November 15, 2010
Criticizing state leaders for looming budget problems that could drastically reduce state services and force layoffs, Austin state Sen. Kirk Watson today amped up his call for sweeping reforms with a three-part program designed to make the budget process more responsible and accountable.
“This government has failed us,” Watson said in a morning speech to business and interest groups in which he said he will file legislation to overhaul the budget process by limiting additional debt, curbing diversions of special fees for other purposes and providing more transparency for the public.
“The reckoning is here … If allowed to continue, these (current) practices will betray our children.”
Without significant and meaningful change to the budgeting process, Watson said he intends to vote against spending bills and increases on fees — and will instead work to change the process so Texas can responsibly plan for its future.
Watson called for the creation of a special “blue-ribbon committee” of outside experts to study Texas’ budgeting process and revenue laws and recommended changes.
“We need to rebuild our budget from scratch, from the ground up,” he said.
Watson said he will work to change Senate rules to require the version of the budget that the Senate and House agree upon — a thick document traditionally hammered out behind closed doors in the last days of the regular session, and quickly passed — to be held for a full review for five days before a final vote can occur.
More detail should be be provided on the details of the budget before it should be approved, and Watson called for the Legislative Budget Board — a panel made up of the state’s top legislative leaders — to meet publicly more often to address budget issues.
During the last legislative session, Watson championed a series of budget reforms that generally did not pass. And while he acknowledged he has voted for previous state budgets, even through he had growing concerns, the senator said he will not do so this time.
“I’ll support none of it without meaningful reforms,” he said, adding that he will also vote against using “any or all of the Rainy Day Fund” — the state’s savings account for emergencies.
Estimates of the state budget shortfall in recent weeks have risen to $24 billion, and Watson said today he has heard that figure could increase to $28 billion before the legislative session starts in January. Legislative leaders earlier said they may have to use some or all of the savings account to make up the shortfall.
While Watson declined to criticize any of the Republican leadership by name, he urged voters to watch the budgeting process closely and hold their elected representatives accountable at the ballot box.