Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Texas House: Still mud wrestling in their HB 3588 money pit (6 years and 3 sessions later)


TxDOT bill would dump five-member transportation commission

Proposal would create legislative oversight committee and state motor vehicle agency.


By Ben Wear
Austin American-Statesman
Copyriht 2009

The Legislature, which spent the 2007 session wrestling a feisty Texas Department of Transportation to the ground, on Tuesday began righting the chastened agency.

The 173-page vehicle for that effort is House Bill 300, which would continue TxDOT under the sunset law requiring state agencies to justify their existence every 12 years. The Texas Sunset Advisory Commission, led by state Rep. Carl Isett, R-Lubbock, spent the time between sessions studying the agency and formulating proposed changes. HB 300, the fruit of that effort, came before the House Transportation Committee on Tuesday for its first hearing.

The committee, likely to tinker with complex legislation, did not act on it Tuesday.

The bill's most striking proposal is the suggested abolition of the five-member Texas Transportation Commission — to be replaced by a single commissioner who, like the current panel, would be appointed by the governor. However, even Isett, the bill's sponsor, opposes that proposal.

Having one commissioner, which would end monthly meetings where TxDOT policies are discussed and voted on publicly, seems to run counter to widespread calls for more openness and accountability.

Isett said his bill represents the commission's consensus rather than his position.

The Transportation Committee heard four other bills Tuesday that also would obliterate the Transportation Commission. Several contemplate a single elected transportation commissioner, similar to the state's land and agriculture commissioners. One bill would create a 15-member commission, with 14 members elected by geographic districts around the state and the other elected statewide.
HB 300 would also:
  • Create a legislative oversight committee made up of six lawmakers, including the leaders of the House and Senate transportation committees. The oversight committee, among other duties, would hire a consulting firm to analyze TxDOT's structure and management and make recommendations.
  • Bring TxDOT up for sunset review again in four years.
  • Require TxDOT to create a "comprehensive, transparent and easily understandable" system to track the planning and execution of road projects. Legislators and the public have said the processes are impossible for civilians to follow.
  • Move vehicle titling, vehicle registration and oversight of trucking to a new Texas Department of Motor Vehicles.
  • Strengthen prohibitions in law against TxDOT lobbying the Legislature or the public on policy. The bill would make it a firing offense for any TxDOT employee to lobby on the state level. Entreaties to Congress for more money would remain OK.
  • Establish a rail division in TxDOT to expand the agency's now-limited focus on freight rail and passenger rail.; 445-3698

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