Under Scrutiny as FY '09 Kicks Off
By Richard Williamson, The Bond Buyer
DALLAS - The Texas Department of Transportation begins its fiscal year this week with new leadership, a record $8.3 billion budget, and $1.5 billion of newly mandated bonds amid a challenging political environment.
With another tough legislative session coming in four months, the department must justify its existence in the Sunset review process after taking sharp criticism in a special audit for a $1.1 billion accounting error.
The Sunset Review Commission, a 12-member legislative body that reviews the policies and programs of more than 150 government agencies every 12 years, may have already set up a power struggle between Gov. Rick Perry and the Legislature over TxDOT's direction.
Under its current structure, TxDOT is supervised by the Texas Transportation Commission, a five-member board appointed by the governor. The current TTC chairwoman, Deirdre Delisi, is Perry's former chief of staff, replacing the late Ric Williamson who shared Perry's enthusiasm for privately financed toll roads and the mammoth Trans Texas Corridor.
If the Sunset Review Commission's report is adopted, the TTC board would be replaced by a single commissioner appointed for two years instead of the current six-year terms for board members. The Sunset report also recommends another review in four years instead of the standard 12 years to reconsider whether TxDOT should continue to exist.
"The Sunset review of the Texas Department of Transportation occurred against a backdrop of distrust and frustration with the department and the demand for more transparency, accountability, and responsiveness," the report stated. "Many expressed concerns that TxDOT was 'out of control,' advancing its own agenda against objections of both the Legislature and the public."
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Another power struggle between Gov. Rick Perry and the Legislature over TxDOT's direction is expected