Oklahoma Politics: August 2007 Archives

In my reading about public-private partnerships, I had heard about non-compete clauses for privatized toll roads in Texas, where government was forbidden by its contract with the private toll road operators from making any improvements to public roads that might draw traffic -- and revenue -- away from the toll road.

But there's a public-private toll road partnership with a non-compete clause that required local government to make a parallel road more congested. The toll road is E-470 and the state is Colorado:

When E-470 opened in 2002, some people thought it was a strange coincidence that, about the same time, the speed limit on nearby Tower Road, a paved, 2-lane, rural highway, dropped from 55 MPH to 40 MPH. Several apparently unnecessary traffic signals also appeared. This, in spite of the fact that after the toll road opened, Tower Road would have even less traffic than it did before.

Well, it was no coincidence.

The lower speed limit and extra traffic signals, which make Tower Road slower and less convenient to use, are required by a "non-compete" clause in an agreement between the E-470 Public Highway Authority and nearby Commerce City.

The goal is to impede traffic on Tower Road so drivers will decide they are better off using the toll road. This protects the revenue stream from the tolls, thereby protecting the interests of the toll road's investors.

The non-compete clause between the highway authority and Commerce City provides that the speed limit on Tower Road be lowered from 55 MPH to 40 MPH, and that stop lights be installed on Tower Road at 96th, 104th, and 112th Avenues. Also, the City must limit future improvements on Tower Road to shoulder work, turning lanes at intersections, development-specific widening, and normal maintenance. These requirements must remain in effect until January 1, 2008. After that, the speed limit can be raised, the stop lights can be removed, and the City is again free to make improvements to Tower Road.

The other non-compete clause is in an agreement with the Cities of Aurora, Brighton, and Thornton, the Town of Parker, and Adams and Douglas Counties. It provides that, for at least fifteen years, these entities will not construct or improve any road (with certain pre-approved exceptions) that competes with E-470 "in a way that the amount of toll revenues projected by the Approved Plan of Finance to be collected from the users of E-470 would be materially impaired or reduced."

Can we all agree that this kind of practice is just plain wrong? But it's exactly the sort of stipulation that these PPP contracts will have in order to make them profitable and attractive to investors.

Imagine if the City of Tulsa's arena management contract with SMG included a requirement on the city to, say, levy a $10 a ticket tax on movies and concerts at smaller venues, so as to channel pent-up demand for entertainment to arena events and ensure that SMG met its performance targets.

(I found this story in a list of examples of blogs from across the political spectrum doing original reporting, covering stories that the traditional media had missed.)

This, posted at the American Spectator website, seems familiar:

TOM COBURN RECALLS a confrontation on Capitol Hill shortly after last November's GOP bloodbath. He ran into his fellow Republican Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska, the then powerful chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and chief Senate sponsor of the Alaska Bridge to Nowhere. "He strolled up to me and said: 'Well, Tom, I hope you're satisfied for helping us lose the election.'" Stevens was evidently still infuriated by Coburn's nationally publicized crusade against runaway pork-barrel spending over the past two years. To that, Coburn, never the shrinking violet, replied: "No, Ted, you lost us the election."

The story speaks volumes about the sad state of affairs inside the Republican Party and the Gulf of Mexico-sized disconnect between the party powerbrokers in Washington and a thoroughly disgusted conservative base. The party regulars still blame the November defeat on the fiscal whistleblowers like Coburn, not the fake Republicans who grew a $1.9 trillion budget by an additional trillion dollars in five years.

Coburn and his pork-fighting colleagues are making a difference:

In January, Coburn strong-armed the new Democratic majority into passing the leanest federal budget in five years, and, more remarkably, one that withholds funding for thousands of Teapot museums and Wild Turkey Federations. Coburn and his constant but lower-profile senatorial sidekick, Jim DeMint of South Carolina, teamed up to save the nation about $15 to $20 billion. "We actually shamed them into ending the pork," Coburn tells me.

But Coburn isn't satisfied:

His latest fiscal crusade is called "Good Government A to Z, "a plan to rewrite the entire budget act. Why? "Half the federal agencies don't even report on improper payments. FEMA claims none. They can't pass a basic audit. Twenty-five percent of government programs don't even have a goal," he complains. He is so miserly when it comes to spending taxpayer dollars that last year he returned $200,000 of unspent money from his personal Senate office expense account to the government. Yet, Coburn, with virtually the smallest budget of any senator, is arguably the most effective legislator on Capitol Hill. Jeff Flake, who is Coburn's anti-spending pit bull in the House, says that he and the small band of small government conservatives in the House often say: "Thank God for Tom, he makes our life at least tolerable over here in the House, where earmarking is an even bigger problem."

Can we please have more people like Tom Coburn, Randy Brogdon, and John Eagleton in public office?

... why someone who represents a district of roughly 35,000 people needs to raise a quarter of a million dollars to run for re-election? And why he needs to spend $20,000 a month in an off-year?

House Speaker Lance Cargill, raised almost $250,000 in the first six months of 2007, including more than $190,000 from April 1 through June 30, according to state Ethics Commission reports. Cargill's campaign fund spent more than $120,000 during the first half of 2007.

MORE: Maybe this is a clue?

Oklahoma House Speaker Republican Lance Cargill, the founder of a group known as The 100 Ideas Initiative, has invited Poole to give a June 13 luncheon speech at Spirit Bank in Tulsa.

Oklahoma activists opposed to the construction of NAFTA superhighway toll roads have objected that bringing a "heavy hitter" like Poole to Oklahoma signals that state politicians are already lining up with investment bankers in a PPP plan designed to bring the Texas Department of Transportation's Trans-Texas Corridor into their state.

Poole's luncheon speech will be introduced by opening remarks from Cargill.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Oklahoma Politics category from August 2007.

Oklahoma Politics: May 2007 is the previous archive.

Oklahoma Politics: October 2007 is the next archive.

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