April 9, 2011
It is our belief, one we hope you share, that government can never be too transparent. It is also our belief that ever-evolving technology offers new and innovative ways to increase government transparency.
Comptroller Susan Combs and Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, also believe that. And we believe that benefits us all.
Both have shown admirable commitment to the cause. Combs’ office has been honored with an “A” rating from the U.S. Public Interest Research Group for the texastransparency.org website that allows anybody with computer access to rummage around to see how state government spends your money.
Watson long has been the citizens’ friend when it comes to open government initiatives.
Now we all stand to benefit from a combined Combs-Watson initiative announced in recent days. In coming months, the comptroller’s office will launch a Web page dedicated to offering monthly updates on state revenue sources, including the sales tax, federal funds and the Texas Lottery.
You’ll be able to see how those revenue sources are performing, as well as what those sources are on target to produce for the state fiscal year.
“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.
If nothing else, this will be an educational tool to help Texans develop a firmer grasp on the state budget, including the reality that — no matter how worthy a project or program might be — we can’t spend more than we collect.
Toward that goal, Combs wants lawmakers to establish a way for them to start studying the budget long before they have to start writing it. As we saw this year, the current system allows too much in the way of surprises (or at least what some see as surprises) when the Legislature convenes to write the two-year budget.
Texans had a right to know about the depth of the current problem back during the 2011 elections when the size of the projected shortfall was mere concept — an understated concept at that.
Watson has become the champion of a more open state budgeting process.
“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,” he said.
Combs has added her support to Watson’s Senate Bill 1652, his legislative vehicle aimed at taking the state to a more transparent budget process. The bill would require state budget writers to meet more frequently and make more fiscal data available online.
SB 1652 is pending in the Senate Finance Committee. We urge Watson to beg, cajole and do everything else that is legal to make sure it gets a committee hearing. There are sure to be details to be worked out, and we trust the committee will take care of that and send the bill to the Senate floor for consideration.
And, of course, all of this should be done transparently.