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THE 80″ LEGISLATURE: BLOOD ON THE FLOOR jeopardizing its ability to issue bonds and leading to all kinds of legal problems. Perry made it known he would sign Senate Bill 792, a bill by Republican Sen. Tommy Williams of The Woodlands that mysteriously became the vehicle for all new highway legislation. Grassroots groups felt whipsawed and confused. Lawmakers knew what to do: They put their butcher’s aprons back on and began making more sausage. Samuel, the Aussie back in Maryland, watched these goingson with a queasy stomach. His column no longer contained references to cowardly French generals, unstoppable Panzer tanks, and blitzkriegs. This was sausage-making at its bloodiest and ugliest: “At Texas Lege Sausage Treats Unlimited, a close watch of operations generates that bad stomach feeling;’ he wrote. “At least when they finally do put their bad product on the street, they immediately go to work on a recall:’ The new transportation bill zipped through the Senate’s Transportation and Homeland Security Committee, the full Senate, and the House County Affairs Committee. It bogged down in the House on May 17, when members had taken to shadowboxing with one another in the aisles. Legislators paused from their diversions long enough to tack 20 amendments onto the bill, forcing the measure back into conference committee. A couple of days later, the bill reappeared and was passed by both chambers. Then it was shipped off to Perry, who had until June 17 to sign the bill, veto it, or let it become law without his blessing. “We’re still reviewing and reading the fine print;’ Perry spokeswoman Krista Moody said as the Observer went to press. 0 n Memorial Day, the last day of the session, legislators sleepwalked through offices piled high with decaying fruit, stale baked goods, candy, and halfdrained bottles of booze. In the Senate chamber, frigid as Alaska as usual, Nichols strode to his desk. His posture was not that of a broken French general, but the chin-up, chest-out thrust of George Patton. Nearly everyone, including the TxDOT operatives, was still confused by language in the second moratorium bill. Nichols rattled off two of the bill’s most important components, stopping momentarily to inquire if he was speaking too fast. “What this moratorium means is, No. 1, more than 99 percent of the Texas highway system is now protected from private toll builders. No. 2, all counties that fall under local toll authorities are armed with the right to be at the table and will have the first option to build the toll road themselvesor veto it.” The new measure, he added, was only the beginning of the Legislature’s effort to deal with transportation issues. “It’s a good first step,” he said. “And there will be more to come. It may take several sessions to solve these problems.” The grassroots groups weren’t so positive. “I think we’ve been had;’ said Terri Hall, spokesman for the San Antonio Toll Party. The bill is so loaded with exemptions that it resembles Swiss cheese. More than $20 billion worth of toll projects, mostly in the Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth areas, will continue to move forward. Carona conceded that the two-year freeze was “more porous in urban areas;’ but he added that other provisions significantly reined in how toll road contracts could be structured. The moratorium does put the brakes on toll projects planned for State Highway 281 and Loop 1604 in San Antonio. In the El Paso area, toll projects not approved by the metropolitan planning organization prior to May 1 can’t go forward. The Trans-Texas Corridor also falls under the moratorium. But two road projects that likely will become part of the TTC networkLoop 9 in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and State Highway 130 east of Austinwill be allowed to proceed. Finally, a southern portion of TTC-69, the megacorridor that will begin at the border, skirt Corpus Christi and Houston, and run in a northeasterly direction toward Louisiana, also has the green light. Although the TxDOTies had hoped to get the toll road contracts extended for 70 years or more, the Lege said the deals couldn’t last more than 50 years. What’s more, the bill allows contracts to be structured in 10 year increments. That way, said Carona, voters can see the plusses and minuses of longer-term packages. The bill also creates a committee to study public-private partnerships in a less politicized environment over the next year. JUNE 15, 2007 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 17