Mike Heiligenstein is the executive director of the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority (CTRMA). The unelected RMA will toll public highways for the first time in the country. When our freeways are tolled, the cost of maintaining those roads will shift from being paid with gas tax (TxDOT's responsibility) to tolls (our families responsibility) permanently. We will continue to pay the gas tax while other counties benefit. Although tolling freeways is an experiment for the U.S., the freeway tolls will never be removed.
Numerous qualified individuals vied for the CTRMA’s top position, but Mike Heiligenstein stacked the deck for himself, as he’s done many times in the past.
CAN THIS UNELECTED PERSON BE TRUSTED TO TOLL ROADS WE'VE ALREADY PAID FOR?
In 2004, Mike Heiligenstein tried to get out of paying child support and was chased down and penalized for being a deadbeat dad.
Records show Mike Heiligenstein was divorced by his wife Anne Heiligenstein in early 2004.
Later in 2004, Anne Heiligenstein filed a "Income Witholding for Child Support" petition in Williamson County to force Mike Heiligenstein to pay $1,500 a month in child support, for their daughter Katherine. District Court Judge Jergins signed the order (case # 03-556-f395) for income to be withheld from Mike Heiligenstein and to be paid by the CTRMA.
Anne Heiligenstein moved to Washington D.C. in 2004 to take a position as Deputy Executive Commissioner for Social Services of Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC).
The 53 year old Heiligenstein certainly made enough money to offer to pay child support, as his CTRMA salary is $125k a year, not counting company car and other perks.
SURPRISE, SURPRISE, Mike's new wife, Lisa England, is a certified contractor for TxDOT. As the type of work performed, she lists "Management Consulting Services". BUT, TxDOT has refused to release documents I've asked for that would shed some light on the deals Lisa England has crafted with TxDOT. TxDOT has asked the AG's office to allow them to keep all the documents a secret.
It looks like Mike and his new wife rent and live around the corner from the mail box Lisa uses for her Transportation business in West Lake Hills (2008 Cuernavaca), just past this Austin Lake Estates landmark.
The garnishing of Mike's wages for child support was NOT THE FIRST TIME Heiligenstein refused to take responsibility and pay up. Heiligenstein’s also failed to follow Texas law and failed to be responsible for his own finances.
Before the CTRMA was created by Heiligenstein, and others in the “Circle”, records show he was involved in real estate deals that went into Bankruptcy (#90-14004 Williamson County)
But the interesting part of the official bankruptcy affidavit records show that Heiligenstein, who owed many businesses and individuals, also owed James Mills and Mike Robinson, who Heiligenstein later appointed CTRMA board members.
As Williamson County Commissioner, Heiligenstein voted for the formation of CTRMA and for the appointments of four of its board members. Then, those board members thanked him by hiring Heiligenstein as Executive Director while the bloated bureaucratic CTRMA was being run with our tax dollars.
The Comptroller Report from 2005 showed how CTRMA board members benefit by giving out NO BID contracts to themselves and their friends, among other schemes.
The Comptroller Report, also tells the story of how the “Circle” created the first freeway tolling bureaucracy in the country:
"Mike Heiligenstein was a member of the Williamson County Commissioners Court until December 2003, and in that capacity voted for the formation of CTRMA and for the appointments of four of its board members. According to CTRMA’s Web site, he also “initiated the drive for transportation improvements that led to the passage of a $350 million dollar bond package” in Williamson County.Mike Heiligenstein couldn’t be trusted to give his own child financial support, while rolling in the dough. He failed to follow Texas law and manage his own finances.
In 2004, however, the Texas Ethics Commission cited Heiligenstein and three other Williamson County commissioners for an ethics violation related to the promotion of that same bond package. The Ethics Commission found that the commissioners used public funds for political advertising in connection with the Williamson County Road Bonds Program. Each commissioner received and paid a $400 civil penalty for the violation. Several future CTRMA contractors also worked on this bond program.
CTRMA’s board offered Heiligenstein the executive director job on November 5, 2003. He continued to serve on the Williamson County Commissioners Court, voting at its December 2, 2003 hearing, and was formally selected for the CTRMA job on December 9. Thus one of the persons responsible for creating CTRMA found himself in the authority’s top position."
