So, Is It Art? Talking to Playboy Marfa Artist Richard Phillips

Oct 23, 2013 By Francesca Mari

On August 28, 2013, we talked to Richard Phillips, the artist behind the controversial Playboy Marfa installation. Read more about the art-versus-advertising debate here. FRANCESCA MARI: When were you tapped to do this piece for Playboy? RICHARD PHILLIPS: I was contacted before the New Year by Neville Wakefield, who…

Road to Nowhere

Oct 11, 2013 By Paul Burka

Oil money’s nice, but actually funding our infrastructure needs is even better.

The TxDOT management audit

May 27, 2010 By Paul Burka

The consultant’s report, released yesterday, is now available online. Here are a couple of its salient observations: TxDOT funding situation At present, State Highway Fund revenues are not as stable as in previous years, nor are they continuing to increase at the same pace as in the past. In addition,…

KBH’s robocall

Feb 14, 2010 By Paul Burka

I received this e-mail from a lobbyist whom I have known for many years: Just got a robocall from “Texans for Kay” (was “Private Caller” on caller ID) with a clip from the Glenn Beck show about Perry is someone who says and does good things during an election but…

If someone were paying me $30,000 a month…

Jan 30, 2010 By Paul Burka

Here is what I would do if I had been running the Hutchison campaign. I would not just sit back and let Perry punch us with the bailout day after day, week after week, month after month. I would follow the old rule: “Hang a lantern on your problem.” I…

Perry, Hutchison battle over transportation

Jan 17, 2010 By Paul Burka

Transportation is going to be a major battleground in the governor’s race. The two camps exchanged fire after the debate. Perry spokesman Mark Miner put out a statement that accused Hutchison of making misleading statements on her TV ad about transportation policy. What the Perry camp says (from spokesman Mark…

Raise the gasoline tax?

Oct 21, 2009 By Paul Burka

In the comments to my earlier post, “Dewhurst hits bottom,” referring to the light gov’s op-ed piece in today’s American Statesman, I wrote about what I would have done to close the budget deficit. One of my recommendations would be to raise the gasoline tax, index it to inflation, and…

CDA’s: Why is Perry spotlighting his weakness?

Jul 2, 2009 By Paul Burka

The danger of a special session for a governor is that he won’t get what he wants, and in failing to get it, will open himself to charges of failed leadership. That is why Perry planned to limit the session to the Sunset Safety Net bill that will continue the…

A way out of the carnage

Jun 1, 2009 By Paul Burka

Only two bills have to pass during a legislative session. One is the budget. The other is the safety-net Sunset bill. At this point, only one has passed. The death of the safety-net bill puts the existence of several state agencies, including TxDOT and the State Board of Insurance, at…

Threat of Senate filibuster postponed; TxDOT rumored to be DOA

May 31, 2009 By Patricia Kilday Hart

HB 3827 almost touched off a Senate filibuster, but Sen. Bob Duell pulled down consideration until tomorrow. The issue is over immunity for underground storage tank leakage; Democrats feared it would give manufacturers of MTBE immunity for contamination of ground water and the cost of clean-ups would be borne by…

Carona explains filibuster intentions

May 31, 2009 By Patricia Kilday Hart

Here is the statement his office released today: Why I Will Filibuster the TxDOT Sunset Bill, by Senator John Carona There is an old Italian saying:  Dai nemici mi guardo io, dagli amici mi guardi Iddio. It means "I can protect myself from my enemies; may God protect me from my friends!" It's no secret by now that the conference committee report contents were not what I was led to believe, and that the report was signed and filed before I was ever shown the decisions. What we have is a deal negotiated in bad faith. I can handle the personal and professional insult involved; after all, there is another Italian saying: Quando finisce la partita, i pedoni, le torri, i cavalli, i vescovi, i due re e le due regine tutti vanno nello stesso scatolo. When the chess game is over, the pawns, rooks, knights, bishops, kings, and queens all go back into the same box. We will recover and work together again, and the Senate will survive. Unfortunately, the practical effects of HB 300 for Texas transportation are negative and still must be addressed. For example, in the absence of the Local Option Transportation Act, other provisions included in either the House or Senate bill but discarded by conferees such as Local Participation take on new importance and should have been adopted. Had I known LOTA would be stripped, I would have pressed that point.

