POSTED: Thursday, September 19, 2013 - 12:00pm
UPDATED: Thursday, September 19, 2013 - 12:14pm
AUSTIN, Texas — The Texas Department of Transportation  has long been protective of its beloved anti-littering slogan, "Don't Mess With Texas." Since debuting the now-iconic phrase in 1986, agency officials have regularly pursued legal action to block unauthorized use of the phrase on everything from billboards to belt buckles.
But the cash-strapped agency is now hoping to launch a line of state-sanctioned "Don't Mess With Texas" merchandise and sell the items online and in dozens of state-run safety rest areas and travel information centers. TxDOT already collects licensing fees on the sale of some products using its trademarks.
“Currently, we have a limited licensing program and hope to expand in the coming year,” TxDOT spokeswoman Veronica Beyer said.
TxDOT recently published a request for companies to offer proposals on overseeing a new “promotional product and merchandising program.” The request details the agency’s interest in finding a vendor to potentially manage a broad array of new merchandise featuring TxDOT’s trademarks, including “Don’t Mess With Texas.”
“This is another way for us to generate revenue,” Beyer said. “We're trying to find a vendor that will get us retail-ready because we're not retailers.”
Possible products mentioned in the request include clothing, jewelry, boots, games, kitchen items and a “financial institution affinity card program.” The products should generally convey the state in a positive light, according to the request.
Under the initial proposal, TxDOT would grant a company permission to produce and sell products featuring its trademarks, with the state agency taking a cut of the sales revenue.
Until recently, TxDOT was largely restricted by federal regulations from selling merchandise in state-run rest areas that are on interstate highways, according to state records. A provision in a transportation spending bill that Congress passed last year allows for states to begin selling a limited set of items at the facilities.
Since launching the “Don’t Mess With Texas” anti-litter campaign with a commercial featuring Stevie Ray Vaughan during the 1986 Cotton Bowl, the slogan has taken on a life of it own. It has gained traction around the world as the state's unofficial motto. It has also become a staple of many politicians' campaign speeches. Since 2000, state transportation officials have contacted more than 100 entities about the unauthorized use of the phrase, according to The New York Times.
In April, TxDOT rebooted its anti-litter campaign with a marketing push and newly designed “Don’t Mess with Texas” trash barrels.
TxDOT has struggled for years to maintain and expand its network of highways to keep up with the state’s population growth. Recently, it has faced criticism for converting some rural roads to gravel and proposing that it give up responsibility for certain roads in the state’s largest cites.
During this year’s regular legislative session, lawmakers approved a budget for TxDOT that was several billions of dollars below what agency officials had said they needed to maintain current congestion. In a special session in August, lawmakers approved a measure to divert some oil and gas production tax revenue currently earmarked for the Rainy Day Fund to the state highway fund. If voters approve a related constitutional amendment proposition in 2014, the plan is expected to raise $1.2 billion annually in additional revenue for TxDOT.