AUSTIN - Talk of buying back certain stretches of federal interstate highway in Texas and then collecting new tolls to drive on them hit a roadblock earlier this month.

On Sept. 5, U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, filed S. 2019, legislation to prohibit the tolling of existing federal highways across the country.

“My bill will protect drivers from paying tolls on roads that were already paid for by taxpayers, she said.

The Texas Department of Transportation floated the idea of buybacks in February in its report, “Forward Momentum.

Under current law, states can apply to the U.S. Department of Transportation to place tolls on existing federal highways.

But Hutchison said she would oppose any such effort by TxDOT to toll existing interstate highways.

“I will work with members of the Texas Congressional delegation and the state Legislature to ensure that Texans are never asked to pay a toll of an existing interstate highway, she said.

Report details high cost of living:

“The Family Budget Esti-mator: What It Really Takes to Get By in Texas is a new report released Aug. 30 by the Center for Public Policy Priorities, a nonpartisan, nonprofit research organization based in Austin.

The report shows that living expenses in the Lone Star State are rising faster than incomes and that Texans are far less likely to receive employer sponsored health insurance than employees in other states.

The report also reveals Texas has the highest percentage of people without health care coverage in the nation and that Texas' high sales and property tax rates hit lower-paid workers the hardest.

Based on its findings, the CPPP makes a number of suggestions that if accomplished would improve the lot of Texans, such as:

Texas should ensure that families remain eligible for CHIP and food

stamps until they earn enough to meet basic needs.

Texas should increase its commitment to community colleges and ensure that higher education remains affordable.

Texas should adopt policies that help low-wage workers move into

jobs with wages high enough to support a family.

State and local tax abatements should be tied to employment and

wage policies that require family-supporting wages and benefits.

Texas should invest in policies and programs that increase

homeownership, higher education, and retirement savings.

Texas should convert its tax system to a low-rate personal income

tax that would reduce overall taxes for middle and low-income

families while providing enough money for education, job training and

work supports to help Texans earn more.

The full report is available online at www.cppp.org.

Perry spares inmate's life:

Gov. Perry on Aug. 30 commuted the death sentence of Kenneth Eugene Foster of San Antonio to life imprisonment following the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles' majority recommendation.

Foster was sentenced to death for driving the getaway car in the 1996 capital murder of Michael LaHood. Foster sought to have his death sentence commuted to a life sentence, arguing that he did not shoot LaHood.

Perry said the Legislature, which convenes in January 2009, should examine the state law that allows capital murder defendants to be tried simultaneously.

State purchases Crockett letter:

Texas Historical Commission on Sept. 4 announced its purchase of the last known letter of Davy Crockett from a private collection in Houston.

The letter, dated Jan. 9, 1836, and addressed to his children, was written by Crockett in San Augustine, then enroute to the Alamo.

The pricetag was $490,000, but after the sale questions were raised as to the authenticity of the document.

Test preparations to be reduced:

The Texas Education Agency announced it would cut back on “field testing practices at many public schools.

The agency says field testing helps educators gauge the fairness of questions on the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills and other exams.

The decision to cut back addresses complaints that field testing takes too much time that could be used for instruction.