Tuesday, July 15, 2008 – Some very damaging footage of TxDOT’s top brass under oath was presented to the Sunset Advisory Commission at its hearing on the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) today (view here or go to www.TruthBeTolled.com to view). As part of TURF’s lawsuit against TxDOT to stop its illegal lobbying and ad campaign called Keep Texas Moving to promote toll roads and the Trans Texas Corridor in violation of Texas Government Code Chapter 556, several top officials of TxDOT were deposed under oath where they perjured themselves.
TURF gave each member of the Commission a DVD of a new documentary film, Truth Be Tolled TURF Special Edition, made about TxDOT’s Keep Texas Moving campaign that shows portions of legal depositions of TxDOT Executive Director Amadeo Saenz, Director of Government and Public Affairs Division Coby Chase, and Transportation Commissioner Ted Houghton.
TURF showed the Sunset Advisory Commission that TxDOT has made an unprecedented push to win public approval for its controversial toll road and Trans Texas Corridor project, using public money, which is not only illegal, it unfairly stacks the deck against citizens.
Houghton swore under oath that TxDOT had not hired registered lobbyists when these invoices show they have (as well as Houghton’s own admission during a Town Hall Meeting in Hempstead). State law prohibits state agencies from hiring lobbyists and prohibits them from using public money for a political purpose. State agencies are to implement policy, not shape it. Video clips from the Town Hall meeting in Hempstead, January 22, also show Houghton trying to sway the crowd in favor of the Trans Texas Corridor while under oath he was adamant that TxDOT and he had not done so.
PULL ANY ADVOCACY CAMPAIGNS FROM TXDOT
Keep Texas Moving advocates the Trans Texas Corridor, privatization of infrastructure, and tolling. The information in this campaign only extols the benefits of tolling and privatization (and never includes criticisms).
The stated goal of the campaign found in TxDOT documents is:
"To shift perception among those who are opposed to or on the fence about the TTC" and to change the political environment to “make it less hostile to the TTC" and to promote the “benefits of TTC…and help inoculate it from negative attacks" as well as “increase support of TxDOT programs."
“This is no public information campaign. It’s a taxpayer-funded political ad campaign, which is not only illegal, but it also abuses the taxpayers in order to line TxDOT’s pockets with the MOST EXPENSIVE transportation tax,” says Terri Hall, TURF Founder who testified before the Sunset Commission.
TxDOT hired 5 registered lobbyists to the tune of $100,000/month to directly lobby Congress and other elected officials for more CDAs, the TTC, and tolling. Saenz, Chase, and Houghton all claimed ignorance of the law under oath, but Chapter 556.009 says all state officers and employees are given the law prior to taking a position with the State and a record of their acknowledgment of receipt is to be kept in writing.
“So any claim of ignorance of the law by the top brass is no get out jail free card,” Hall said.
This document shows TxDOT targeted County Judges in the path of the TTC-69. Houghton testified in the TURF lawsuit that lobbyist Gary Bushell is who arranged Houghton’s meetings with the County Judges. County Judges are key in appointing an arbitration committee between landowners and the State in eminent domain cases. So TxDOT’s lobbying effort was clearly to give the State an advantage in eminent domain proceedings for the Trans Texas Corridor.
Despite the TURF lawsuit and the suspension of hiring outside lobbyists, TxDOT recently hired an in-house lobbyist, Rebecca Reyes, to lobby Democrats in Congress through TxDOT’s Washington office and joined a lobby group named Transportation Transformation, or T2, with 4 other DOTs and private investors, like Goldman Sachs, to lobby Congress for more CDAs.
TxDOT also conducted push polls seeking to gain public approval of the TTC, which included asking overtly political questions like political party affiliation and if the respondent voted straight ticket in the last election.
In another document, it states TxDOT’s messages in the ad campaign would promote tolling over gas taxes with statements like, “tolls are better than gas taxes to fund roads.”
“The Sunset Commission needs to strongly recommend the repeal of Section 228.004 from the transportation code and remove from TxDOT any ability to promote toll roads. They’ve become an arm of private industry that cannot be trusted to expend funds in a way that protects the public interest,” insisted Hall.
END FREEWAY TO TOLLWAY CONVERSIONS
TURF and many of its supporters addressed the reforms the citizens demand in order to restore trust in the agency, anywhere from replacing the unelected 5 member Transportation Commission with a single ELECTED commissioner to fixing how decisions to toll roads are made (and giving the public real veto power), to getting an accurate figure of road funding needs independently of TxDOT, as well as ending freeway to tollway conversions.
The complete conversion of US 281 from a freeway, already built and open to traffic for decades, to a toll road shocked the Commission and was a central part of the hearing. Representative Linda Harper-Brown questioned TxDOT’s perversion of a state law, HB 2702, that prohibits conversions without a public vote and requires them to leave as many non-toll lanes that exist before adding toll lanes. But TxDOT is tolling every single express lane (or main lane) on US 281 and downgrading the non-toll lanes to access roads with slower speed limits and permanent stop lights, an unfair replacement say critics.
Even worse, the 281 improvements have been funded with gas taxes starting in 2003 ($100 million plan total), but it was turned into a toll road simply to generate revenue for other area projects, clearly a discriminatory, targeted tax. Now as a toll road, the pricetag has ballooned to a whopping $1.3 billion!
“With highway robbery of this scale, it’s no wonder the supposed funding gap for future roads swelled to $86 billion. This is insane! Rep. Joe Pickett once stated we can build 4 freeways for the price of one toll road. In the case of US 281, we can build 10 freeways for the price of one toll project!” notes an outraged Hall.
TURF also delivered disks of all the evidence in their lawsuit to the Travis County District Attorney’s office to press them to file criminal charges against guilty parties.
“Texans are tired of one legal standard for them and another for those in power. The Truth Be Tolled TURF Special Edition DVD (www.TruthBeTolled.com) is enough evidence to show TxDOT is guilty of lying under oath and prosecuting an illegal ad and lobbying campaign on the taxpayers’ dime. Blood’s in the water now, and the sharks are circling. The people demand justice,” Hall commented.