Top executive salaries at the Texas Department of Transportation are up more than 40 percent since last year, and paychecks of other high-level managers at the revamped agency have also risen sharply amid deep cutbacks elsewhere in state government, a newspaper reported Sunday.
An analysis by the Austin American-Statesman showed that the three highest-paid TxDOT executives make an average of almost $251,000. That includes executive director Phil Wilson, a longtime aide to Gov. Rick Perry who was hired in October. Wilson’s salary of $292,500 would have been higher before criticism halted an $88,500 pay hike.
Since last year, the average salary of TxDOT’s three best-paying jobs is up 42.5 percent. The agency’s 10 highest-paid workers bring home an average of more than $200,000 — a 21.4 percent spike from 2011.
Wilson told the newspaper (http://bit.ly/Ne2On0 ) that the Legislature last year authorized steep pay bumps because they recognized the need for a new kind of leadership.
For years, TxDOT has been beset by legislative and internal scrutiny for issues ranging from transparency to communicating with the public. A report by a state review council last year also urged consolidated financial operations and new leadership.
Wilson once served as Texas Secretary of State and is a former lobbyist, and his hiring illustrates the culture shift in a department where his predecessor was an engineer who made about $100,000 less.
“They all realized we need this kind of talent to run a complex agency,” Wilson said.
But the big raises, largely unnoticed by the public, haven’t trickled down to the rank-and-file. The average salary of the department’s 11,500 workers is $48,000, up 3.7 percent from last year.
State Rep. Joe Pickett, an El Paso Democrat who led the House Transportation Committee in 2009-10, questioned the wisdom of the elevated pay amid severe state spending cuts. For instance, the Legislature cut $4 billion for public schools last year, and a tight budget will again be a dominant issue when lawmakers reconvene in January.
“I know most (TxDOT executives), and they’re all good people,” Pickett said. “But it’s got to be relative to the rest of state government. They’re asking all of us to do more with less.”
Wilson has created several new upper-echelon positions. Among them are the director of innovative finance and debt management at $250,000 a year, as well as a new chief planning/projects officer and a chief administrative and strategy officer, both making $245,000 a year.
Wilson also hired Scott Haywood — who formerly worked for Perry and in the secretary of state’s office, as well as for an aerospace company — as chief of staff at $135,000 a year. That position is also new.
Agency spokesman Bob Kaufman said some of the new hires took “significant” pay cuts to work at TxDOT. Kaufman, a former spokesman for Dell Inc., was hired in January at $190,000 to be the department’s chief communications officer.
Kaufman said the department’s new hires, as well as some TxDOT managers “can command salaries that are 3-4 times their state salary.”
Terri Hall, a longtime TxDOT critic and who frequently railed against long-term toll road lease deals with private companies in front of the Legislature, said she worries the hiring push could put new momentum behind the practice.
“If these guys think that this constitutes a remake of TxDOT, it does, but in the completely wrong direction,” Hall said. “To me, it’s not worth it to pay 20, 40, 50 percent more (to TxDOT managers) to get more expensive roads that nobody can afford to travel on.”
Information from: Austin American-Statesman, http://www.statesman.com