December 11, 2012
I had a great English teacher in high school named Al David Griffin. He was one of those teachers who not only taught you the basics of the course, but who challenged you. He wanted you to actually become a better writer or to actually read the literature and try to understand it. He also pushed you to be a better kid and, hopefully, a better adult.
Of course, I was close to an ideal child. However, Mr. Griffin noticed fairly early that I was not the most patient of young men.
My alleged impatience caused some problems for me and, sometimes, a little disruption to the way Mr. Griffin wanted to run his classroom. He would constantly and consistently admonish me in a very distinctive speaking style: “Mr. Watson, patience is a virtue rewarded.”
Even now, very few weeks go by that I don’t hear him in my head.
I love Texas deeply. I also believe that, in a great many areas, Texas can do better for its people and its future. And one of those areas is in how the state spends taxpayers’ money.
Last session, one of my biggest priorities was what I called the Honesty Agenda. It was a comprehensive effort to make state government more honest, open and accountable.
Starting with a new budget transparency rule that we passed at the very start of last session, various components of my Honesty Agenda have been falling into place over the last couple of years.
As proud as I am of how much more Texans now know about their state government and the way it spends their money, it probably goes without saying that there’s more to do.
First, and most importantly, we’ve got to stop wholesale diversions of dedicated state funds. Ending such diversions has been something I’ve been working on for multiple sessions. And even as it’s been acknowledged that I’ve been right on this issue, folks have still fought the change we need.
The state continues to collect money for specific purposes such as parks and trauma care, and then hoard that money so that hundreds of millions of dollars build up in the accounts meant to pay for the state’s promises. Budget writers then use that money for other purposes – the total for such diversions last year was about $5 billion.
But there’s hope as we start a new session. It might just be that patience (along with a big dose of diligence) is paying off.
It’s been good to see so many others in state government announcing over the last few months that ending diversions will be a top priority next year. I’m particularly gratified that Joe Straus, the Speaker of the House, has said he wants to take steps to end the practice this session. The Texas Association of Business was also a champion on this and other transparency issues in the last session, and I look forward to working with them next year to make more progress ending diversions.
But, of course, there’s more we need to do. And you can expect to hear more in the next few weeks about what some of those things are. Here’s a taste of what I’m looking at:
That’s a good start. Who knows which of those issues will come together or how far they’ll go.
But make no mistake: as long as Texans wonder why and how the state spends money the way it does, I’ll be working – with a fairly high level of impatience – to make it more transparent and honest.