DALLAS — Phil Wilson, a former aide to Gov. Rick Perry recently named executive director of the Texas Department of Transportation, should be paid twice as much as his predecessor, according to the new chairman of the board that oversees TxDOT.
Texas Transportation Commission chairman Ted Houghton, whom Perry named last week to replace Deirdre Delisi, recommended in a letter that Wilson receive a salary of $381,000, more than double what former executive director Amadeo Saenz earned.
Wilson, who was Perry’s deputy chief of staff when Delisi was the governor’s chief of staff, would be the first non-engineer to hold the top post at TxDOT.
Under legislation this year, non-engineers are allowed to head the agency for the first time.
House Bill 1, the budget measure lawmakers passed in May, also exempted the TxDOT executive director from a salary cap that applied to other state positions. If the salary cap applied to the department’s chief, the top legal salary would be $292,500.
The previous cap was $192,500 under 2009 legislation.
Proponents of the higher salary, including Lieut. Gov. David Dewhurst, said the state could not compete with private industry for top prospects to head TxDOT without lifting the salary cap.
However, one lawmaker objected to raising one salary while making the first cuts in history to education, including teacher pay.
Under a rider to HB 1, TxDOT conducted a salary study of comparable jobs for the executive director. With approval from the Legislative Budget Board and Perry, the TTC could offer a salary beyond the top of the state’s scale.
Houghton’s letter seeking the $381,000 for Wilson was submitted to John O’Brien, director of the Legislative Budget Board.
Houghton was originally appointed to the TTC in December 2003 and reappointed in February 2009.
A native of El Paso, he is self-employed in financial services, executive benefits and estate planning.
He is the commission’s first chairman from El Paso.
Houghton has served on the School Land Board and the El Paso Water Utilities Public Service Board. At El Paso’s Rapid Transit Board, he was vice president, chairman of the public relations and communications committee, and treasurer of the political action committee. He also was on the board of directors of the El Paso Electric Co.
Wilson, senior vice president and lobbyist with Luminant Energy, was named secretary of state by Perry in 2007 after serving as the governor’s aide. As secretary of state, Wilson continued to be Perry’s designee for the Texas Enterprise Fund and the Emerging Technology Fund. The funds provide state revenue for selected companies that promise to create jobs.
Delisi stepped down from the TTC chairmanship to work on Perry’s presidential campaign.
The TTC last year issued $2.5 billion of general obligation and revenue bonds and has $12.8 billion of bonds outstanding,
In addition to awarding contracts for underwriting and related business, TTC awards billions of dollars in construction contracts for transportation, including roads and rail.