"My concern is that Texas agencies, including TxDOT (the Texas Department of Transportation), have exceeded the proper role of state government and, potentially, their legal authority provided by state law," Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, said in a letter this week asking Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst to assign a Senate committee to study the matter. His request followed one by Rep. Ken Paxton, R-McKinney, to House Speaker Tom Craddick.
"We (lawmakers) are potentially curtailing their (TxDOT's) ability to do tollways and maybe push forward the Trans-Texas Corridor," Paxton said. "It appears that now they are trying to lobby the public to be favorable towards these particular issues, and I'm not sure that's a really good use of taxpayer money."
TxDOT has said the Keep Texas Moving campaign is within its legal authority and represents a response to demands from lawmakers and the public for more information.
"We will not solve the transportation challenges facing Texas without public involvement and public input," said agency spokesman Randall Dillard.
Paxton said when he learned of the TxDOT campaign, estimated to cost $7 million to $9 million in highway funds, "I thought, 'Wow, I wonder how many other agencies are doing this, and how much of our taxpayer money is being spent on it?' "
The comptroller's records showed all state agencies together spent $97.8 million in state and federal funds in fiscal year 2006 and $93.3 million in fiscal year 2007 in those three categories pertinent to marketing -- advertising, promotional items and publications.
Such expenditures aren't precise reflections of promotional efforts, however. The advertising category, for example, includes such items as job ads and legal notices. At the same time, other spending on promotional campaigns may be overlooked if agencies code it accurately, but broadly as "professional services" rather than ads.