Friday, February 22, 2008

Perry backs phony accounting 'crisis' numbers rather than making the case for his controversial polices with the people of Texas.

TxDOT's accounting tainting public trust


San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2008

Faced with a steady barrage of criticism about the toll roads it is building and the freeways it isn't building, the Texas Department of Transportation has had a pat reply: Show us the money.

According to TxDOT's bookkeeping, there simply aren't enough public transportation dollars — and not enough dedicated dollars left after legislative diversions for non-transportation purposes — to build and maintain the state's highway infrastructure. According to agency projections, TxDOT faces a $3.6 billion shortfall by 2015.

Hemorrhaging that kind of red ink and with the Legislature putting the brakes on toll road expansion during the last session, TxDOT said it had to cut back on new construction. In all, $2 billion in projects were scrubbed from the current fiscal year.

But some lawmakers suspected the projected shortfall was simply a ploy to propel the toll issue. And they've come back in recent weeks to make a demand of TxDOT: Show us your books.

What they've found is disconcerting.

TxDOT wasn't including on its balance sheet as much as $8 billion in voter-approved bonds. There's a plausible explanation for $5 billion of those bonds. Voters only approved them in November.

But the other $3 billion in highway fund bonds were already in the pipeline. So why would TxDOT feel compelled to slash $2 billion in road projects?

As Express-News staff writers Patrick Driscoll and Peggy Fikac reported, Gov. Rick Perry advised the agency not to issue the bonds. Spokesman Robert Black told the newspaper, "It is yet another short-term fix that will only put us into debt further because it is building something today we'll have to pay for tomorrow."

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Speaker Tom Craddick have requested that the state auditor review TxDOT's accounting procedures, forecasting and reporting. A thorough audit may restore public confiden making his ce in the agency's numbers.

It will take a lot more than that, however, to restore public trust in the political leadership willing to fudge numbers that create an accounting crisis rather than making its case for controversial polices with the people of Texas.

© 2008 San Antonio Express-News:

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