Follow the money

May 21, 2009 By Patricia Kilday Hart

At today’s post-Senate session press avail, Sen. Steve Ogden says the final budget document approved by conferees shapes public policy in several big ways, including: 1. “A dramatic shift in policy in how we serve mentally retarded Texans” represented by a $500 million increase in total funds for community services…

Hegar: Eminent domain needs to be part of TxDOT Sunset

May 20, 2009 By Paul Burka

During today’s Senate transportation hearing, Hegar expressed concern that the eminent domain issue might not pass the House, and that as a last resort it should be included in the TxDOT sunset bill. The disappearance of eminent domain from the radar screen is very curious. After all, this was one…

Hegar on TxDOT Sunset

May 20, 2009 By Paul Burka

I’ve been watching Senate Transportation on TV. Hegar is talking about the process: “There is a prevailing thought among the public that they want their tax dollars to be used to build roads, nothing more, nothing less. They want transparency and accountability in the agency, nothing more, nothing less.” ……

TxDOT Sunset: Worse than I thought (updated)

May 11, 2009 By Paul Burka

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…

Wanted: adult supervision

May 9, 2009 By Paul Burka

The House was out of control Thursday during the debate on the TxDOT Sunset bill. The process was living proof of the old saying that there are two things you should never see being made: sausage and legislation. This was not serious lawmaking. It was an orgy--an orgy of hatred for TxDOT. Why bother to offer amendments at all? Why not just make personal privilege speeches that say, "I hate TxDOT worse than you do." "No, I hate TxDOT worse than you ever dreamed of hating them." Then vote for the person who hates TxDOT the most and let him or her write the bill. The Republicans got so caught up in the frenzy that they voted for a governance scheme that included a statewide elected chairman. Overcome by their own blood lust, they didn't stop to think that the reason the Democrats were pushing it was that they have a fighting chance to win a statewide office that has no incumbent. Phil King got it. He pointed out that the plan would have to go through preclearance with the Justice Department. That didn't slow anybody down. The governing proposal that carried the day was the Leibowitz amendment. It called for 15 commissioners, with one elected statewide and the others to be elected from the 14 Court of Appeals districts. Did anybody realize that this "reform" gives Houston two commissioners, one from the first district, one from the fourteenth? Otto, in opposition, pointed out that commissioners will be beholden to the population centers in their districts. The rural counties don't have enough population to form districts of their own, so they will inevitably be attached to urban counties. Otto said Liberty County, in his district, will be swallowed up by Houston. Actually, Liberty County is in the 9th Court of Appeals district, so it will be swallowed up by Jefferson County. The outcome, for Liberty County, is the same: the roads will be built in Jefferson County. For the umpteenth time, I was reminded that Texas politics is less about R versus D than it is about rural versus urban. For most of Texas history, the rurals prevailed, but from this point forward--and especially after the 2011 redistricting--the urbans are going win.

TxDOT Sunset: It’s REE-form!

Apr 29, 2009 By Paul Burka

This report is based on interviews, not an actual reading of the bill. The bill does two significant things. One is that it substantially reduces the discretionary authority of TxDOT and the Highway Commission to dictate transportation plans to local areas, while expanding the authority of Metropolitan Planning Organizations to…

In the good old summertime

Mar 17, 2009 By Paul Burka

You can see the train wreck coming: a special session over the budget and the stimulus package. Speculation is rampant that Perry will veto the appropriations bill, but he may not even have a bill to veto. The difficulties of melding the budget with the stimulus funds (and the rules…

Dunnam bill would abolish Texas Transportation Commission

Mar 9, 2009 By Paul Burka

This will not come as news to anyone who has kept up with transportation issues in the stimulus package: Dunnam loveth not TxDOT. On Friday he filed H.B. 2701, which would abolish the Transportation Commission and replace it with an elected commissioner. The legislation provides that in the event the…

