November 16, 2010
I would be remiss if I didn’t let everyone know that I finished the San Antonio Rock ‘N’ Roll Half Marathon on Sunday. That’s 13.1 miles all at once. And it’s my third half marathon for 2010 – which is technically three more than a human is supposed to run in any given year.
It was a good race. The course is really a good one and the whole event was very well done. I’m already planning to do it again next year (if we aren’t still in session come November 2011).
Plus, I ran a faster time than I’d planned, which has me thinking. If I ever get really serious about running these races, lose about 25 pounds, and finally see that last growth spurt my father promised I would get when I was about 15, I’ll find my young self winning these dadgum things.
At least that’s what I’m thinking.
There’s another marathon I’ve been running since right about the day I was elected to the Texas Senate. That’s been the effort to make the state budget more open, honest and accountable.
I gave a pretty big speech yesterday laying out some thoughts about this budget crisis we’re facing, how it happened, and what the legislature should do about it in the upcoming session.
As I say in the speech, we aren’t going to solve all of these problems – some of them decades in the making – in just seven months. But we can set a course to start doing the right thing, and lay the foundation not only for offering the fiscal honesty that current Texans demand, but also building the economic prosperity that future Texans deserve.
You can read more about it here. But briefly, in the coming weeks, I’m going to file a three-part package of reforms to create an Honesty Agenda for next year’s session and budget talks.
As I said yesterday, all of us elected to serve can, and probably do, believe in the basic tenets of this reform package. They’re straightforward. They’re not partisan. And in a sane world, they wouldn’t be controversial at all. Indeed, they’re the sorts of things that should already be in place.
So this is an opportunity, regardless of other differences we may have about politics and specific policies, to work with each other and with everyone who believes in truly honest and accountable government. I’m looking forward to working with anyone, regardless of party or any other label, to fix this mess and reform this process.
The agenda will include a series of “accountability” reforms to rebuild trust with Texans by opening the state’s appropriations and finances to the public and requiring real transparency for those in control of the budget.
I’ll also offer a “stability” package of reforms that will modernize government and restore it so legislators, and voters, can have faith in major policy and budget decisions that will set the course of the state and its future.
And I’ll fight to make sure that those in charge set out a path for cleaning up this fiscal mess and building a responsible, truthful, truly moral state budget by taking the time (more than just the five months of a session) and getting the expertise (including some folks from outside the Capitol) to rebuild the budget from the ground up, implementing the values that Texans hold dear.
And here are some section-by-section excerpts (click on the headlines to read those full sections):
… You’ve probably heard things are going to be a little rough under the dome this session.
Really, the only question that’s left is … how rough will things be?
Well, there’s a fascinating answer that you’re starting to hear from some insiders up at the Capitol. I’ve heard it a few times myself in the last few weeks – the same six words, always from very smart, very accomplished folks who have been around that building for a long time.
The response – these folks’ own legislative preview – their quick synopsis of what to expect next session boils down to this:
“Nothing. Good. Is Going. To Happen.”
“Nothing good is going to happen.” That’s the big quote at the top of the movie poster: Texas Legislature; Opens January 11th; “Nothing good is going to happen.”
This thought, this growing consensus – where there’s an incredible apprehension that crosses party lines and philosophical boundaries – is on the budget.
… A lot of folks are expecting a gap of at least $20 billion or more between what the state will collect in 2012 and 2013 and what it’s on track to spend. The whispers are that it will reach $28 billion.
… There are basically just three options we have for closing a hole this big: cuts, cash, and the kitty.
Cuts: The legislature can cut deeply and painfully into basic responsibilities and necessities: everything from schools, to health care, to parks, to public safety, to prisons, to roads. These are things that all of our people – no matter how old they are, no matter where they live, no matter how they vote – that all Texans rely on and really need.
Cash: The legislature can raise revenue from Texans at a time when folks are already feeling strapped and worried about putting food on the table. Or those controlling the long-awaited estimates can paint an impossibly, irresponsibly rosy picture of the future and pump up revenue estimates, which will make the problem look smaller now but create supersized problems for the next budget.
Finally, there’s what I call the Kitty: Legislators can drain most or all of our savings accounts, starting with the state’s roughly $8 billion Rainy Day Fund, knowing that our hard times probably aren’t over.
So let’s all keep something in mind as we head into what’s obviously going to be a tough session:
All of us – no matter what party we belong to, no matter where we live or who voted for us, no matter what label we associate ourselves with – all of us are in the same burning house. We’re all scared, or should be, looking for a way out, racking our brains to figure out a way to put out the flames, and trying to decide what we want to save, what’s most important to us.
But here’s the good news – I believe in my bones that we can get out of this. We can save our house, we can save ourselves, and we can save our state.
People say it’s impossible to do in this session alone – and they’re probably right about that. But over the next seven months, we can chart a path that will take Texas to the safe ground it used to know, where budgets were not just balanced but sustainably balanced.
We can start to rebuild to the point that it’s possible to follow the example of our elders, who responsibly invested in the roads, water projects, security, schools and world-class universities that were good for them, good for Texas and good for our future.
It’s possible to have fiscally responsible government that can meet the essential needs of our people – providing roads and water and education and parks and health and safety and security – that every single person and business in this state relies on, things that strengthen the foundation of individual prosperity.
It’s actually fiscally irresponsible to do anything but this. But to do it, we have to look – honestly and responsibly – at how we got here.
The budget is a disaster … but it’s not an entirely natural one.
