April 5, 2011
Texas Comptroller Susan Combs and Senator Kirk Watson on Tuesday announced a series of measures to bolster existing state financial transparency initiatives — and they both vowed to support legislation that will make state budget information even more readily available.
In the coming months, the Comptroller’s office will launch a new Web page providing monthly updates on a wide range of state revenue sources. Linking directly from the Comptroller’s Texas Transparency Web portal — www.texastransparency.org — the new Web page will show monthly totals for nearly two dozen state revenue sources, ranging from sales taxes to federal funds to lottery proceeds. Site visitors will be able to compare year-to-date totals with the equivalent totals from the previous year, and to the estimated totals that those sources were projected to collect for the full fiscal year.
The upcoming Web page will collect even more data in one location to better show Texans where the state stands financially on a month-to-month basis. The initiative between Combs and Watson will expand upon Texas Transparency’s goal of making the state’s books open and accessible, delivering a one-stop resource for state financial information and helping taxpayers and policymakers plan for the state’s future.
“Texans will see how much money is coming into the state’s coffers, where it’s coming from, and whether it’s measuring up to projections,” Combs said. “These efforts will dovetail with my office’s open-books initiatives like the Where the Money Goes online expenditure database and the Texas Transparency Web portal, which were key in recently garnering Texas an ‘A’ ranking for transparency from the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. Texas received top marks in those rankings, but we’re always working to give the public even greater access to information.”
“This effort will take budget transparency to a new level — one that will be more visible for every Texan,” Watson said. “Particularly given the uncertainty about the state’s budget over the next two years, this information will give people and policy makers the clearest picture yet of the state’s fiscal standing — and what it will take to strengthen it.”
Combs is also urging legislators to create a process through which they can begin studying the state’s revenue structure at the conclusion of the current legislative session — and then make recommendations for ensuring the state budget is not only balanced, but sustainably balanced. Watson has long advocated the creation of a specially designated group to systematically review the budget, and he voiced strong support for Combs’ recommendation.
“Some of the state’s budget problems run deeper than this economic downturn, and any use of one-time money or strategies to address the current budget shortfall will only make those problems more severe in two years,” Watson said. “I’m pleased the Comptroller has highlighted that these problems developed over several years, and that solutions to them will require more time and attention than there is in a 20-week legislative session.”
In addition, Combs announced support for proposals by Watson that will go into Senate Bill 1652, an omnibus piece of legislation that will make state functions and budget processes more transparent. SB 1652 will include requirements that budget writers meet more frequently, post raw budget and agency data online, and report state fee information in more detail.
“As technology evolves, we should keep raising our expectations for public access to information,” Combs said. “In this uncertain economic climate, transparency initiatives are vital, and open books allow government to function with the scrutiny and respect of citizens.”
Watson’s bill would include language that would have the Comptroller’s office publish a report after each fiscal year detailing how the state collects and uses fee revenue. The Comptroller’s office will also begin reviewing fee information the state currently publishes and consider new, clearer ways to report it — even before the bill is considered by the Legislature.
Combs and Watson also announced that the Comptroller’s office will begin a new process governing how state agencies report the use of federal money in their annual reports. Building on a proposal outlined in Watson’s SB 703, the Comptroller’s office will require agencies, as part of their annual financial reports, to declare the federal money they receive and what additional federal money might be available if the state were able to better leverage funds.