July 5, 2009

TxDOT: After all the outcry, no changes in law

By Peggy Fikac
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2009

AUSTIN — More than a year after the Texas Department of Transportation was labeled an out-of-control agency in need of reining in, lawmakers made their decision: No TxDOT reforms were put into state law.

That means no alteration in the makeup of its governing commission, which is appointed by Gov. Rick Perry and in the past was accused of pushing his ideas without heeding lawmakers leery of such things as privately run toll roads. No special legislative oversight committee. No changes except for those TxDOT carries out on its own.

That's the upshot after a reform bill failed in the regular session and lawmakers meeting in a quickie special session simply continued the agency as is until they reconvene in 2011.

“Certainly I think this is a missed opportunity,” said Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, D-San Antonio, a House Transportation member who pushed for such changes as an elected commissioner.

The good news: McClendon and some other lawmakers said TxDOT is working to change. Among actions they like is a new contract for a thorough review of agency operations.

TxDOT says it has acted on last year's Sunset Advisory Commission staff recommendations, including an update of its complaint receipt and tracking process. Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Chairman John Carona, R-Dallas, said most Sunset changes are under way.

Among items not addressed is the Transportation Commission makeup. But Carona, who opposes an elected panel as too political, said members are listening to lawmakers' concerns.

McClendon and House Transportation Chairman Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, say there's a need to change the agency “culture.” Pickett said that without a legislative overhaul, “I think they'll try to paint the trim on the ... building, but it's not going to make any real significant difference.”

Lawmakers said even without a new oversight committee, they'll keep close tabs on TxDOT between now and 2011.

“We recognize that TxDOT has been a troubled agency,” Carona said, “and it needs significant attention from the Legislature.”

As some lawmakers fruitlessly urged Perry to add a bill to expand the Children's Health Insurance Program to the special-session agenda, U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison's camp still wouldn't say if she supported the measure. Her spokesman, Hans Klingler, said she will be detailing a plan for children's health care and make the issue “a centerpiece” of her expected tough campaign against Perry for the GOP nod for governor.

Perry spokesman Mark Miner said, “Once again, she doesn't have any details to discuss.” He noted Perry's stand that the focus should be on children who already qualify for CHIP but aren't enrolled, adding that Hutchison supported a CHIP expansion in D.C.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who married Houston lawyer Tricia Bivins just over a week ago, got to spend part of his honeymoon at the Capitol. Session over, he said they plan to go to Colorado or California. His take on his marriage: “Even a blind squirrel sometimes finds a beautiful acorn.

© 2009 San Antonio Express-News: www.mysanantonio.com

No comments: