and while that’s a far cry from him getting convicted (the old phrase about most prosecutors being able to get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich springs to mind), it’s still not promising for his future political prospects. Otherwise, what I said nearly nine months ago still applies, so I’m not going to belabor those points again.
The Texas Longhorns won the College World Series yesterday; I have to say that I was disappointed when Texas beat the Ole Miss Rebels in the best-of-3 a couple of weeks ago in Oxford, but losing to the eventual champs (especially given that the Rebels were on the verge of winning both games 2 and 3 in the 9th) takes a little bit of the sting out of it.
Signifying Nothing formerly featured the stylings of Brock
Sides, a left-leaning philosopher turned network administrator
currently residing in Memphis,
Tennessee who now blogs at Battlepanda, and Robert
Prather, a libertarian-leaning conservative economist and
occasional contributor at OTB.