"The mantra in Austin is 'The sky is falling, we have no money for roads,' yet we have money to pay losing bidders who won't even build any roads?"
Texas governor vetoes bill reining in taxpayer funding of toll road lobbyists, signs bill paying losing bidders for toll contracts.
Taxpayers will foot the bill for efforts to promote the tolling of roads throughout Texas after Governor Rick Perry (R) vetoed legislation that would have reined in public relations efforts at the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT).
Only one member of the entire legislature voted against the proposed bill that would have amended existing law to clarify that pro-tolling advertising campaigns could no longer be bankrolled with state funds.
"This section does not authorize the department to engage in marketing, advertising, or other activities for the purpose of influencing public opinion about the use of toll roads or the use of tolls as a financial mechanism," House Bill 2142 stated.
In one year, TxDOT spent $10.5 million on 130 public relations and government affairs staff, including a full-time lobbyist. The agency also created a special report designed to convince the US Congress to hand TxDOT the authority to toll existing freeways (view report). The group Texans United for Reform and Freedom (TURF) found the lobbying campaign so outrageous that it filed a lawsuit to stop the effort. The suit was put on hold after it appeared that the legislature had addressed the issue.
Governor Perry, however, stood by his plan to promote tolling Texas roads.
"Marketing toll roads as a user-fee-based alternative to congested highways is important to relieving congestion on other state roads and keeping Texas moving," Perry explained in his veto message.
Also on Friday, Governor Perry signed Senate Bill 882 into law. This measure allows TxDOT to pay amounts "in excess of $250,000" to design-build firms that submit unsuccessful bids for major toll road projects.
"The mantra in Austin is 'The sky is falling, we have no money for roads,' yet we have money to pay losing bidders who won't even build any roads?" Texas TURF Founder Terri Hall said. "Wouldn't every other industry that bids on government contracts love this goodie?"
US Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) is using Perry's support for tolling as a campaign issue in her bid to unseat the governor. Last month she introduced legislation that prohibits the imposition of tolls on existing free highways, bridges or tunnels built with federal funding. The Republican primary will be held in March, and as of May a Rasmussen Reports poll showed the race was "essentially tied."
Copies of House Bill 2142 and Senate Bill 882 are available in a 80k PDF file at the source link below.
Source: House Bill 2142 and Senate Bill 882 (Texas State Legislature, 5/28/2009)
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