Yesterday, the State Senate passed to engrossment SB 1184, authored by State Sen. Don Huffines (R-Dallas). Proving once again his commitment to transparency and fiscal responsibility, Huffines’ legislation provides for the auditing of regional mobility authorities (RMA’s) by the state auditor.
Under state law, regional mobility authorities possess a number of important powers relating to transportation projects. In many ways duplicative of TXDOT, they possess tolling authority, bonding authority, and building authority. But even with all of this real taxing power, RMAs have become unaccountable entities. RMA’s are governed by a board of directors, whose members are appointed by the Governor and Commissioners Courts of county governments. That combination of unaccountability with physical taxing authority has made RMAs a ripe environment for taxpayer funded, special interest boondoggles. Equally troubling, RMAs are also allowed to spend tax dollars on lobbyists in Austin, an activity which TXDOT is legally prohibited from doing.
However, RMAs still receive state funds, making their lobby expenditures a clear violation of state law. Often, RMAs will use local dollars to “leverage” state funds from TXDOT for transportation projects, meaning that not only is every Texan indirectly contributing to these agencies’ wasteful habits, they’re also footing the bill for the lobbying efforts to defend them.
The state currently has eight different RMAs, each of which has its own unique story of waste. Streetcars, massive tabs for high-dollar lobby firms in Austin, and questionable bank services are only a few of the ways RMAs have squandered taxpayer dollars.
The Huffines legislation is certainly a step in the right direction and will provide that these profligate agencies be audited by the state auditor in accordance with Chapter 321 of the Government Code beginning in September. The legislation was received by the House yesterday, but time is running out for lawmakers to deliver on the promises that got them elected. Unfortunately, by design, the House has been moving with glacial pace in acting on many of the more substantial reforms offered by the Senate.