La Satira News Service
When Joe and Melissa Pilaster pulled into the Rest Area and Welcome Center on Interstate 60 last week, they expected to find the regular items associated with welcome centers across the country: rest rooms, lots of brochures for area attractions, maybe a few freebies, and perhaps a couple of vending machines for those feeling a bit peckish.
What they didn’t expect was to find stacks and stacks of cookies for sale at $4.00 per box.
“We always make it a point to support the Girl Scouts Cookie Sales,” Melissa Pilaster said. “But we looked around and didn’t see any Girl Scouts. Then we looked closer and noticed they weren’t really Girl Scout cookies.” Instead of sporting familiar names like “Thin Mints” and “Tagalongs,” the displays included names like “Minty Merge,” “Rocky Roadbed,” and “Orange Cones.”
The Pilasters have discovered the latest trend in creative financing by state departments of transportation (DOTs) across the country. Weary of attempting to cajole additional revenue from Congress and their respective state legislatures, and constrained by the rising costs of planning for and deploying infrastructure improvements, DOTs are increasingly looking to come up with new sources of funding.
“It is a departure from past policy,” says Bertram Rousillon, the head of the DOT’s creative fundraising office. “But when you keep trying the same things and they don’t work, it’s time to try something new. Schools and other organizations use these types of programs to raise millions of dollars every year, and nobody seems to mind paying unseemly prices for things they probably wouldn’t have bought otherwise. And with the reputation that government has for overpaying for things–deserved or not–it seemed like a logical synergy.”
The cookies are manufactured by the Motivational Cookie Company under a contract with the DOT. Rousillon is also working on a contract with fundraising merchandise suppliers Doodads R We to place brochures and order forms in rest stops, as well as in the lobbies of Department of Motor Vehicle offices.
Still, the new approach is not without its limitations. “Do you know how many boxes of Choc-o-mints we have to sell to resurface one mile of highway?” says Rousillon, with a look in his eye that strongly resembles desperation.
DOT’s new approach has also incurred the wrath of school groups and other traditional charities. The state Organization of School Associations has hired a lobbyist to pursue legislation banning the initiative. “This is clearly a demarcation issue,” says Malcolm Donalbain, the lobbyist. “The sale of overpriced candy, doodads, and knick-knacks has long been the purview of my clients. With the state pushing in on their territory like this, how are their kids supposed to raise funds for their organizations? Are they supposed to go back to washing cars and mowing lawns, or what?”
DOT head Rousillon is so far unrepentant. “It’s a tough economy for all of us,” he says. “Transportation is vital for our state’s economic development, and we need to deploy all the resources we can to support it.”
The Pilasters, and others we spoke to at the welcome center, seem resigned to the trend. “I suppose it’s the new reality,” says Mrs. Pilaster. “That’s the way the cookie crumbles.”
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