"Many legislators, including myself, have lost confidence that TxDOT and its past policies are working in the best interests of Texas taxpayers."
Sen. Glenn Hegar, District 18
On Wednesday, Texas Gov. Rick Perry announced he had appointed Deirdre Delisi, his former Chief of Staff, as the new Chairman of the Texas Transportation Commission, which oversees the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT).
As of today, I will not vote to confirm her appointment in the next Legislative session.
Ask almost any Texan, especially those who have the need to travel frequently on US Interstate Highway 35, about our Texas transportation system and they will tell you that many of our roads have extreme congestion, while other construction projects have experienced significant cost overruns.
Last year, TxDOT notified the public that they had experienced a billion dollar accounting error, spent millions of dollars in an effort to persuade Texans that we need to pursue the proposed Tran-Texas Corridor even though the Legislature had just passed a two-year moratorium on public private agreements.
Next legislative session will be a critical time as we work to ensure that TxDOT can once again gain the trust of Texans and to overcome the low opinion of what was once the most respected highway department in the nation.
In the Legislature, relations with TxDOT are also at an all-time low. Lawmakers' questions and concerns about the Trans-Texas Corridor, the agency's policies, funding schemes, budget, and construction priorities have oftentimes been met with contempt and disdain by TxDOT officials. The result is that many legislators, including myself, have lost confidence that TxDOT and its past policies are working in the best interests of Texas taxpayers.
That is why I had high hopes that Gov. Perry would use the vacancy created by the untimely passing of former Transportation Chair Ric Williamson as an opportunity to appoint someone to lead the commission who would work to change the status quo, reach out to lawmakers, and work cooperatively with the Legislature to address the concerns of the citizens we represent.
I view Ms. Delisi's appointment as a squandered opportunity.
It appears that rather than choose someone to head the commission who will reach out to lawmakers and work cooperatively with legislators, the governor instead has chosen a political "yes man" with little or no practical experience involving transportation issues other than carrying out the Governor's myopic vision that relies solely on building more toll roads and selling our highway infrastructure to the highest bidder, usually a foreign owned company.
I currently serve as the Vice Chairman of the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission. In 1977, the Legislature created the Commission to identify and eliminate waste, duplication, and inefficiency in government agencies. The 12-member Commission is a legislative body that reviews the policies and programs of more than 150 government agencies every 12 years. The Commission questions the need for each agency, looks for potential duplication of other public services or programs, and considers new and innovative changes to improve each agency's operations and activities. Currently, the Texas Department of Transportation is undergoing its 12-year Sunset review.
I also serve as a member of the Senate Nominations Committee, the committee that will have to vote to confirm Ms. Delisi's appointment when the Legislature reconvenes in January 2009.
One might expect that the Governor and Ms. Delisi would have contacted all members of these key committees to discuss their plans to reform TxDOT in the Sunset process and to ask for our vote in the upcoming Nomination process. Unfortunately, like most of my colleagues, I learned about the appointment from the news media.
The Governor can certainly appoint anyone whom he sees fit, but as a state senator who takes his constitutional "advise and consent" responsibilities seriously, I would have hoped Gov. Perry would have sought out the advice of legislators before asking for our consent at this critical juncture in Texas history.
The Texas Department of Transportation's vision statement says that the agency will work to: "Promote a higher quality of life through partnerships with the citizens of Texas and all branches of government by being receptive, responsible and cooperative."
The Governor's and Ms. Delisi's recent actions with regard to this appointment are certainly not in keeping with that vision statement, but instead reflect a vision of non-cooperation and non-responsiveness to both lawmakers and the constituents they serve.
I certainly hope that Ms. Delisi will prove me wrong. Likewise, I hope that between now and her Senate confirmation hearing next January she will attempt to change my perception that she will not be an agent of the status quo at TxDOT. If so, she may still have an opportunity to earn both my confidence and my vote, and the taxpayers of our state and those who use and depend on our vast transportation system will be well served.
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