This government – our government – has failed us. It’s been irresponsible with our money, less than candid in its accounting of it, and grossly undisciplined in its empty promises of something-for-nothing.
Yes, the economy is suffering – far more than many have been willing to admit in recent months. And yes, this downturn has taken a real and significant toll on the state and its people.
But the truth is that it took the legislature and others in government to make things as bad as we’re seeing. The folks in control of the state’s finances left the kindling lying around and had every reason to expect it to ignite. And when it did catch fire … well, there wasn’t much of a fire department left to extinguish it.
For years, those in control have balanced the budget with a combination of debt, diversions, and deception.
They’ve diverted billions of dollars that had been promised to roads, parks, hospitals, clean air, utility bill relief, and other necessities – using it instead as a special piggy bank to make the books look balanced. …
Those in control have also relied increasingly on debt, particularly in the area of highways, ending the state’s responsible “pay-as-you-go” approach, leaving us all overly dependent on the hypocritical tax of toll roads, and sending debt service skyrocketing more than 250 percent in 10 years. …
And, maybe worst of all, they recklessly promised an election-year giveaway without being able to pay for it.
In 2006, those in control revised the Business Tax knowing full well that it wouldn’t cover the check they were writing as part of a tax shift. In the years since, the new Business Tax has failed to live up even to its own inadequate promises.
… And now, in the light of this blaze, many of those responsible for it look at it with nothing but despair and complacency. … Well, it’s up to us, all of us, to prove them wrong.
We owe it to this state, to its parents, to our schools and our teachers, to our small business owners and innovators, to our elderly and infirm – we owe it to our kids – to reject this immoral notion.
We owe it to our children to force those responsible for these wrongs not only to be accountable for them, but to correct them.
We owe it to our children to put Texas on a path to stability, where it can tend to its necessities and its future.
The first step – the very first thing legislators must do – is to start acting like not just grownups but like responsible citizens. They must reform these broken and burned fiscal practices and the budget-writing process.
Before anything else, we must restore honesty and accountability in the way the state raises and spends money, and rebuild trust with the taxpayers who’ve given it to us.
… In the coming weeks, I’ll introduce a three-part package of reforms to create an “Honesty Agenda” in the Texas Capitol, transforming the ways that public money is appropriated, reported, and ultimately spent. These changes will truly allow Texas to be run like a business, and they’ll protect Texans from reckless decisions that leave us scrambling to meet responsibilities, provide necessities, and keep the state from building a future.
The first part of this Honesty Agenda will be a series of “Accountability” reforms. These are bills and rule changes that will rebuild trust with Texans by opening the state’s appropriations and finances to the public and requiring real transparency for those in control of the budget.
(Click here to see details about the Honesty Agenda.)
These are basic reforms. They’re also absolutely essential.
Texas must – it must – reform its budget process.
It will put us in far better position to weather the fiscal storms that we can already forecast. In fact, it may be the only thing that can repair the damage that’s been done to the budget, restore faith and trust in the legislature, and position Texas to build for its future.
And make no mistake: as I survey bad option-after-bad option for getting out of this year’s budget crisis, I will support none of them – none of them – without these sorts of basic reforms.
I will not vote to raise taxes or fees on Texans when no one will commit to them where their money is going.
I will not vote for budget cuts just for the sake of budget cuts – actions that would make it harder for young Texans to go to college, make us less safe, have us sitting in traffic for longer and longer, and cruelly target the youngest and most vulnerable Texans – when no one will take the time to determine whether those cuts are appropriate or what they truly cost.
And I will not vote to drain all or part of the Rainy Day Fund, or any other savings account, to cover the negligence of those who insist on spending more money than they’re making while they conceal the structural deficits they created.
In short, I will reject all of these understandably tough choices – these pillars of the “nothing good is going to happen” mindset – if very good, very necessary budget reforms are left on the table.
All of us elected to serve can, and probably do, believe in the basic tenets of this reform package. They’re straightforward. They’re not partisan. And in a sane world, they wouldn’t be controversial at all. Indeed, they’re the sorts of things that should already be in place.
So this is an opportunity, regardless of other differences we may have about politics and specific policies, to work with each other and with everyone who believes in truly honest and accountable government.
This is our shared chance to prove not only that we can spend the people’s money wisely, but that we want to and will responsibly work to do so.
This is our moment to assure that we can meet the needs of today’s Texans, and that we will live up to our legacy of helping tomorrow’s Texans prosper in this growing state and economically competitive world.
This is where we can prove, where we must prove, that we can do better with our most moral document, and put out this fire that’s been allowed to burn for far too long.
I’m looking forward to working in that manner.
Because good things can happen in the next seven months. We simply have to be honest – and accountable – about our troubles and the cause of them.
We have to take responsibility for confronting our challenges and stop kicking them down the road to future generations of Texans.
And we have to be thoughtful, careful, creative and fearless in finding ways to balance today’s budgets while building tomorrow’s Texas.
This is our time – right now, even in the midst of this terrible crisis – to reject the failed policies that are endangering our economy and our future.
Now is our chance – perhaps not our best chance, but quite possibly our last – to demand the discipline, honesty, responsibility and accountability that have been missing from the legislative process for too long.
We simply have to commit to it, and get our leaders to do the same.
Yes, we’ll have to work hard – really, really hard – to make sure they do. But while good things – even great things – are never easy, they’re always – always – within a Texan’s grasp.
Thank you. God bless you. And God bless our great state.