Dewhurst, Craddick order audit of TxDOT

Link to article here. May we finally get some accountability at TxDOT?

Top leaders order audit of TxDOT
By Pat Driscoll
February 21, 2008

The Legislature’s top two lawmakers this week said the transportation department’s recently admitted billion-dollar boo-boo, and refusal to issue available bonds, has cast enough doubt to warrant a thorough outside audit.

Tom Craddick
David Dewhurst

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Tom Craddick sent a letter to the state auditor to get him to comb through the Texas Department of Transportation‘s finances.

“It became evident that significant weakness and questionable accounting procedures exist in the financial forecasting and reporting of the agency,” the letter says. “We are requesting that the entire financial process of TxDOT undergo a comprehensive review.”

The light clicked on two weeks ago when TxDOT, which says it’s going broke, announced a $1.1 billion blunder at a joint hearing of the Senate finance and transportation committees. Money had been counted twice, and so half had to be stricken from the books.

TxDOT officials also told senators they won’t issue $3 billion in available bonds, or count on another $5 billion that voters approved in November until legislators actually fund it. Yet the agency expects to be $3.6 billion in the hole by 2015.

More than half a dozen senators opened fire and bluntly told TxDOT officials they don’t trust what they saying, and suspect some ploy may be underfoot because lawmakers last year slowed down privatization of tollways so they could take a closer look.

Dewhurst and Craddick also want the audit to peruse TxDOT numbers on construction inflation, higher maintenance costs and a projected 25-year funding gap, all agency fodder to justify toll roads and private leases while downplaying ideas to raise the gas tax.

“I hope the audit will dig deep and provide a clear picture of the agency’s finances,” House Transportation Committee member Linda Harper Brown said in a statement.

State Auditor John Keel told Reuters his staff will try to finish the audit by Aug. 31, and Texas Transportation Commission Chairwoman Hope Andrade said she welcomes the review.

“The mobility challenges we face are significant, and effectively addressing these issues will require an open dialogue,” Andrade is quoted as saying.

TxDOT is also undergoing a scrubbing this year with a sunset review and probing by legislative committees. Also, a state panel is now studying the merits of privatization.

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