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Judge Keith Self should have seen it coming. After all, he told the commissioners court last week that testifying before a legislative committee was "no place for sissies."
Tuesday, members of the Texas Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee proved him right about at least that one thing.
The bill would allow cities to require a commissioners court to call an election where the voters could create a taxing district that would be able to develop mass transportation projects.
Self, ignoring the fact that the bill allows the voters to choose to tax themselves or not, has been charging that passage of the bill, "Would add a whole new set of taxes to fund every sort of transportation and transit project, as well as give authorities over those tax funds to an entity outside the county."
As Judge Self learned, while email and blogs can get away with inflammatory and half true statements, its not a good idea to use the same tactic in a legislative committee hearing.
SB 855 has the support of most of the cities and counties in the region. Representatives from Denton County, Dallas County, Hunt County, the cities of Plano, McKinney, Frisco, Richardson, Greenville, Commerce and Arlington, the Fort Worth, Arlington and Dallas Chambers of Commerce, DFW Airport and DART all testified for passage of the bill.
Opposition came from several anti-tax PACs and of course from Judge Keith Self.
After more that 2 hours of testimony, the drama came when the Committee called for Judge Self and Commissioner Hoagland to testify.
Self led off, beginning with a comment that over the last ten years, state spending had grown twice as fast as the increase in population and inflation. Self then stated that, "This is a tax increase". When he later repeated the tax increase charge, it was too much for Senator Kirk Watson (D-Austin) to bear.
Watson said, "You just indicated that we're passing a tax increase. I think you're wrong about that. I hope that what you'll do is go back and look at the bill."
Watson added, "When you say we're passing a tax, that is not true. It is responding to a request from local elected officials and local communities, saying,'We need some help'.".
Wagging his finger at Self, Watson added, "But to say we are passing a tax increase is just a wrong statement. And I just want to make sure that you're clear about that, because I think it is inappropriate... The local community has to make the decision as to whether to have an election, and then would have to have an election."
Watson then told Self, "I know that in politics it's fun and it gets some people some support by throwing around words that's not entirely accurate, but I would ask you that when you're appearing before this committee, that's working as hard as it can to meet the needs of people across this state, that you take care in the way you characterize their work."
Self should have seen it coming.
If he did, he shrugged it off and plowed on. After the Judge completed his statement calling the result of the bill a 'hodge-podge system', Senator John Carona (R-Richardson) weighed in.
Carona let loose a blast at Self, saying, "Judge, we would welcome your help, but thus far we haven't seen any of it. The only thing I've seen so far is a series of emails you've sent out to the various anti-tax groups like yourself. But we would welcome your constructive input."
"But given the fact that overwhelmingly the cities in your county support this, it seems to me that you do a disservice to the community by sending out the missives you've sent out before you even knew or understood what the bill said."
Carona concluded with, "And then divorcing yourself from any opportunity to make the bill better or to offer anything constructive is really tragic. It is especially tragic that in a progressive part of the state like Collin County that this would represent the future leadership of the county."
After the whipping on Self, it was Commissioner Jerry Hoagland's turn to speak. Hoagland began his testimony by pointing out that when he was first elected commissioner, the county's population was 144,000. It is now over 750,000, Hoagland said, and will be as large as Dallas County is now by around 2042.
Reading from a prepared statement Hoagland said that failure to plan for future growth would result in log jams on our highways streets and toll roads.
Calling those who call the county's tax rate too high are playing "chicken little, the sky is falling", Hoagland pointed out that Collin County citizens pay some of the lowest county taxes in the state.
"I believe there is something worse than paying a few dollars in taxes. That something is sticking our heads in the sand and not planning for the future. Growth will gridlock us in the future and therefore cost us more tomorrow if we don't deal with this problem today.", said Hoagland.
Hoagland testified that the people have said they want rail mass transit, and that local government officials have no right to say that the people can not choose to tax themselves by holding an election and voting.
