Tuesday, February 05, 2008

"Today's hearing will likely lead to an audit."

Senate Puts Texas Department of Transportation On The Hot Seat

Feb 5, 2008

Copyright 2008

A panel of Senators, including Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin), offered some scathing criticism to the leaders of the Texas Department of Transportation at the Capitol on Tuesday, raising questions that are likely to lead to an outside audit of the agency's finances.

Senators from both the Senate Finance Committee and Senate Transportation and Homeland Security were on hand to quiz agency leaders regarding the agency's claims it had run out of money and needed to halt construction of various road projects across the state. Today's hearing will likely lead to an audit of finances from the State Auditor's Office, which the new Executive Director Amadeo Saenz said he would welcome.

TxDOT is not running out of money, at least not right now. Short term, the agency's balance sheet looks good. Long term, though, agency leaders say that the ffunding deficit begins to grow. If this year's projects go out for construction, the agency could be looking at a shortfall that grows to $3.6 billion by 2015.

Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) was among the lawmakers who scolded TxDOT for failing to inform the Legislature of potential federal funding shortfalls before the legislative session ended. She made the point that the Legislature had provided TxDOT with more, not less, funding as it into the next biennium.

"I have to tell you that the impression out there is that, really, this is a ploy to put pressure on us to go back to the toll road plan, and that's just the political reality of it," Zaffirini said. "There are many people, myself included, that feel the pressure to turn the toll roads. That's the agency agenda, which is in contrast to the agenda of many of the members."

Senate leaders told TxDOT leaders they wanted the agency to be more aggressive with using bond funding. They also want the agency to defer maintenance rather than transfer dollars from critical project categories to maintenance.

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