A grassroots anti-toll road activist group yesterday filed suit to block the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) from lobbying on behalf of toll roads. Texans United for Reform and Freedom (TURF) petitioned the Travis County District Court for a temporary restraining order that would prohibit the transportation agency from expending public funds on its "Keep Texas Moving" advertising blitz.
"Unlike purely educational public relations efforts such as the 'Don't Mess With Texas' campaign, the Keep Texas Moving campaign is a one-sided attempt to advocate one political point of view on a highly controversial matter," TURF founder Terri Hall wrote in her filing. "Absolutely no non-toll related solutions to the transportation needs of Texas are presented in the Keep Texas Moving campaign... As such, the Keep Texas Moving campaign and the lobbying campaign constitute state agency-sponsored political advocacy that is prohibited by sections 556.001 et seq. of the Texas Government Code."
Texas law allows government agencies to provide information to the public and to respond to requests for information and analysis, but it states that agencies, "may not use appropriated money to attempt to influence the passage or defeat of a legislative measure." All state employees must sign a document stating that they have read and understood this provision of law.
The state attorney general's office, representing TxDOT, postponed a hearing on the case until Monday. The state argues that because visiting Judge Bill Bender resides within the path of the proposed Trans Texas Corridor toll road, he should not be allowed to hear the case. Hall's team of lawyers are prepared to fight any of the state's procedural tactics.
"We knew they'd try this and we'll combat it so that this case is heard and TxDOT is forced to comply with the law," Hall said. "Between TxDOT's PR campaign, report to Congress asking that all limitations on tolling be lifted including buying back existing interstates, and Chairman Ric Williamson's recent trip to D.C. lobbying for the same, it's clear they've not only crossed the line into illegal lobbying, but they leaped over it."
Other related sources:
A Texas group opposed to toll roads goes to court (590 KLBJ)
Anti-Toll Road Activist Sues State Over Ad Campaign (KXAN)
Toll road foe sues over TxDOT ad campaign (MySA.com)
TxDOT threatened with injunction (more details here)