Sunday, December 21, 2008

Senate Bill 384 would muzzle Gov. Rick Perry's ministry of toll road propaganda

Bill Would Prevent TxDOT From Using State Money To Shape Public Opinion About Toll Projects


By Vince Leibowitz
The Capitol Annex
Copyright 2008

A bill proposed by State Sen. John Carona (R-Dallas) would prevent the Texas Department of Transportation from spending state money to shape public opinion about toll projects, including the controversial Trans-Texas Corridor.

The bill, SB 384, is no doubt in response to significant public outcry back in the summer of 2007 related to TxDOT’s multi-million dollar marketing campaign promoting toll roads and the Trans-Texas Corridor.

At the time, TURF (Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom), an anti-toll watchdog group, asked Travis County DA Ronnie Earle to investigate whether or not TxDOT broke any laws by using public money in such a way.

As we noted then, while TxDOT’s use of public funds in this was was indeed the wrong thing for a state agency to be doing, it was likely not illegal, since TxDOT is permitted by statute to do some marketing.

Carona’s bill would significantly narrow the statutes related to marketing and TxDOT, allowing the agency only to engage in marketing, advertising, and other activities only relating to the status of pending or ongoing toll projects. Under the present statute, the agency is allowed to engage in marketing, advertising, and other activities to “promote the development and use” of toll roads.

Carona’s bill goes one step further, by specifically not authorizing the agency to engage in marketing or advertising related to influencing public opinion about the use of toll roads or of tolls as a financing mechanism for highway construction.

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