February 03, 2007
TxDOT's lobby money

One unnecessary state lobbying contract down, one to go.

The dispute between Democrats and Texas Gov. Rick Perry over the hiring of Washington lobbyists for the state appeared to have ended last month when the governor canceled the controversial contracts.

But Democrats' anger has returned with their discovery that the Texas Department of Transportation has engaged its own lobbyists to advance the agency's interests in Washington.

TxDOT will pay more than $1.5 million in lobbying fees during a 13-month period that began in December.

The contracts, at $117,692 a month, are almost five times the cost of those that Republican Perry canceled in January with two well-connected Republican firms after an outcry in last year's campaign from Democrats and gubernatorial rival Carole Keeton Strayhorn, a Republican who ran as an independent.

"Obviously, that's ridiculous that they would pay $1.5 million for five lobbyists in Washington, D.C.," state Rep. Jim Dunnam, D-Waco, said Thursday. "It just really is an outrage."

Just for a little perspective here, that kind of money could buy you twenty METRO bloggers.

The Department of Transportation defends the contracts as necessary to the state's years-long campaign to bring back more of the gasoline taxes paid by Texas motorists into the federal Highway Trust Fund. The state gets 92 cents for every dollar it pays into the trust fund while some other states get well more than they contribute.

"Our position is: Until we receive all the gas tax funds that Texans send to Washington we are going to need to have every voice we can get to help us," said TxDOT spokesman Randall Dillard. The department has "not hidden the fact that we use federal consultants."

Funny, but I seem to recall that being a campaign issue of Barbara Radnofsky's.

[Radnofsky] chided Hutchison for her support of a $286 billion transportation bill the Senate and House approved in July, saying the legislation gave away far too much of Texas' federal gas tax dollars to other states.

Hutchison's campaign manager, Matt Matthews, countered that Texas has increased its return over her two terms. Texas received only 76 cents back on each dollar of gas tax in 1993, Matthews said, but "because of her work and this legislation" it's now getting back nearly 92 cents.

So does this mean TxDOT is blaming Kay Bailey Hutchison for this problem?

Back to the story:

Democrats on Capitol Hill said, however, they learned of the existence of the TxDOT lobbying contracts only last week when two of the lobbyists -- former Texas Land Commissioner Garry Mauro and William K. Moore of the lobbying firm ViaNovo -- visited their offices.

The pair's longstanding Democratic ties did not mollify Texas Democrats who were dispatched by voters to Washington to represent the state's interests and who contend it's a waste of taxpayer money to hire lobbying firms.

"I like Garry Mauro, but I don't need Garry Mauro to talk to me about Texas transportation issues," said U.S. Rep. Gene Green, D-Houston.

Amen to that, and good for Gene Green for putting it that way. Let the other guys practice crony politics. We can do better than that.

Mauro lost the 1998 gubernatorial race to George W. Bush, and Moore was for years a Democratic congressional aide and campaign strategist.

He's also, as Eye on Williamson reminds us, a shill for the Trans Texas Corridor.

Bottom line: This is a waste of money. We have bigger spending priorities. Let's tear this contract up.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on February 03, 2007 to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles