August 11, 2009
There may be a bigger spotlight than ever next session on the billions of dollars in fees that are collected for a dedicated purpose but remain unspent and so can be used to balance the budget.
Our latest story about it fueled some skirmishing over Gov. Rick Perry’s trumpeting of his record as a fiscal conservative.
One of the lawmakers who’s considering a run for Perry’s seat, Sen. Kirk Watson, added an amendment to the funds-consolidation bill this session that is aimed at requiring the comptroller to more clearly specify when dedicated fund balances are being used in this manner.
The funds-consolidation bill allowed $3.7 billion to be used to balance the two-year, $182 billion budget. According to the comptroller’s office, all the accounts now are listed in the biennial revenue estimate but the Watson provision will require the dedicated funds to be specifically detailed.
Watson, D-Austin, talked about the issue early in the session and took his opportunity before it ended to push this step.
Some point out that if you eliminated this use of the dedicated fund balances, you’d have to come up with $3.7 billion somewhere else.
“Let’s have that discussion,” Watson said, adding that his bigger proposal would have phased out the practice but not ended it overnight. “We don’t engage in that debate up here. Instead, people strut and say we passed a conservative budget but (are) not candid about how they got to that. ….
“We shouldn’t just come back every two years and engage in the same bad habits. It is absolutely a tax increase under the cover of something that people believe the voters will support,” Watson said. “And frankly, it’s worse than simply calling it a tax increase because with a tax increase in most instances it’s open and obvious.”