Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst told a Greater Houston Partnership luncheon at the Houstonian that transportation improvements are important to the quality of life in Texas. But he says you can’t talk about transportation funding without addressing health care in Texas.
“Unless we change the delivery system, we’re going to see crowd-out in public education and higher education and transportation. Currently health care is consuming 17 per cent of our GDP. The the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates [in] the next 30 years that number on health care is going to go from 17 to 38. We’re talking about transportation, but there’s a huge 800-pound gorilla in the room, and that’s health care.”
The special legislative session this summer extended the life of the Texas Department of Transportation and four other states agencies that were subject to sunset review. Dewhurst said the 81st legislative session was a challenge because of the national economy. Texas is one of just a few states in the black. And Dewhurst is blunt about TXDOT’s track record at working with the legislature.
“You know, there are some members in the legislature — and we’re not going to do this — they just want to fire everybody in TXDOT and start all over again. But we’re not going to do that. I think TXDOT is a fine organization. They’ve got a, they’ve got great people. But I have never seen an agency with such a poor public relations with the legislature, and Amadeo, we’ve all got to work together and solve that. That’s hurting Texas.”
TXDOT Executive Director Amadeo Saenz earlier took part in a panel discussion on the State of Transportation in Texas.
“What I brought today is, is there are many challenges that we have out there. Now we need to look at what are the potential options that are out there and how do we get those options to reality. And it’s not a one-solution-fits-all. It’s going to be different across the state. So we need to have the flexibility in spending and we need to identify all the tools that are out there, and then utilize those to the best of our abilities.”
Lieutenant Governor Dewhurst calls for a mix of tools in designing, financing, building and maintaining transportation infrastructure.
“See, I believe that the legislature and TXDOT and people all over the state, we can reach an agreement on the right mix of free roads and toll roads. Keep in mind, every free road we build, that’s going to be more state dollars, more general revenue. Comptroller Combs cut $9 billion out of the revenue estimate in January. So if we’re not going to have much money — extra money — to spend in 2011, how do we give Amadeo more funds?”
Dewhurst says public and private partnerships can help, but the state must continue decreasing expenses as it looks at new funding for state highways.
Ed Mayberry, KUHF Houston Public Radio News.