The Texas Sunset Advisory Commission reviews state agencies on a periodic basis to evaluate if the reviewed state agencies are still necessary and, if so, whether their operations can be improved. In recent years, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) has been reviewed more frequently than many other agencies, and their turn is up again in the 2017 Texas Legislature. Reports from TxDOT and Sunset Staff have been issued and formed the basis of staff recommendations to the commission. On Wednesday, January 11, 2017, the commission voted on their final recommendations. (TxDOT portion starts at 2:20:00 mark on the Meeting Video).
The TxDOT issues and recommendations start on p. 69 of the Decision Materials.
Chairman Larry Gonzalez laid out the commission recommendations regarding TxDOT, starting with Issue 1, transparency.
Representative Flynn moved to modify Recommendation 1.8 (newsletter) to have training for local elected officials in TxDOT’s online project tracker tool instead of a newsletter. Senator Watson moved to modify the Flynn amendment to require TxDOT management to develop awareness and use of the online project tracker tool by local elected officials. The modifications were adopted, and Recommendation 1.8 was adopted as modified.
Senator Nichols offered a substitute to Recommendation 1.9 (new joint planning oversight committee) that would require the House and Senate Transportation Committees to monitor TxDOT planning and funding. The substitute was adopted without objection.
The Commission took up Recommendation 1.3 (require TxDOT to revise its approach to distributing transportation funding to better align with established priorities and performance goals). Senator Nichols objected, saying it was covered by HB 20 and other actions. Several members expressed concern about how local contributions would be affected. Proposed modifications were withdrawn and Recommendation 1.3 was left on the table.
The Commission adopted all of Issue 1 as modified (except 1.3) and adopted Issue 2 without modification.
Representative Flynn pulled down his modifications to 3.1. Issues 3, 4, 5, and 6 were adopted without objection.
Chairman Gonzalez laid out Issue 7 and a modification by Senator Schwertner to 7.1 regarding the state aircraft fleet that would keep interest earned in a subaccount of the State Highway Fund (Fund 6) for that purpose. Adopted. Issue 7 adopted as modified without objection.
Issues 8 and 9 were adopted without objection.
Issue 10 was adopted as modified by Senator Schwertner’s unopposed amendment to Recommendation 10.2 (statewide passenger rail plan) to add two elements: state and local road connectivity and impacts of oversize/overweight vehicles (construction/maintenance).
NEW ISSUES (there are 3 starting on p. 78)
New Issues 1 and 3 withdrawn.
New Issue 2 (tolls) – Representative Raymond withdrew the new issue at the request of Senator Nichols (who said it’s a separate subject from TxDOT Sunset) but opened a discussion of toll roads that will play out as separate legislation that Senator Nichols said has lots of support.
The Commission voted 11-0 to adopt these and all recommendations previously approved.
Legislation will now be drafted and filed that would implement the Commission’s recommendations. If the legislation fails to pass, TxDOT would be required by law to cease operation. In practice, when there is not agreement on the legislation, stopgap legislation is filed to continue the agency until another Sunset bill can be considered.
Steven Polunsky is a TTI Research Scientist.