Mike Heiligenstein in no regular crook, he’s figured out how to work the system and benefit by being a taxpayer parasite. Parasite - from the Greek word parasitos, meaning "one who eats from another's table."
The bloated Williamson County toll authority plans to create a slush fund by tolling Travis County Freeways. Note that Williamson County has no plans to toll roads it has already paid for, but instead it is getting free roads by using “Pass Through Financing”. Note that the Statesman endorsed the double tax toll plan in 2004, and they have failed to report ANY of this information. The Austin American Statesman removed my article and deleted my complete blog when I posted these facts on my Statesman blog, to protect Heiligenstein.
This article is part one of a twelve part series. Freeways have never been tolled in the history of the U.S., but that doesn’t stop a close circle of mostly Williamson County characters with a long history of looking out for themselves at the expense of others.
This time, the WilCo crooks want to get into our wallets daily, as our families drive to work, school and shop.
A Great Article from the Houston Chronicle on how Gov. Perry's tax, debt, smoke and mirrors don't add up. "
"Don't spend that $2,000 Gov. Perry is promising you.":
Maybe we should let a foreign company tell us were we can live, eat, and work next.
There is an incredible admission by Gov. Rick Perry's landgrabbers here in this Star-Telegram article:
For two years the people of Travis County have been told, by the powers that be, that we must place toll booths on our freeways because there is no more money.
We've been told there is no other solution.
Yet a new TMMP report shows how, Williamson County, Hays County and San Marcos are taking advantage of a smart financing solution that will allow them to acquire hundreds of millions of dollars of "toll booth free" roads.
Travis County Commissioners (contact them today) should care enough for its taxpayers to look into the "pass through financing" immediately, otherwise we'll be the first city in the country to ever privatize and toll our public highways.
I believe the freeway toll tax on Travis County families and businesses will slow down our local economy, just as the toll booths will slow down our traffic.
19 cities and counties in Texas have applied for pass-thru financing to date.
All Toll Roads have Traffic and Revenue Studies that carefully map out the viability of the project. As I've reported on this blog last week, the Official statement for Austin's 183A toll road states that if gas costs more than $3.00 a gallon over the next 40 years, it will not profit. Austin 130 toll road has a ceiling of $2.50 per gallon over the next 40 years.
Below is a San Antonio Express article from today. The Statesman endorsed the plan to privatize and toll our public highways in 2004. The Statesman has yet to retract that endorsement and they have failed to do any serious investigative reporting about the corruption that surrounds the Austin freeway tolls.
Gas-price impact on toll roads feared
05/24/2006 12:00 AM CDT
Express-News Staff Writer
Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Adkisson doesn't care much for toll roads anyway, but now he has a new worry.
Perennially high gas prices could prove to be a sure damper for growing traffic congestion as motorists flee to buses, double up more often in their cars and move closer to jobs.
And without congested streets, toll lanes are money losers. Drivers won't pay toll fees if they can get somewhere just as fast on free roads.
So with gas prices expected to remain high through next year and global production of conventional oil projected to peak in two to four decades, if not sooner, what could toll-road planners be thinking, says Adkisson, who sits on the Metropolitan Planning Organization board.
The board has approved plans for 75 miles of toll roads in San Antonio, and those projects could each have bond paybacks of 40 years or so — plenty of time for high gas prices to sabotage good intentions.
"Come on, it's just a matter of time before it goes to $4," Adkisson said.
And if that time comes, many toll projects could be doomed.
Adkisson is trying to get the planning board to plan now for those impacts. This week, he asked the rest of the board to consider doing a study on how gas prices could change driving habits and what the implications would be for upcoming highway projects.
"The more we sweat right now, the less we'll bleed later," he said. "I don't think we should immerse ourselves in the more grandiose forms for infrastructure. I think toll roads is pretty grandiose."
The matter is at least worthy to discuss, said City Councilman Richard Perez, who chairs the planning board. The issue could be on next month's agenda.
