This ex-A&M cheerleader barnstormed Texas this summer promoting a road-spending spree. He:
The governor covered so much road so quickly that reality did not catch up with him until this month, when the media reported that the Department of Transportation (TXDOT) has shot its wad. For the immediate future, the state will delay rather than expedite road projects.
House Appropriations Chair Rob Junell was reportedly angry that he learned about this budget crunch after lobbyists for the Associated General Contractors.2
TXDOT contractor contributions to Perry are troubling because the governor appoints the three commissioners who oversee TXDOT’s $2.2 billion annual construction budget.
Perry appointed a friend, ex-legislator Ric Williamson, to the commission in April. While ex-Governor Bush appointed commissioners John Johnson and Robert Lee Nichols, every member has given Perry at least $6,000 in recent years.
Perry also is benefiting from contractor expenditures to pass the two road proposals on the November ballot. Highway contractors have contributed $91,750 in the past two months to the “Yes on 2 & 15” PAC, which Hillco Partners lobby firm created to pass the amendments. The PAC has bought a full-page Texas Monthly ad that prominently features Perry’s photo.
TXDOT’s top two contractors, Houston’s Williams Brothers Construction
and San Antonio’s H.B. Zachry
Co., together have landed an astonishing $528,570,233 in TXDOT contracts so far this year.
Since 1997, Perry has received $75,000 from Williams Brothers Chair James Pitcock, Jr and another $33,000 from H.B. Zachry (most of which came from H. Bartell Zachry, Jr.). In the 1998 and 2000 election cycles alone, Pitcock spent $239,750 to influence candidates for Texas’ statewide and legislative offices.
Pitcock is a political pragmatist, giving all of his state political money to incumbents in the 2000 election cycle. The only non-incumbents receiving Pitcock money in 1998 ran for open seats. One of these was Democrat John Sharp ($6,000), who Perry defeated with just over 50 percent of the lieutenant governor vote. Pitcock has since filled this Perry pothole, giving Perry $50,000 in the 2000 cycle and another $25,000 since.
Political clout is a valuable commodity for a leading TXDOT contractor that has a history of going over deadline and budget. A 1998 Houston Chronicle investigation found that the average state highway contractor was penalized for late work 18 percent of the time, while Williams got late penalties 57 percent of the time.3
Most states have the authority to prevent chronically late contractors
from bidding on new jobs. But two lobby groups that Pitcock once headed
helped prevent Texas from adopting this policy in 1996 and 1997.4
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Texans for Public Justice is a non-partisan, non-profit policy & research organization
which tracks the influence of money in politics.
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