SB855 offers voters a choice of several tax schemes. It allows cities to require a countywide election where the taxes and district would be voted on by the county's voters. Senator Shapleigh (D-El Paso) objected to the bill because he believed it would create a number of districts instead of a united highway and rail system. Shapleigh and several Senators stated that the best way to fund transportation would be to raise the gasoline tax. While many on the committee agreed that a gas tax is a simpler and better approach, it was noted that a gas tax raise is impossible to enact since Governor Rick Perry has vowed to veto any gas tax hike.
SB855 is expected to be approved by the committee in a few days, after some tweaking.
After the fireworks over SB855, the committee then held a hearing on SB882.
SB882 is NTTAs response to the attempt by the Collin County Commissioners Court to hijack a future portion of the Dallas North Tollway. SB882 would give a regional transit authority, namely NTTA veto power over toll projects created by the Collin County Toll Road Authority.
In his testimony, NTTA Chairman Paul Wageman of Plano said that it made no sense for two public agencies to be at loggerheads over the same project without some level of cooperation.
Wageman then charged that, "Judge Self and the commissioners have had on their agendas, at least twice over the last few months, essentially court orders to issue contracts on elements of our system that are either owned entirely by the NTTA or under contractual arrangements."
Senator Florence Shapiro (R-Plano) tried to set the stage for a compromise, saying, "surely there is one way we can meet in the middle." Shapiro seemed surprised to learn that the county had tried to expropriate a part of the DNT.
Senator Carona jumped in, asking to be part of any negotiating team, saying, "I don't think Collin County plays nice lately. I don't think they have a regional concern, but only for provincial Collin County".
"Bad things happen if you don't play nice", Carona added.
Judge Self did testify, pleading that the county had already spent over $3 million on the Outer Loop and that the agenda items were a clerical mistake.
The bill was left pending further negotiations.
The county judge has now made two trips to the Capitol this month to testify at public hearings. Both ended poorly for him and his cause - in both Self was embarrassed to find that his brand of bombast and half truth might work in McKinney, but it is a real mistake to try to carry the same approach to Austin.
After the last legislative hearing, on the County Auditor bill, Self said he learned that the committee hearings were no place for sissies. It's too bad that's all he learned.
It's not about sissies. It's about integrity. It's about leadership.
Update 9:30AM on March 19
The Dallas Morning News blogs covered the hearing and the Collin County Observer:
The public hearing was captured on video tape and can be seen on the Texas Legislature's web site.
Judge Self's testimony on SB855 can be seen at time stamp 2:10:35
Jerry Hoagland's testimony is at time stamp 2:15:50
Hoagland's written statement is here.
Discussion of SB882 begins at time stamp 4:13:00
You couldn't be more right here. As we both have alluded before, Self can get away with rallying Stonebriar Rightwing Church for a couple of Jesus-votes. But when you head down to Austin, especially in committee hearings, rhetoric rarely works.
Self has truly been an embarassment for Collin County, the likes of which are far worse than an idle county judge like Harris, even the foul-mouthed Hoagland.
I just don't see what he doesn't understand. He isn't on a crusade, and I think Keith Self truly has the ambition of a saint and the heart of a demon. Mix them together and you have a very poor county judge for which we all pay, and perhaps we should - we allowed him to get ellected.
And thank you to the committee for calling out Judge Self and exposing him for the fraud that he is. I hope whoever is running against Self, makes note of his video "testimony" and uses it in his/her campaign to get him off our court.
Maybe the real reason he doesn't want to give the voting public a voice is that he knows he can't win.
How many embarrassments do we have in elected office here in Collin County? Self, Hoagland, Laubenberg - more I'm sure. We deserve better than this and Self needs to go bye-bye in 2010.
Paxton made one of the most incredibly stupid, ignorant and callous statements in last Sunday's Morning News (Ed Housewright column) about how DART rail doesn't have many passengers. What an idiot! Obviously he hasn't been on one of the MANY trains headed downtown (and returning to Plano) jammed with people during rush hours.
However, he won't change his position until voters force him to do that and the only means to do that is to vote him OUT of office. It is Einstein's Theory applied to politics - political insanity is to expect someone to change their mind by re-electiong him or her to the same office, knowing their contrarian position.
You want change in policies? Change the faces in D.C., Austin AND McKinney! Otherwise ... NOTHING CHANGES!
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