"I'm open to whatever the policy board is interested in discussing," he said. Adkisson isn't just culling numbers off the Internet to feed his fears.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration predicts production of conventional oil could peak in 2037, while a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers report last September said that could be happening now — or about to.
It will take more than a decade to mitigate increasingly short oil supplies, says a study sponsored by the U.S. Energy Department.
Toss in insatiable growth in China and India, tensions in the Middle East and lack of refining capacity and gas prices — now averaging $2.88 a gallon nationwide for regular unleaded, according to AAA — could continue to soar, some say.
"There is good reason to believe that we are at the start of a long, steady climb in the price of gasoline," said local transportation consultant Bill Barker, who arms toll critics with data. "In fact, we seem to be right on track with a prediction by CIBC World Markets for $100-per-barrel oil by 2010, which should put gasoline at $3.50 per gallon in the near future."
The Energy Information Administration, which is notorious for low-balling its estimates, is much more positive. Officials project prices will stay high through next year, drop and then end up at $2.19 a gallon by 2030 — in 2004 dollars.
"I wouldn't bet on it," one agency official confided.
A better bet, the official said, would be to go with the agency's high-price scenario, which puts gas at more than $3 a gallon by 2030 — also in 2004 dollars.
That could jeopardize toll revenues needed to pay off bonds for two Austin-area toll projects — Texas 130 and Highway 183A, both slated to open next year.
Bond statements by Vollmer Associates assume gas prices won't top the U.S. peak set in 1980, which, when adjusted for inflation, would be more than $3 a gallon in 2005. Average daily prices last September reached $2.92 in Austin and $3.06 nationwide, AAA said.
Vollmer officials didn't return phone calls.
Nevertheless, Cherian George, head of transportation at Fitch Ratings, which rates the creditworthiness of bonds, said he isn't alarmed.
When gas prices spike, as they did after hurricanes Katrina and Rita smashed Gulf Coast oil rigs and refineries last year, motorists will drive less, but price upswings would have to be much more significant to put toll roads at risk, he said.
That's because people will cut vacations and other side trips before doing away with their commutes, George said.
"People have to get to work," he said. "Other discretionary or less essential choices will have to be done away with."
Results last fall were mixed for toll roads.
Two New Jersey toll roads lost millions of dollars in toll collections because of rising gas prices coupled with a winter storm, the Asbury Park Press reported. But Harris County Toll Road Authority officials said that, aside from a dip in September when Houston was evacuated, toll-road use has grown unabated.
Nearly nine of 10 Americans changed their behavior when gas prices were rising last fall, according to a survey done for the Urban Land Institute.
The most common change was combining stops into one trip, followed by eliminating non-commute trips, buying a fuel-efficient car, bicycling and walking more, considering moving closer to work, sharing more rides and riding buses or trains more.
In San Antonio, people flocked to the buses. From October through March, ridership jumped 12.9 percent compared with the same time the year before, VIA Metropolitan Transit officials said.
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Letter in yesterday's Houston Chron:
Tollway new, but underbuilt
I CAN'T believe we built a new toll road so small. I got on the new Westpark Tollway and it was backed up for miles. And toll roads should not go down to one lane. What were the highway planners thinking?
CHARLES R. ESKRIDGE JR. Houston
There is the ocean of red ink the toll lobby forgot to mention when they were scamming the public on CAMPO's freeway toll plan.
They managed to keep the implied costs hidden earlier, but now they are being forced to show their hand in CAMPO's freshly released Texas Metropolitan Mobility Plan. The funding gap of over $10 Billion is revealed in the CAMPO TMMP text below.
See page 40:
"... An estimated $10 billion more than is expected in the CAMPO 2030 Plan is needed to meet TMMP needs and goals. The region is working to maximize the effectiveness of traditional funding and secure the additional funding needed through available innovative mechanisms..."The innovative mechanisms includes taking on more debt. The theft of our freeways is already in the financial mix. Privatizing and tolling public highways is a new experiment for the U.S.
The SH 130 Toll Road East of Austin is the single largest Toll Road construction project in the nation, and investors wouldn't touch it with a 10 foot pole.
SH 130 Toll Road was simply too risky for the investor.
