State to study TxDOT's illegal use of taxpayer money to push toll roads

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State Affairs to study TxDOT ad campaign
Houston Chronicle
By Janet Elliot
November 29, 2007

Texas Department of Transportation officials may need running shoes to keep up with all the interim committee probes.

Yesterday, Speaker Craddick assigned House Appropriations to analyze the agency’s finances going back five years. Today, he told State Affairs to “study the issue of using state funds to advertise government programs and services to discern if taxpayer dollars are being spent appropriately.” He also wants the committee to consider legislation that will ensure that dollars are spent to benefit, not coerce, the public.

TxDOT has been under fire for a multimillion-dollar ad campaign on toll roads and the Trans-Texas Corridor. The agency has defended the $7 million to $9 million that it’s spending on the Keep Texas Moving campaign as responding to demands from lawmakers and the public for more information.

The agency can expect tough questioning from the vice chairman of State Affairs, Rep. Ken Paxton, R-McKinney. He asked Craddick for a formal examination of how state agencies spend media and advertising dollars.

“I appreciate Speaker Craddick’s decision to accept my request for an interim charge study to examine the issue of using state funds to advertise government programs and services to discern if taxpayer dollars are being spent appropriately,” Paxton said in an email today. “While it may be appropriate, at times, for government agencies to educate citizens through public service announcements, I maintain that government should not ever spend the money raised from taxpayers to lobby the public.”

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Lawmakers to study TxDOT toll road ads
Janet Elliott
12/02/2007
Express-News
Austin Bureau

AUSTIN — A multimillion-dollar ad campaign on toll roads and the Trans-Texas Corridor will be under scrutiny next year by lawmakers who want to know whether the effort is designed to benefit or coerce the public.
The issue was added to a list of topics that the House State Affairs Committee will study leading up to the 2009 legislative session. Speaker Tom Craddick made the assignments last week.

In making the lengthy “interim charges,” Craddick focused on some controversial bills that failed to pass during this year’s session. They include outlawing so-called “sanctuary cities” for illegal immigrants and requiring voters to show photo IDs.

The Texas Department of Transportation, which is spending $7 million to $9 million on the Keep Texas Moving advertising efforts, also will have to answer to the Appropriations Committee about its current financial condition.

Agency leaders said in early November that a looming budget deficit — at least $1.8 billion by fiscal year 2012 — would force them to cut hundreds of millions of dollars from future road projects.

Craddick wants House budget writers to review transportation spending over the past five years, as well as examine alternative sources of revenue to sustain future transportation needs.

TxDOT spokesman Randall Dillard welcomed the review, saying it is “an excellent opportunity to fully explore the health of transportation finance in Texas.”

State Affairs Vice Chairman Ken Paxton, R-McKinney, had asked Craddick, R-Midland, for the formal review of advertising spending by all state agencies.

“While it may be appropriate, at times, for government agencies to educate citizens through public service announcements, I maintain that government should not ever spend the money raised from taxpayers to lobby the public,” Paxton said Thursday.

Transportation officials have said the campaign is a response to demands from lawmakers and the public for more information about why privately financed toll roads are necessary to relieve congestion…”

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