Tuesday, September 04, 2007

“Wasteful, unnecessary, and disgraceful.”

When a Red Light Is Really Green

September 4th, 2007

Cody Garrett
The Texas Observer
Copyright 2007

Looks like the Texas Department of Transportation has its own agenda in Washington, D.C.

Last week, several Texas newspapers reported that TXDOT is lobbying Congress to convert your favorite freeway into a tollway. Texas Legislators are aghast at the department’s plan, euphemistically called ‘Forward Momentum’ — that would change federal law to allow the use of equity capital to toll such oft-used roadways as existing interstates.

Rick Perry’s spokesman Robert Black says it’s all okay, since free highways cannot be converted to tollways without the approval of local voters. But it’s hard to nail down what is crazier here. I mean, is it easier to imagine tolls on I-35 or a state agency with its own paid federal lobbyists trying to circumvent the stated goals of almost every lawmaker in Texas?

To make matters worse, in February members of the Texas Senate specifically chided TxDOT for this kind of behavior. You can watch video of it here (the relevant part of the meeting starts 1:59:00). But, in case watching Senate hearings is not your thing, let me just summarize.

The executive director of TXDOT and a commissioner from the Texas Transportation Commission were asked by senators about $1 million spent on lobbying contracts for an outfit called the Rodman Company. Senator Royce West (D-Dallas) managed to confirm that upwards of $500,000 was being spent by the agency to lobby D.C. on efforts relating to the Trans-Texas Corridor. Despite the fact that TTC has been sold to voters as a project that would require zero taxpayer dollars, TXDOT had apparently been paying private lobbyists to pave the way for federal legislation that would allow the department to move forward on all things TTC. Needless to say, the senators were not pleased.

In the dry language of the Senate Research Center summary:

Senator Shapiro, Senator Ogden, and Senator Whitmire questioned whether these efforts were necessary or effective and stated that the issue should be pursued through Texas’ Congressional delegation rather than private lobbyists. Senator Eltife stated that the expenditure was “wasteful, unnecessary, and disgraceful.”

© 2007 The Texas Observer: www.texasobserver.org

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