Since it was not a viable project for investors (read this complete article carefully to have your jaw drop firmly on the floor), our politicos offered up our tax dollars and our debt to get Gov. Perry's Trans Texas Corridor "primer" built. Even though we pay for it, we need to pay the toll again if we want to drive it - just like the plan to toll most of Austin's freeways.
Don't think you should pay for it? Heck, you voted to pay for it, under the guise of another tricky bond package.
In November 2000, Austinites voted for $150,000,000 worth of Austin city bonds to add new roads and some other stuff. We all assumed the City of Austin ballot language meant we were paying for new roads, but instead, over the last 6 years, 80% of our bond dollars have funded our own money pit - the 130 toll road.
The actual ballot language:
Nov. 7, 2000 election PROPOSITION 1 - THE ISSUANCE OF $150,000,000 TAX SUPPORTED GENERAL OBLIGATION BONDS TO IMPROVE ROADWAY INTERSECTIONS, ACQUIRE RIGHT-OF- WAY, PROVIDE FUNDS FOR HIGHWAY AND ROADWAY CONSTRUCTION, DEVELOP HIGH OCCUPANCY VEHICLE LANES AND RELATED INFRACTRUCTURE, IMPROVE BICYCLE AND PEDESTRIAN MOBILITY INFRASTRUCTURE, CONSTRUCT RELATED DRAINAGE FACILITY IMPROVEMENTS, AND ACQUIRE LAND AND OTHER PROPERTY INTERESTS FOR THESE PROJECTS; AND THE LEVY OF A TAX SUFFICIENT TO PAY THE BONDS - Ordinance #000821-01
On March 7, 2006, Councilman Raul Alvarez asked the city to reveal where our November 2000 city bond money was being spent. Some of the information from this article comes from the department of public works response to Raul Alvarez.
100% of the first five years worth of Austin bond money, $67.2 million to be exact, went for SH 130 toll road right of way. Not one penny was spent on any other item listed on the ballot. Meanwhile those of us who live inside Austin are also paying more via our Travis County property taxes for Williamson County's portion of SH 130.
To be fair, in the last year, about $16 million has been used for other purposes - like widening roads. Roads like the ones that lead to SH 130 toll road. About $5 million of the $16 is listed as "design or the preliminary phase of construction for Pedestrian Infrastructure".
A Chronicle article from October 2000 (just before the election) says that $20 million was promised for bike and ped projects. It also says:
"If approved, Prop. 1 would dedicate $130 million for road projects"
"corridors receiving high priority would likely include Barton Springs Road, Cesar Chavez, Airport Boulevard, South First, Giles Road, and Hwy. 183"
"This is the transportation bond package assembled by Mayor Kirk Watson, the one designed to reassure voters that their present-day commuting miseries aren't being ignored"
Here are the last 2 lines of the Dept of Public Works document sent to Alverez:
"The November 2000 Proposition 1 Bonds are the only current source of future funding for street capacity improvements. The planned 2006 Bond Election does not include any funding for street capacity improvements."
Note to Self: NEVER vote for any items placed on the ballot by politicians.
Of course, the above is a tiny example of how politicos steal your money for 130 and other pet projects. According to TIME Magazine's article, "The next wave in super highways or a Big, Fat Texas Boondoggle?" 12/04, the project costs $1.5 Billion dollars. TIME also said this of Gov. Perry, "Since 1997, he has received more than $1 million from highway interests, according to reports filed with the Texas ethics commission."
Here's the real kicker. Yes, it gets worse.
Our SH 130 Toll Road (that we can't drive unless we pay the toll again) has yet to open, and according to a 130 traffic and revenue statement, it's already failed.
An Official Statement for SH 130 from 2002 says the revenue forecasts in the Traffic and Revenue Report are based on the assumption that motor fuel will remain in adequate supply and motor fuel prices will not exceed $2.50 per gallon (over the next 40 years).
But, don't worry, that means Cintra will get it at a discount, when they cut a secret deal with Gov. Perry so they can profit off your hard earned tax dollars. And the special interests who fund city council campaigns will surely profit off developing what you paid for.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 14, 2006
Contact: Sal Costello
Sal at TexasTollParty dot com
Vice Chair of Regional Planning Authority.