The Week in Review

Mar 8, 2009 By Paul Burka

This post has been revised since its initial publication. 1. The Tom Schieffer candidacy. Patricia Kilday Hart and I interviewed Tom Schieffer about his race for the Democratic nomination governor. Interestingly, Schieffer asked to go off the record before the interview to discuss the events that led to his being named one of the Ten Worst legislators in 1975. That was my first year to participate in the writing of the story, along with my then-colleague, Griffin Smith. The writeup was one of the toughest that we have ever written. It was full of anonymous quotes, which we seldom use today. Nowadays, the writeups are largely based on the public record. Schieffer was involved in one of the session's biggest fights, an effort to authorize Texas's first presidential primary in order to aid U.S. Senator Lloyd Bentsen's bid for the Democratic nomination for president in 1976. The Texas Democratic party in that era was split into liberal and conservative wings, and Schieffer was a conservative Democrat. The liberals were fighting him hard all the way, including my former mentor, Babe Schwartz, and I am sure that that influenced the writeup. The ink was hardly dry on the issue before I began to have second thoughts about whether Schieffer really deserved being on the Worst list. The bill did pass, and Texas did have its first primary--not that it helped Bentsen, who was overwhelmed in his home state by Jimmy Carter. Schieffer has gone on to have a successful career as an oil and gas operator, as president of the Texas Rangers baseball team, and as ambassador to Australia and Japan in the George W. Bush administration. He should be considered a legitimate candidate for governor. The Ten Worst article was 34 years ago. There are lot of obstacles in the path of a Schieffer candidacy, but that article shouldn't be one of them. The main obstacles, of course, are Schieffer's association with Bush and his well motivated, but ultimately self-defeating, unwillingness to distance himself from his friend and former Rangers' business partner; his reluctance as a candidate, including the question of whether he will put his own money into the campaign; and--how do I put this?--a question of whether he has a feel for contemporary Texas politics. I had the feeling, talking to him, that he has one foot in the present and one foot in the seventies, when conservative Democrats ran the state. He still talks about Lloyd Bentsen and John Connally. Connally and Bentsen and Hobby were giants in their day, and they ran things a heck of a lot better than the Republicans have, but Schieffer so far seems like he is just putting his toes in the water. He needs to jump in. 2. The transportation stimulus package. Transportation is one area where the stimulus package can produce real jobs and have real economic benefits. So why is the amount so small--just $2.5 billion overall, and $1.2 billion in the first installment? One of the reasons is that Obama wants to invest in high-speed rail rather than roads. I think this is a mistake. I'd like to see more of the money go to highways and less to high-speed rail. High-speed rail requires total grade separation. For rural Texas, it will make the Trans-Texas Corridor battle look like a walk in the park. I ran some numbers back in the early nineties, when the idea of a bullet train was first floated, and to break even on the project's then $6 billion cost, trains had to run 97% full between Houston and Dallas 24 hours a day. Like it or not, the most efficient method of getting people from point A to point B is one lane of freeway. In an hour, it carries six times the number of people as rail, and the cost is approximately the same. Politically, the most important aspect of the transportation funding battle was the continuing hostility between TxDOT and the Legislature. TxDOT froze lawmakers out of the discussion of which projects should be funded, with the result that 70% of the money will go to toll roads. Legislators did not cover themselves with glory either, as some took the opportunity to lobby for projects in their districts. The level of mistrust of TxDOT is as high as it has ever been--thanks to Commissioner Ted Houghton, who decided to do a little bomb-throwing of his own at the March 5 meeting of the Texas Highway Commission, calling one of the witnesses and the organization he represents "idiots." Senator Hegar fired off a letter to Houghton, which included the following observations:

Where can TxDOT spend the money?

Mar 5, 2009 By Paul Burka

The stimulus package requires that state transportation agencies give priority to “economically distressed” areas in allocating money to highway projects. An economically distressed area is defined as a county with a per capital income that is no more than 80% of the national average, or a county with an unemployment…

TxDOT under fire

Mar 5, 2009 By Paul Burka

Yesterday (Wednesday) was a tough day for TxDOT. After the usual routine of resolutions congratulating this and that, and welcoming these and those, the House session ended with a resolution aimed squarely at the transportation agency. Dunnam, Coleman, and other lawmakers are unhappy that TxDOT rushed to decide how to…

Sunrise, Sunset

Feb 20, 2009 By Paul Burka

I just want to raise a question, based on Carl Isett’s decision, announced yesterday, that he would handle the TxDOT and Texas Department of Insurance Sunset bills on the floor: Should the Sunset bills be carried by the appointees to the Sunset Commission, or by the committee chairs of the…

Gas tax indexing gets green light

Feb 17, 2009 By Patricia Kilday Hart

Sen. John Carona’s SJR 8, which allows the gas tax to be indexed to the rate of inflation, is traveling in the fast lane (is there such a thing as too many traffic metaphors?) since Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst referred it to Carona’s own Transportation Committee, instead of the not-so-friendly…

State Secrets

Nov 25, 2008 By Eileen Smith

Burka and Eileen preview the legislative sunset: How does an agency “misplace” $1 billion? Or lose one-third of its criminal files? Or let the governor’s mansion get torched? Or screw Texas homeowners? Don’t get mad, get even. Honorably mentioned: Steve Ogden, Lois Kolkhorst, John Carona, and Wayne Smith. Not so…