HOUSTON — A day after Houston's public transit agency was found to have violated federal procurement laws, Gov. Rick Perry on Thursday blamed its legal woes on Democratic gubernatorial opponent Bill White, who had appointed the group's leadership when he was the city's mayor.
And Perry used comments made by Houston's current mayor to support his claim.
White countered he had nothing to do with Metro's criticized procurement procedures when he was Houston mayor from 2004 through 2009.
The Federal Transit Administration on Wednesday said Houston's Metropolitan Transit Authority, or Metro, violated federal laws for how it awarded two contracts for its new light-rail lines.
Annise Parker, Houston's current mayor, placed the blame for the FTA's conclusions on Metro's former leaders, which were put in place by White.
The FTA's decision "confirms my instincts that there were serious problems at Metro and affirms my decision to replace the majority of the Metro board and to ask them to bring in new leadership to run the organization," Parker said at a news conference on Wednesday.
Parker, who had criticized Metro as unaccountable to the public, also planned to replace Metro's CEO, Frank Wilson. But he resigned in May.
Perry's campaign prominently featured Parker's comments in a press release Thursday that called on White to "answer for the illegal actions of his hand-picked leadership at Houston Metro."
"For months Bill White has accepted no responsibility for the illegal actions of Metro, even as the new mayor of Houston placed the blame squarely on his hand-picked leadership. When will Bill White break his silence regarding the Metro-gate scandal?" said Mark Miner, a spokesman for Perry's campaign.
Metro got in trouble with the FTA for awarding two light rail contracts to Spanish rail car manufacturer CAF. In a letter released Wednesday, the FTA said Metro violated both federal procurement laws and "Buy America" provisions intended to protect the national economy.
The FTA said Metro must rebid the contracts to receive a $900 million grant to fund the expansion project.
White said there are no U.S.-headquartered companies that make rail cars of the type in question and that he had been informed Metro was complying with the Buy America clause by requiring any vendor to build a plant in the U.S.
"I'm not familiar with the details of what went wrong, but what's important is that Metro comply with the law and act expeditiously so the citizens get a good price for the cars and we proceed with building out mass transit," White said after speaking to a Rotary Club in the Dallas suburb of Flower Mound.
Houston's three new light-rail lines had been expected to be completed by October 2013. But Metro officials said Thursday the rebidding process will delay the project by up to a year.
Metro's first light rail line began operating in January 2004.
In response to Perry's accusations, White jabbed the governor for his handling of the Texas Enterprise Fund, which supports economic development projects in the state. A study released Wednesday by a liberal watchdog group said the fund was failing to meet job-creation targets.
Associated Press writer Danny Robbins in Dallas contributed to this report.