Austin, TX - While all eyes were on the Austin City ballot, the Austin Toll Party quietly ran a stealth campaign to unseat the Mayor of Westlake Hills who is also the Vice Chair of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO). CAMPO is the regional authority that gave approval for the Phase II Toll Plan.
The campaign hammered Mayor Dwight Thompson for his toll road votes in 2004 and 2005.
Sal Costello, founder of Austin Toll Party said, "We are ecstatic that we've removed the Vice Chair of CAMPO, Dwight Thompson, who voted to toll roads we've already paid for. To date we've helped win two of the first two local toller vs. nontoller races we've focused on. I am confident that we will replace every toller that has ignored the public's will, and therefore stop the privatization and tolling of our public highways."
Mayor Dwight Thompson's opponent and now Mayor-Elect, Mark Urdahl, was approached three weeks before the election by Westlake Hills resident, Austin Toll Party member and Grammy Award winner Jimmy Vaughn. Vaughn found out that Mark Urdahl opposed the Austin Toll Plan and the toll party went right to work. Last year, Jimmy Vaughn played a benefit concert for the Austin Toll Party called "Tunes not Tolls."
Richard Reeves of the Austin Toll Party, said, "Before the toll party stepped into the race, our Westlake Hills tracking poll showed Mark Urdahl losing with 40% of the vote to Thompsons 60%. The same poll revealed a whooping 88% opposed the freeway toll plan. Most of the Dwight Thompson supporters also opposed tolls, so we quickly informed them of his toll advocacy to suppress his turnout. The election night results show we impressively moved the race by 15 points in less than 2 weeks." By the end of election night Mark Urdahl won 55% of the total vote to Dwight Thompson's 45%.
Costello gives a lot of credit to Austin Toll Party members and a wide spectrum of coalition partners from the Libertarian, Democrat, Republican and Independent parties who all oppose the Austin Toll Plan.
"I actually had an Austin City Council candidate, Wes Benedict, take time out of his campaign to work with us the day before his election! He helped us hand deliver hundreds of copies of Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn's report that exposes the toll plan as "Double Taxation without Accountability". We slipped in one of our "Dump Dwight Thompson" direct mail pieces and delivered them door to door to folks that had not yet voted," said Sal Costello.
Sal Costello, who has won national design and marketing awards for clients such as Hallmark, Wrangler and PepsiCo, also creates the anti-toll strategies and campaigns that have proven to be so effective. To date his work for Austin Toll Party has been Pro Bono. Costello implemented what could be called his anti-toll graphic trademark with the Thompson/Urdahl race - a picture of the candidate with a crown and sash that says "Toll Road Emperor."
In 2004, CAMPO asked the public for feedback on the plan that includes tolls on Loop 360, MoPAC, Hwy 71, US 290 and US 183. This marked the first time in the U.S. that public highways would shift to tollways. The majority of the CAMPO board voted for the toll plan after 93% of the public feedback opposed the idea. Sal Costello says that is when he decided to form the group that opposes the shifting of public highways to tollways. Austin Toll Party is not opposed to all toll roads, only the ones that privatize and toll public highways.
Even though the first Phase II Toll Road vote took place in 2004, the first toller vs. non-toller race for Austin took place in this year's primary. Earlier this year, the toll party focused on long-time incumbent, Travis County Commissioner, Karen Sonleitner for her "Yes" vote and helped Sarah Eckhardt win with 57% in the recent primary election. Sarah Eckhardt has no primary party opposition in November.
The direction of most newspapers is in the hands of the editors. But even if the editors are heavy handed with their opinions, the integrity and neutral nature of a good reporter can shine through.
It crosses ethical boundaries for a reporter to write about issues he profits from.
Mike Clark-Madison, has been working with TateAustin for over a year and continues to write for the Austin Chronicle as if there is no conflict.
Mike joined TateAustin after many months of writing curiously lopsided pro-toll news for the Chron.
