Former Perry aide, Luminant lobbyist to head TxDOT with big pay boost

Friday, September 30, 2011 at 12:26 pm

In a break with tradition at the Texas Department of Transportation, but in keeping with the larger tradition around the state, a former aide to Gov. Rick Perry has been named to a high-paying job leading the state’s highway authority.

New TxDOT chief Phil Wilson

The Austin American-Statesman reports Phil Wilson was named to the job with a 4-0 vote following a “brief, closed-door session” of the Texas Transportation Commission.


Wilson had been a lobbyist and executive vice president with Luminant Energy, the state’s largest electrical provider — and a company that’s made headlines lately for joining Gov. Rick Perry and other Texas officials in criticizing a new air quality rule from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Wilson describes himself as a pop culture aficionado.

Before that, the governor had appointed Wilson to a year-long stint as Texas Secretary of State, to help oversee the Perry-controlled Texas Enterprise Fund and Emerging Technology Fund, and to run Perry’s Office of Economic Development and Tourism. Wilson has also been Perry’s communications director and deputy chief of staff.

Wilson will replace Amadeo Saenz, who announced he’d be stepping down in January.

As the Dallas Morning News reported at the time, Saenz was a TxDOT veteran, who epitomized the agency’s tradition of hiring from within — a practice that, the Morning News reported, drew harsh criticism from an audit last year:

The restructure council urged the commissioners to find new leadership for TxDOT and change its culture, which both its work and the Grant Thornton audit said was too bureaucratic and too much in the grip of the engineering-dominated mindset of its long-tenured management.

Wilson, has an MBA from Southern Methodist University, not an engineering background, and stands to make at least $292,500 in his new role — $100,000 more than his predecessor. The Statesman’s Ben Wear reported, though, that transportation commissioners hope to pay him even more:

The commission also voted to petition the Legislative Budget Board and the governor’s office to exceed that statutory maximum salary. Commission Chairwoman Deirdre Delisi said moments after the closed-door meeting that she didn’t know how much the commission will ask for in additional salary.

The Dallas Morning News pointed out Thursday, that new salary puts Wilson in rare company:

By contrast, the new salary is more than $100,000 more than what Texas pays the executive in charge of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, the commissioner of the Texas Education Commissioner or the Texas Attorney General, who is paid $150,000.

The last director of the California Department of Transportation — with a $12 billion budget for 2011 compared to TxDOT’s $19.5 billion — made $165,000 before stepping down last year.


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