Friday, February 08, 2008

Misfeasance vs. Malfeasance: TxDOT and Texas Senators square off again

Change of Course

February 7, 2008

The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2008

What's a billion dollars between friends?

First of all, the Legislature and the transportation department aren't to be confused for friends. And second, TxDOT's billion-dollar miscalculation in road-building funds is more than a little fuzzy math.

It's simply awful fiscal management and – what's more important – a chance for the department's critics in the Legislature to draw into question TxDOT's fundamental direction.

The department needs to build bridges to lawmakers, and fast.

TxDOT and the Legislature developed a hate-hate relationship in recent years, as highway funds began to dry up and the department turned increasingly to toll roads and privatization to make up the difference. The lead pioneer was Transportation Commission Chairman Ric Williamson, who died Dec. 30. He relished the head-butting with lawmakers and seemed amused at times that they were getting barbecued by constituents over gridlock and toll roads, with no relief in sight.

A showdown was set for Tuesday – two Senate committees vs. TxDOT. Mr. Williamson's former colleagues had to swallow hard and admit that double-counting of revenue caused a $1 billion falloff in road funds. Many lawmakers would have staked their SUVs that TxDOT had ginned up a revenue shortfall to help the case for toll roads ... except that the agency pleaded guilty to incompetence. Misfeasance, not malfeasance.

Not everyone is satisfied, however. Nor should they be. TXDOT is still tightening the spigot on money for new road-building, and lawmakers are hearing a clamor to raise the gas tax to stay abreast of construction needs. There's also no understanding between lawmakers and the department over how much more money the state can legally – or should prudently – borrow for roads.

TxDOT has been getting heat from lawmakers for the agency's multimillion-dollar public awareness campaign to sell its transportation approach, "Keep Texas Moving."

It's even more important now to get good, useful information to a legitimately more skeptical bunch, state lawmakers. It's important for TxDOT to eliminate obstacles to lawmakers' understanding of the funding predicament. Failure means the public wastes more time and money idling needlessly in traffic.

© 2008 Dallas Morning News:

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