February 15, 2011
For decades, Texans have been paying money through parks admissions, court costs, utility surcharges and other fees. Those funds, in many cases, were supposed to be used for a specific purpose – funneled into accounts dedicated to things like hospitals, law enforcement, electric bill relief and state parks.
But for nearly a generation, those in control of the budget have horded those funds in accounts, diverted them from their original purposes, and used the account balances to spend more money. The practice has only grown over the last decade – the 1999 legislature diverted $1.34 billion in this way; the 2009 legislature diverted more than $3.7 billion.
Diverting fee proceeds away from their intended purpose is dishonest and unfair. And if those in control won’t use this money the way they’re supposed to, they should stop collecting it. That’s what my bill would do.
My bill creates a trigger whenever the state accumulates 10 percent more from a fee than appropriators had budgeted to spend. At that point, the Comptroller would have to send notice to everyone charged with collecting that fee, instructing them to stop.
This suspension period would end on a date set by the Comptroller – one that would allow the fees to finish paying for the things in the budget that they’re supposed to pay for.
This mechanism would put a vital infusion of honesty and transparency into the Texas budget. And it would reassure Texans that, if they’re paying for something, the money is going for the things it’s supposed to be.