February 15, 2011
Texas Senator Kirk Watson today filed his Honesty Agenda – more than a dozen pieces of legislation that would open the budget process to Texans, make information widely available about the state’s finances, and enhance citizens’ power over the state’s treasury.
“The breadth of this package shows how much work there is to do to make state government transparent and to hold those in control of it accountable,” Senator Watson said. “This reform agenda will rebuild trust with Texans by giving them an unprecedented look into the state’s books. It will bridge both the fiscal deficit and the honesty deficit in the Texas budget.”
Senator Watson emphasized that these reforms will play a vital role in getting Texas through its budget crisis. He noted that budget writers, who used savings and one-time federal stimulus money to balance the current budget, are also likely to rely on savings and one-time accounting gimmicks to balance the next one.
Such likely actions make it even more important for the state to address the structural problems in the budget, so these one-time tactics will not put Texas in even worse condition in 2013 or 2015.
“For too many years, the budget has incorporated a toxic mix of debt, diversions and deception. I simply don’t believe our state would be in this position if Texans had better information – and the ability to get better information – about how their money is raised and spent,” Senator Watson said. “As those in control contemplate using any means necessary to regain the state’s fiscal footing, they must also commit to fixing the problems that their tactics would likely worsen if left unaddressed.”
“Until we get answers, we’ll be left with the same uncertainty that’s defined this issue for months,” he added. “We’re still being subjected to the same problems that cause Texans to criticize the budget process for not being open and transparent, and for failing to tell the public how our money is spent.”
Senator Watson said his Honesty Agenda will open avenues for Texans to get information about both the state’s financial condition and legislation affecting it. It will modernize government, allowing legislators and voters to have faith in decisions that will decide Texas’ fate in the 21st Century. And it will enlist industry leaders – especially those with experience in balancing private-sector budgets – to help the state sustainably balance its budget and make infrastructure and educational investments that Texas will need to remain competitive in the 21st Century economy.
The first component of the agenda was passed a month ago, in the form of a Senate rule change ensuring all Texans will have more time to review changes made to the final version of the budget – changes that are often made behind closed doors – before it is approved.
The measures filed today will build on that progress. The legislation will:
SB 695: Require that money intended for specific purposes is spent only on those purposes, not used to balance the budget.
SB 696: Require the Comptroller to provide regular reports about the state’s budget condition, ending the excuses that keep the public from getting this information.
SB 697: Create a commission that taps Texas’ vast base of business expertise to address the state’s finances.
SB 698: Block those who attempt to score reckless, fleeting political points by eliminating revenue the state relies on – but who don’t do the hard work of declaring, openly and honestly, what functions and necessities would be eliminated to make up that money.
SB 699: Require the state to report what it collects in fees, whether fees were increased during a legislative session, and how much fee revenue is being diverted to balance the budget.
SB 700: Require that raw budget data be posted online so Texans can analyze how public money is being spent.
SB 701: Encourage state agencies to post data sets online in an effort to increase accountability and improve knowledge of agencies’ operations.
SB 702: Allow any member of the legislature to request a report on the long-term economic impact of bills – even those that cost money in the short-term.
SB 703: Require state agencies to report the impact of refusing to accept federal dollars.
SB 704: Make sure the public can weigh in on budget changes that are ordered between legislative sessions.
SB 705 and SJR 24: In law and in the Texas Constitution, end unfunded mandates on cities, counties, school districts, and other local governments – and on the taxpayers who support those entities.
SB 706: Have the state’s Cash Management Committee hold a public hearing and take testimony on the state’s cash flow situation and overall economic condition before signing off on the issuance of more short-term debt.
SB 707: Move the state’s Performance Reviews (similar to agency audits seeking ways to save money) out from under the legislature’s purview – so legislators aren’t in the position of grading their own papers.
SB 708: Have the Sunset Advisory Committee, which reviews the functions and operations of agencies across state government, itself undergo a review to ensure it is as effective as it needs to be.
“These are basic, balanced strategies. Many of them are common in the private sector,” Senator Watson said. “Make no mistake: this legislation won’t simply help avoid future budget crises in Texas. It will help solve this one, too.”