11/30/2008Texas Spends $10 Million a Year Promoting Toll Roads
Texas Department of Transportation has 130 employees dedicated to lobbying and spin.
The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) spends more than $10 million a year on a governmental and public affairs operation which rivals in size that used by many federal agencies. Using documents obtained under the freedom of information act, the San Antonio Express News found 63 headquarters employees were assigned to the Government and Public Affairs division at an annual cost of $6.5 million. Another 67 were assigned media relations duties at the headquarters and in regional offices at a cost of $4 million per year.
"I see great value in having communicators," state Representative Lois Kolkhorst told the Express News. "My problem has been how they have communicated -- how badly they have botched a message where you have protesters on the lawn of not only the Capitol but all across the state of Texas."
The employee count does not include private contractors hired as lobbyists to wine and dine lawmakers in the hopes of landing earmarks, a controversial tactic that spawned at least one lawsuit. These lobbying and public relations efforts have also been primarily directed toward convincing lawmakers and the public to accept toll roads as inevitable.
Last year, the agency delivered to Congress a report entitled "Forward Momentum" which was designed to convince federal officials to hand TxDOT the authority to toll existing freeways (view report). Massive public protest, in particular against the Trans-Texas Corridor tolling project, forced TxDOT to change tactics in May and appear to be less driven to tolling as the sole solution of all transportation problems.