Wednesday, January 12, 2011

"After today’s meeting, the entire Sunset process is rightly called a joke."

Sunset Commission goes soft on TxDOT


Terri Hall
Copyright 2011

Today the Sunset Advisory Commission, a group of lawmakers tasked with reviewing state agencies for inefficiencies, waste, and abuse of taxpayer money, went decidedly soft on the Texas Department of Transportation under the leadership of Senator Glenn Hegar.

Hegar, once a critic of TxDOT and particularly of the Governor’s choice of installing his former Chief of Staff, Deirdre Delisi, to head the Transportation Commission, whom Hegar’s colleague, John Carona, called a “political hack,” actually chastised fellow lawmaker Rep. Linda Harper-Brown for wanting to extend discussion of how best to implement reforms at TxDOT.

My how things change in just two years! Hegar who in the last round of the Sunset review of TxDOT asked why someone wasn’t fired for its $1.1 billion “accounting error,” is now the Chair of the Commission and is suddenly all love and kisses for the agency who is still planning on building some version of the Trans Texas Corridor TTC-69 through his district.

For the last four years, the Sunset Commission has been inundated with scathing comments from an angry public about TxDOT jamming toll roads and the Trans Texas Corridor down Texans’ throats. The Sunset Staff issued a blistering report stating that transportation cannot move forward in our state until the public’s trust is restored.

One of the public’s clarion calls is for accountability through ELECTED leadership to head TxDOT. Instead of doing what the PEOPLE want, the Commission continues to vote for a single appointed commissioner to replace the current five appointees. A single appointee will be no more accountable to the taxpayers than the current five.

Perry’s extremely unpopular toll road policies are protected by and implemented through his pay-to-play appointees to the Transportation Commission, most of whom have no experience in transportation. It’s been well-documented that Perry’s campaign donors get plumb political appointments to various commissions. The system is broken and costing taxpayers dearly, yet the Republican majority has failed to fight the Governor on transportation, and they seem to lack the spine necessary to implement true reforms that will finally get transportation policy on the right footing.

After today’s meeting, the entire Sunset process is rightly called a joke. Not only did they vote to keep appointees and bureaucrats in charge of TxDOT, they voted against Sen. Robert Nichols’ proposed limitations on design build contracts that will surely come back and bite lawmakers as he predicted.

Design build contracts eliminate low-bid contracting and give this already out of control agency the ability to hand out contracts to whomever they wish, perhaps doling out contracts to the Governor’s pet campaign contributors instead of to the contractor who can do it at the lowest cost to the taxpayer.

So the Sunset process took a highly unimpressive turn for the worse today. So for the taxpayers, there’s lots of work yet to be done in order to get fundamental reform at TxDOT, such as elected leadership or no deal on ANY new funding...and I mean ANY new funding. Both Senator Steve Ogden and Senator Tommy Williams have signaled their willingness to give TxDOT more funding (Ogden through more borrowing, Williams through much higher car registration fees).

But when an agency commits a $1.1 billion dollar “accounting error” with impunity, when its financial statements cannot even be verified, when an audit revealed they have no regard for saving the taxpayers money by more efficiently managing projects, when the audit also shows they never give unfavorable employee reviews even when its warranted, when they have unlicensed personnel that are required to be fully licensed, when they’ve illegally hired registered lobbyists using our taxpayer money to lobby for higher taxes, which are all among the long list of indiscretions at TxDOT, and when lawmakers thumb their noses at the reforms the public asks for, there’s NO WAY the taxpayers will EVER agree to giving TxDOT more of our hard-earned money.

So rather than strike a conciliatory tone with the grassroots, the Sunset Commission and lawmakers in general, have continued “business as usual” attitudes, despite the taxpayer revolt that continues to swirl around them. The more they ignore the will of the people, the more engaged and committed to change the people become. These “representatives” must be taught they rule by the “consent of the governed,” since it’s been a foreign concept to them due to years of apathy and corrupt special interest politics ruling the day. Dig in, it looks to be one rancorous session, but victory can be won!


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