DALLAS — Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s office rejected doubling the salary of the Texas Department of Transportation’s executive director but did authorize a salary above a statutory maximum of $292,500, officials said.
Perry’s former aide, Phil Wilson, was named TxDOT’s executive director earlier this month. Wilson, previously a lobbyist for Luminant Energy, is the first non-engineer to hold the post under legislation passed this year that changed the required qualifications.
Ted Houghton, recently appointed by Perry as chairman of the Texas Transportation Commission, which oversees TxDOT, recommended in a letter to Perry and the Legislative Budget Board that Wilson be paid $381,000, more than twice the salary of his predecessor, Amadeo Saenz.
In a reply, Perry’s office wrote that the state’s faltering economy and the first cuts in history to education “require that we continue to adhere to practices that limit, to the greatest extent possible, expenditures of public funds.”
Perry, who is running for president as a Republican, has to defend his decisions on the national level, as well as in the state. The cuts to education and layoffs of teachers have prompted protests in Texas.
TxDOT, one of the largest issuers of debt in the state, managed to escape cuts like those at the Texas Department of Corrections and other agencies.
Wilson was hired by the TTC when it was headed by Perry’s former chief of staff, Deirdre Delisi, now an aide to Perry’s presidential campaign. Wilson worked under Delisi on Perry’s staff before Perry named him secretary of state.
Delisi and the TTC voted to spend $57,400 for a national search by Grant Cooper & Associates for a new chief of TxDOT before picking Wilson.
Legislation this year raised the maximum salary of the TxDOT director to $292,500 from $192,500 the previous year. However, the new law allowed the TTC to petition the governor and the Legislative Budget Board for an even higher salary.
Wilson’s actual salary is yet to be determined.