Tate Austin is a Public Relations, Public Affairs, and Ad Agency with relationships with local special interests like CTRMA, LCRA, Grande Communications, Hart InterCivic and others who have benefited from closed government.
TateAustin has about 1 million dollars worth of contracts with the Toll Authority (CTRMA). State Rep. Terry Keel and Comptroller Strayhorn have confirmed that TateAustin is getting paid with our gas tax dollars to tell us how tolls on Austin roads we've already paid for are the best thing since sliced bread.
TateAustin represented and may still represent AMD. AMD is listed by name in Prop 2.
I don’t have a dog in the AMD fight. I do have an issue with special interests and the media not playing by the rules and tricking the public.
Last weeks campaign finance report for Committee For Austin’s Future (CFAF PAC), the special interest lobby Political Action Committee that is opposed to Prop 1 & 2, shows TateAustin gave an "in-kind" contribution of $7500 for video.
ABSURD AND OFFENSIVE
The special interests get more bang for their buck as TateAustin’s Mike Clark-Madison masquerades as an unbiased reporter for the Chron.
And, the charade goes further as the CFAF PAC brags via television commercials about how Austin Chronicle reporter Mike Clark-Madison says these props are “not open and not clean”.
Damn. This city needs an enema!
Last week, Mike Clark-Madison, as an employee of TateAustin wrote "Unclean Hands" opposing Props 1 & 2, while deriving personal gain from the same special interests who benefit from closed government. Too bad his “Unclean Hands” article wasn’t an expose on himself.
Also last week, the Chron's founder and editor, Louis Black wrote an article called "If you oppose these propositions, you must be on the take".
Sounds like he's got the title right.
Why can't those in incestuous business relationships realize they are crossing the line?
As one of the two top newspapers for a city of 1 million, the Austin Chronicle’s ties with the special interests further erodes the public trust.
We could use an alternative newspaper here in Austin.
KLRU PBS produced a mini documentary about the
Austin Toll Roads and the AUSTIN TOLL PARTY!
It aired this weekend and you can watch it online
Click here for Part 1 of 2 (6 minutes)
Part 2 of 2 (6 minutes)
Report highlights how Tolls effect local economy. I've been saying that Austinites paying $3,000 to $4,000 in tolls a year to drive on our freeways will cripple our local ecomony:
Report Shows Congestion Tax Would Hurt New York Business
Queens Chamber of Commerce report shows a congestion tax would cost the New York City, New York economy $1.9 billion a year. http://www.thenewspaper.com/news/10/1056.asp
Two reports from across the United States highlight the problems of HOV:
Report: HOV Lanes Increase Congestion
A report examines nearly five years of travel data and concludes that HOV lanes have increased congestion in San Francisco. http://www.thenewspaper.com/news/10/1047.asp
Virginia Commuters Outraged by HOV Enforcement
Virginia State Police carpool lane enforcement effort backfires as irate commuters flood switchboards with complaints. http://www.thenewspaper.com/news/06/609.asp
Hoodwinked neighborhood? Or bought and paid for?
Since I wrote the article about OHAN being Hoodwinked by the toll lobby (RECA) and other special interests last week, I've received a number of emails.
The emails suggest that OHAN was not hoodwinked, but instead bought and paid for, therefore selling out to the special interests who benefit from the Open Government amendment being defeated.
Most of the emails also mention that Stratus and AMD, who seek to keep secret deals a secret, are now members of OHAN (Oak Hill Association of Neighborhoods).
This Sanity Island article from August of 2005 shines more light. Back then it was about OHAN pushing for AMD's new development:
"OHAN never bothered to check their facts, they just quoted what was handed to them by AMD. And now they compromise everything they claim to represent by accepting the very corporations into their membership that are causing the controversy."
Looks like OHAN is still on the same track. Just days ago OHAN had a one sided debate/presentation. So much for fairness for their members. The article also states:
"...shame on OHAN for not doing a better job of investigating the facts before jumping to conclusions."
And apparently, according to Sanity Island, OHAN started taking contributions from Stratus and AMD in 2005 as well.
As far as I know, OHAN doesn't file financial reports, so we wouldn't know if RECA or others who benefit from the secret deals have also given them money to toe the line.