"Using taxpayer money to advance an agenda in favor of toll roads in Texas."
KLBJ News Radio
Executives from the state highway department are again defending themselves at the Capitol against people who say they are using taxpayer money to advance an agenda in favor of toll roads in Texas.
At the heart of the issue are claims that TxDOT has hired lobbyists, using taxpayer dollars, to push in favor of projects like the Trans-Texas Corridor. Part of that is the "Keep Texas Moving" website.
"Marketing is undertaken to inform drivers in the Austin area about the opening of new toll roads, toll road locations and incentive periods, and about the benefits of paying with an electronic tag," said Coby Chase, Director of Government Affairs for the Texas Department of Transportation.
A San Antonio-based anti-toll road group showed an edited video to the Texas House State Affairs Committee. In edited clips, it showed TxDOT executives Amadeo Saenz, Ted Houghton and Chase seemingly contradicting themselves on camera during separate occasions contrasted to what each executive later said in taped depositions.
"I've heard this from a lot of members that they don't even know where all the money is going," said Terri Hall, Founder of the group 'Texans United for Reform & Freedom', who testified before the committee Friday afternoon. "It's been just as hard for us through this narrow lawsuit on this one campaign to even nail down how much money has been extended."
"TxDOT spent $5.1-million on the TxTag and toll road marketing initiative as of January, 2008," Chase adds.
TURF is in continuing litigation with the state highway department.
"There is really a co-mingling here, in this particular ad campaign by TxDOT, the Keep Texas Moving campaign, a co-mingling between advocacy and advertising. And that's exactly what they've done with this campaign," Hall said, in testimony.
More lawmakers at the state Capitol are agreeing as the TxDOT Sunset Review, a massive re-evaluation of the department moves forward, that major reforms are overdue in how the department does business.
Earlier this year, during a Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee, it was discovered that TxDOT made a $1.1-billion accounting mistake which infuriated lawmakers who say the highway department did not reveal before blaming the legislature when major cuts were announced in new highway construction projects.
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