TXDOT Lobbying

Last month, Governor Rick Perry cancelled contracts the state had established with two lobbying firms in Washington, DC. The contracts had drawn strong criticism from Texas Democrats because of the firms' close ties to Republicans and former House Speaker Tom DeLay. Recently it was found that the Texas Transportation Department has similar contracts with lobbyists, and some Houston lawmakers aren't happy about the arrangement. From Washington, Charles Davis reports.

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Houston Democratic Congressman Gene Green, was one of the leading critics of the state government's contracts with lobbying firms tied to Tom DeLay. And while he was happy Governor Perry cancelled those contracts, he says he was upset to learn that the Texas Transportation Department is also paying lobbyists in Washington.

"We did not know that TxDOT, or the Department of Transportation in Texas, also had this similar arrangement that the Governor had with the Texas Federal Relations Office. When he cancelled the Federal Relations contract, it seemed like it would go without saying that the Texas Department of Transportation should do the same thing."

TxDOT pays almost $1 million dollars a year to Washington lobbying firms. But Green doesn't think they'll have much influence convincing lawmakers from other states to send more money to Texas. He thinks the funds would be better spent building highways and roads in the state.

"I think if you're lobbying for state government, lobbying members of Congress from Texas... our job is to represent Texas, whether it's my district or somebody else's district, if it's for Texas we're supposed to do it. They don't need to pay millions of dollars in lobbying contracts to lobby members of Congress."

TxDOT believes the lobbyists will help the state get a better return on the money it sends to Washington. Currently, Texas receives only 92 cents for every dollar it sends in gasoline taxes. But Republican Congressman Ted Poe agrees with Green, and says that's the job of the congressional delegation.

"I don't think any state government needs lobbyists in Washington, that's what their members of Congress are for."

Poe thinks that instead of paying lobbyists, state agencies would be better off talking directly to their representatives in Washington. But Randall Dillard, a spokesman for TxDOT, says the Texas delegation needs all the help they can get.

"The fight for transportation funding is pretty vicious. There are states that are happy to take money that Texas sends to Washington and use that money to build transportation projects in their state while we have unfunded needs that go on in Texas."

Asked to comment on the controversy, the Governor's Press Secretary, Robert Black, said if members of Congress had been doing their job, then state agencies wouldn't need to pay lobbyists. Currently, efforts are underway to look at the details of TxDOT's lobbying contracts and to examine how they came about.

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