TxDOT's Continuing Troubles

The simple fact: As Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, keeps trying to get people to notice, Texas runs out of cash for new transportation projects in 2012. The obvious solution: Pretty much every politician accepts that the current gas tax is ridiculously low and needs to be raised and/or index-linked to inflation.

The sad truth: No one seems able or willing to expend the political collateral to get that "tax bill" done. What has emerged instead is Senate Bill 855, the local transport funding bill by Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas. Part of what it does is give a group of 19 counties the ability to raise cash through a limited toolbox of taxes and registration fees; the rest is that it curbs their near-total dependence on the Texas Department of Transportation.

Ah, TxDOT, the state agency that everyone loves to hate. After initially getting plaudits for delaying allocating its federal stimulus money, it then infuriated lawmakers by allocating its federal stimulus cash without prioritizing underserved areas, as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act requires. So what has the Lege done to fix a rogue agency? Not much. Even though TxDOT is under statutory review, Sunset bills SB 1019 and House Bill 300 lack any systemic shake-ups. Watson noted that one significant amendment, stripping appointment of two of the five Texas Transportation Commission seats from the governor and handing one each to the House speaker and lieutenant governor, seems DOA. Somehow, Texas Transportation Commission Chair Deirdre Delisi has evaded the fallout from all the agency debacles and looks likely to have her interim appointment confirmed by the Senate Nominations Committee.

Capital Metro customers may be more interested in Watson's SB 2015 and its House companion, HB 4432 by Eddie Rodri­guez, D-Austin, which orders Sunset staff to undertake a full study of the transit authority and revamps the Cap Metro board. Both bills are currently with the House, and the two lawmakers are still in lockstep on the need for reform. Watson stresses that the overhaul process will be staggered, to give some continuity of management. "What we don't want is to have a performance review, and then the board is gone, all in one day," he said.

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