Sunday, August 30, 2009

Precedent for Cincinnati's Anti-Boondoggle Law

UrbanCincy is falsely reporting that Cincinnati would be unique in having an anti-boondoggle law aimed at passenger rail. They claim the "unprecedented" nature of this measure gives them the right to trample on the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution by radically changing the petition language from what was signed by over 11,500 citizens. But it's far from unprecedented.

Section 451.071 of the Texas Transportation Code applies to principal cities having less than 750,000 population, which is essentially the capitol city of Austin. It outlines the referendum procedure for fixed rail transit systems. And it subjects the city's authority to the will of the voters:
"If less than a majority of the votes cast are in favor of the proposition, the authority may not expend funds of the authority to purchase, acquire, construct, operate, or maintain any form of a fixed rail transit system unless the system is approved by a majority of the votes cast at a referendum held by the authority for that purpose."
Does that sound familiar? It's very similar to Cincinnati's anti-boondoggle proposal:
"The City, and its various Boards and Commissions, may not spend any monies for right-of-way acquisition or construction of improvements for passenger rail transportation (e.g., a trolley or streetcar) within the city limits without first submitting the question of approval of such expenditure to a vote of the electorate of the City and receiving a majority affirmative vote for the same."
Clearly, voting on passenger rail transportation isn't unusual or "unprecedented." So don't let "progressers" steal your right to vote, or make a mockery of the U.S. Constitution.

The citizens of Cincinnati are legitimately petitioning their government. An amendment has been proposed, and signed as required. Now it's time to vote on that amendment; not some "progresser's" bastardization of the amendment, but the amendment as written and petitioned.


  1. Why didn't you include the full language from the Texas Transportation Code? It's interesting because § 451.071.(b) says the following:

    The authority may hold a referendum on whether the authority may operate a fixed rail transit system. At the election the ballots shall be printed to permit voting for or against the following proposition: "The operation of a fixed rail system by (name of authority)."

    § 451.071.(b) goes on to say:
    The notice of an election called under this section must include a general description of the form of the fixed rail transit system, including the general location of any proposed routes.

    To me this says that an election can be held, but that the ballot language should be spelled out in a specific way that outlines a specific form of fixed rail transit system, including the general location of any proposed routes. That represents a clear difference between Texas' language and the language crafted by COAST.

    In either case, we could debate all day long about whether or not the Texas example represents a close enough case for us to say that the COAST ballot measure to put all "passenger rail" items up for a vote is unprecedented or not. No one is trying to steal anyone's right to vote so save us all the sensationalism. What my post is intended to do is share a message, that was shared with me, with the public about a chance they have to let their voices be heard. I'm trying to open up discussion and let people know how they can get involved. Why is COAST opposed to such grass-roots activism?

  2. There is another difference between the Charter Amendment proposed by COAST and the example from Texas. In Texas the law was imposed by the state. I'm not aware of any American city that has imposed such a regulation on its self like this.

  3. The 2008 population estimate for Austin city, Texas is 757,688.

    So either the law either doesn't apply to Austin any more or won't after the next census.


  4. Please note the texas law actually has parameters and was put together by a governing body. COAST's charter amendment was written by a lawyer who lives in Blue Ash.

  5. "COAST's charter amendment was written by a lawyer who lives in Blue Ash."

    No it wasn't. If you can't get the facts right please go away.

  6. "Please note the texas law actually has parameters and was put together by a governing body."

    Yeah, then it must be better. I know I prefer a nameless, faceless government bueraucrat making these decisions for me much more than the voters. Unaccountable government bureaucrats are never wrong. The people can't be trusted. Hahaha

  7. ^ So... you basically just don't like representative government (the US as a whole), is that right?

    If not that, it sounds like you're saying you just don't like the citizens who elected those officials.

    Quite a conundrum - you dislike those who we've elected, but you need those same people to support your cause that represents your beliefs. Yeah... that makes sense... hahaha

  8. Matt, believe it or not elected officials do actually make bad decisions sometimes.

    In many cases, the electorate has no recourse, and has to wait until the next election to try to remove the bad elected official. In Cincinnati we have a referendum process, which 11,000 petition signers chose to take advantage of, to check the bad decisions of those in power.

    The City of Cincinnati Charter allows for it. Do you not like Cincinnati's City Charter, put in place by the people and the elected official that you love and trust so much? Or do you just want to pick and chose which part of the Charter you think our elected officials should follow in this representative democracy?
    Quite a conundrum...

  9. The Texas Department of Transportation is embroiled in an effort to impose tolls on new and existing roads across the state because gasoline taxes are coming nowhere close to paying for capital and maintenance costs. How short are they? Some have calculated that a $2/gallon tax would be needed for Texas' roads & highways to pay for themselves, that's why they've opted for tolls.

    The anti-rail situation in Texas is a clearly the symptom of a state looking to protect its investment in roads -- one that got in a fix of its own making because various large oil companies are still headquartered there despite the Texas oil wells having gone dry.

    Nevertheless, Dallas and Houston have opened new light rail systems this decade and Austin has a new commuter line under construction.


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