Perry’s pay-to-play on display in choice to head TxDOTBy Terri Hall
September 29, 2011
Today, the Texas Transportation Commission announced the new
Executive Director to head the Texas Department of Transportation
(TxDOT), former Secretary of State Phil Wilson. Wilson was also Governor Rick Perry’s
designee for two of his corporate slush funds, the Texas Enterprise
Fund and Emerging Technology Fund at that time. Wilson stepped down from
Secretary of State in 2008 to become a lobbyist for Luminant, whose parent company is Energy Future Holdings Corp. (formerly TXU Corp.). Wilson also formerly served as Perry’s Chief of Staff and Communications Director.
Now we have two Perry political hacks running the highway department,
one of the most criticized and broken state agencies in Texas. When
Perry tapped Deidre Delisi to head the Transportation Commission
in 2008, the move was highly criticized by many in the Texas
Legislature. The Senate Transportation Committee Chair at the time, John Carona (R - Dallas), called Delisi a “political hack"
with ZERO transportation experience. The same could be said of Wilson.
Ultimately, Carona backed down when he got Perry to appoint Bill
Meadows, former Board member of the North Texas Tollway Authority, to
Flaming pay-to-play cronyism on display
The Transportation Commission wasted taxpayer money hiring Grant Cooper & Associates,
an executive search firm based in St. Louis, Mo., to conduct a national
search for a new director only to have Perry choose a crony from within
Texas. Wilson’s former employer donated over $1 million to Perry
through the Republican Governor’s Association when Perry chaired it. This newly released Texans for Public Justice report shows
how Energy Future Holdings Corp. benefited directly with Perry
appointing Wilson to five (now six) different state posts and four other
employees snagging five state appointments in return for its generous
For the first time, TxDOT will not be managed by a professional
engineer, but rather a former politician and puppet of the governor. To add insult to injury, Wilson will be paid fully $100,000 more per
year, totaling $292,000, than his predecessor (who was a professional
engineer, not a former lobbyist). The
628-page management audit
done by Grant Thornton recommended new leadership at the top of the
troubled agency due to its entrenched culture. It said: “TxDOT has
significant leadership issues that impair staff and management
effectiveness and morale.” The report also reveals: “Conversations with
TxDOTʼs senior leaders reveal a deep-seated belief that TxDOT is doing
all the right things and that criticisms leveled against the
organization will decline when TxDOT is better able to demonstrate to
people how right the organization is.”
The Sunset Advisory Commission also issued two scathing reviews of
TxDOT and recommended the Transportation Commission be abolished.
Perry’s choice of Wilson is a slap in the face to the sunset review
process and will do nothing to convince the skeptical public that this
agency’s waste, fraud, and abuse has been put behind them.
The Sunset Advisory Commission report from 2009
states: “Many expressed concerns that TxDOT was 'out of control,'
advancing its own agenda against objections of both the Legislature and
the public. Sunset staff found that this atmosphere of distrust
permeated most of TxDOT’s actions and determined that it could not be an
effective state transportation agency if trust and confidence were not
restored. Significant changes are needed to begin this restoration; tweaking the status quo is simply not enough.”
Well, the appointment of Wilson is not only a move to keep the status
quo, it wreaks of cronyism and puts Perry’s pay-to-play cronyism on
display for the national stage. Texas transportation will no more be
fixed under this new regime than the old one, and likely will only get
worse for taxpayers, for transparency, and for accountability.
A new, much darker era at Perry’s highway department begins....
Link to article here.
Texas Gov Perry headed for more PPPs with close associate Phil Wilson new head of TxDOT
Posted on Thu, 2011-09-29 23:45
Toll Road News
Rick Perry seems to be laying the ground for stepping up tollroad
concessioning or PPPs in Texas. Today the state's Transportation
Commission - a body which generally does the Governor's bidding -
announced selection of a longtime Perry political confidante and
associate Phil Wilson as the new executive director of the Texas
Department of Transportation. That position has normally been filled by a
Wilson, aged 44, comes immediately from head of public affairs at a large electric generation company Luminant.
Wilson was Perry's Secretary of State. However Phil Wilson was no
Hillary Clinton. In Austin TX that position is less far-ranging than
here in Washington DC.
