Does diverting highway funds for DPS enhance public safety?
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The Statesman has an unusual piece today that is part editorial, part news story, about a report by the Sunset Advisory Commission warning that the DPS suffers from “critical” personnel shortages, because “the agency cannot hire and keep enough troopers to fill the authorized slots.” The report cites similar shortages in the Department of Family and Protective Services as well as the Texas Department of Corrections (and, speaking of corrections, the Statesman ought to know that the name of the agency is the Texas Department of Criminal Justice). The byline is “By the Editorial Board.” Low pay is one of the reasons cited for the trooper shortage, along with competition from the federal government to fill security positions such as Border Patrol officers. As it happens, I had a conversation today relating to trooper pay with a member of the House Appropriations committee. Our discussion was really about the oft-criticized practice by state budget writers of diverting money from the Highway Fund to pay for DPS. Here’s what the member told me: DPS likes being funded with diversions from the Highway Fund because it is “off budget,” and DPS can get pay raises that are separate from, and more generous than, general pay raises for state employees. “One year we gave them a 30 percent pay raise,” the member told me. Based on this conversation, I’d have to say that it doesn’t sound as if DPS is hurting too much, particularly when compared to Protective Services and TDCJ. But I have to wonder whether, if the legislature stops funding DPS with diverted highway funds, public safety on the state’s highways will suffer.