No restraining order, but case to STOP TxDOT's lobbying moves forward

Link to AP article here.

Also, another article and our press release below…

Judge denies activist’s request to stop toll road campaign
The Associated Press as it appeared in the Star-Telegram
September 25, 2007

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A judge has refused a toll road opponent’s request to block the Texas Department of Transportation from spending money on a campaign that promotes toll roads and the Trans-Texas Corridor.

Terri Hall of the San Antonio Toll Party and Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom argued the “Keep Texas Moving” campaign violates a prohibition on state officials using their authority for political purposes.

On Monday, State District Judge Orlinda Naranjo denied Hall’s request for a temporary restraining order. The judge noted another law cited by state lawyers that allows the department to promote the development and use of toll projects.

“It seems that the Legislature has weighed in and given the department the authority to promote toll roads,” Naranjo said.

Another hearing is expected soon on the state’s motion to dismiss the case. The state contends that it’s legal for the transportation department to promote toll roads and that the agency is responding to calls for public education about its projects.

Hall’s lawsuit also seeks to block transportation officials from lobbying Congress to allow more tolling.

“This is just round one,” Hall said Monday. “This issue is definitely not over.”

Her attorney, Charles Riley, said the facts will show that the agency is using highway funds for a political purpose, and not just for providing information about toll roads.

Gov. Rick Perry and the transportation department have championed toll roads and the proposed Trans-Texas Corridor, a tolled network of superhighways, as solutions to dire transportation needs that have outpaced gas tax revenues.

A department spokesman said he had no comment on Monday’s ruling and referred to earlier statements defending the department’s right to promote toll roads.

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Link to article here.
Activist loses bid to halt toll-road ads
Peggy Fikac
Express-News, Austin bureau
09/25/2007

AUSTIN — A San Antonio activist lost a court round Monday in her effort to stop state transportation officials from spending public funds to promote toll roads and the Trans-Texas Corridor, but the fight’s not over.

State District Judge Orlinda Naranjo refused to grant a temporary restraining order to immediately stop the spending as sought by Terri Hall of the San Antonio Toll Party and Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom.

Another hearing is expected as early as next week on a state motion to dismiss the case, which targets the multimillion-dollar Keep Texas Moving campaign and any attempt by transportation officials to convince Congress to allow more tolling.

“This is just Round One. This issue is definitely not over,” said Hall, contending that transportation officials in promoting the initiatives are violating a ban on using their authority for political purposes and on lobbying.

Naranjo noted that another law cited by the state specifically allows the Texas Department of Transportation to promote the use of toll projects.

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IMMEDIATE RELEASE

No restraining order issued
Hearing on injunction still to come

Monday, September 24, 2007 – In Travis County District Court today, Judge Orlinda Naranjo did not grant a temporary restraining order (TRO) to immediately halt the Texas Department of Transportation’s Keep Texas Moving ad campaign. TxDOT unearthed a law that says they can advertise toll roads (Sec 228.004 of Transportation Code) and the citizens invoked another that says they can’t (Chapter 556, Texas Government Code). TURF and its Founder Terri Hall, sought a temporary restraining order against the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) to stop its political advertising and lobbying, but the burden to obtain a TRO is higher than for an injunction.

The defendants counsel in the Attorney General’s office, Kristina Silcocks, presented no evidence and was unprepared to argue potential damages to the State if a TRO was granted. Judge Naranjo seemed incredulous at such a shoddy case, but not incredulous enough to grant the TRO.

“The citizens will fight on. TxDOT is waging a one-sided political ad campaign designed to sway public opinion in favor of the policy that puts money in TxDOT’s own coffers. School Boards cannot lobby in favor of their own bond elections, and yet TxDOT has its own special law that may allow them to get away with such a blatant conflict of interest,” says an incredulous Hall.

Hall also notes that TxDOT’s campaign goes beyond mere advertising, “It’s propaganda and in some cases, the ads blatantly lie to the public! In one radio ad (scroll down to radio ad “continuing maintenance”), it claims it’s not signing contracts with non-compete agreements in them and yet last March TxDOT inked a deal with Cintra-Zachry for SH 130 (read about it here.) that had a non-compete clause (which either prohibits or financially punishes the State for building competing infrastructure with a toll road).”

The next step is a hearing on the State’s plea to the jurisdiction, likely to happen next week. Then if TURF gets past that hurdle, a hearing for the injunction will be set.

TURF will keep the press advised as to the next hearing date.

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