But it does involve representation of Texas with Mexico!
it involves supervision of elections and assorted other highly
political jobs delegated by the governor. Wilson chaired the governor's
Competitiveness Council and various economic development committees so
he is well known to top businessmen in the state.
secretary of state post Wilson spent time on Perry's personal staff and
got in some DC experience working for the prominent Texas US senator
Houghton, Texas Transportation commissioner and chair of the
commission’s executive director search committee is quoted in the
announcement today: "Phil (Wilson)’s experience as a public servant and
member of the Texas business community has prepared him well to lead the
department as it continues to modernize. While TxDOT is certainly a
national leader in transportation infrastructure development, there are
opportunities for Phil (Wilson) to guide the department through this
period of transition, emerging a more responsive and efficient
Wilson himself is quoted: "I am honored to be
selected as the next executive director of TxDOT. This is an agency with
a rich history in successfully building for our future with dedicated
employees. I look forward to working with the agency, Commission,
Legislature and local communities on the most efficient and effective
ways to build infrastructure for Texas."
last sentence looks like a proposal to enlist investors and private
enterprise more heavily in transportation in the state - to do more
tollroads with public-private partnerships or concessions
('comprehensive development agreements' (CDAs) is the favored Texas
this year Texas DOT was reorganized to separate concessions out from
operations within the Turnpike division. They are getting separate
managers, we're told, which would also seem designed to allow a greater
focus on PPPs or CDAs.
In most jurisdictions where a state toll
agency coexists with a policy of privatization the work of privatization
is conducted by a separate agency.
In Ohio Governor Kasich's
proposal to privatize the Turnpike is being conducted by the Office of
Management and Budget. In Puerto Rico tollroad privatization (and other
privatizations) are being conducted by a Puerto Rico Public Private
Partnerships Authority. In Indiana the same is true.
in Virginia where the Virginia DOT conducts P3s almost nothing ever gets
to financial close. There is study after study and multiple
procurements in glacial slow motion.
The Norfolk/Hampton Roads area is in its second decade of P3s being "in process" with nothing ever coming out of the pipeline.
problem with having the state toll authority conduct the privatization
is that it has a huge conflict of interest. It is being asked to execute
its own dismemberment, if not a death sentence. Its natural tendency is
to go through the motions.
Non-viable projects for which no
state money can be raised can usefully be passed off for P3
procurements, the protracted procurement process itself being a
convenient response to constituencies asking what's being done for their
problem corridor. The real problem is toll projects that the state sees
as financial duds are also likely to be P3 duds.
Odd record - from Mussolini & Mao to markets
Governor Perry has an odd record in transportation.
in his term Perry promoted the most grandiose statist planning with
so-called Texas Transportation Corridors (TTCs) crisscrossing the state
gridlike. Within thousand foot-plus rights of way 4,000 miles, 6500km of
TTCs were seen as catering separately to cars and trucks, separate
freight and passenger rail, with oil and gas pipelines and electric
transmission lines. The concept was a financial absurdity - more akin to
authoritarian and monumental planning in China or fascist Italy than to
a market oriented economy and a democratic polity.
civil servants in TXDOT and the Turnpike Division attempted to extract
something useful and positive from the TTC concept by focussing
attention on "early priorities" (I-35, I-69) and slimmed down "first
stages" - but the political damage was done. Texas' legislature saw
bipartisan opposition develop.
All the TTC concept achieved was
to mobilize a powerful anti-roads political backlash. Naysayers were
given a whole armory of weapons to bludgeon every TXDOT proposal.
The disastrous TTCs were quietly buried in 2009.
under Perry has seen much effort to develop P3s. Again the state's
credibility in P3s was heavily damaged when the Governor failed to weigh
in against North Texas Turnpike Authority's late takeover of the north
Dallas area Route 121 (now Sam Rayburn Tollway) P3 project in the first
half of 2007. Perry's failure to back his department saw last minute
withdrawal of a $2.8b P3 contract with Cintra.
EDITING: the initial version painted this too
starkly as "a breach of contract." A TXDOT official says it was "close"
but the contract was not executed so there was not a legal issue. And
Cintra were compensated for their work on the project. He agrees however
the whole 121 affair created a credibility problem for the P3 program
in Texas, and slowed it down. He says the department took its time with
new P3s such as 35E and the Grand Parkway precisely to be sure there
wouldn't be a repeat of the 121 chaos (our word.) He says the program is
now has a sounder political and legal framework in SB1420 and SB19.
Despite Perry missteps
these missteps Texas under Perry has seen major improvements in
highways through TxDOT's embrace of tolling, and most of all through
regional and county initiatives - "regional mobility authorities."
is clearly the most dynamic economy in the country, attracting people
and business, and generating jobs like no other state, so one way or
another there's lots of road work there.
Stickin' around Austin
presidential prospects rapidly evaporating as the Tea Party crowd move
to the more promising Herman Cain, Perry seems likely now to be
"stickin' around" Austin, making the Wilson appointment more important.
succeeds Amadeo Saenz, a consummate professional engineer-manager who
retired in August. Wilson brings important PR and political skills, it
is said, to a job where they can be more important than engineering or
The transportation commission today voted Wilson a
salary of $292.5k, which must be one of the highest salaries for the
head of any state agency, and should also encourage him to stay around.
Saenz was paid $100k less.
TOLLROADSnews 2011-09-29 EDIT: 9-30 13:30