September 11, 2012
We’ll never forget the heroism, sacrifice and loss we witnessed 11 years ago – and in the years since, on battlefields around the world.
God bless America and those who’ve fought and died for our country.
The simple fact that they’re holding this hearing is a great development – it means more attention is being paid to one of the most important priorities facing Texas.
As you know, ending the Texas budget’s reliance on diversions, debt and deception has been among my top priorities since I was elected to the Senate.
In each of the last two sessions, I’ve filed legislation to start moving the state away from its habit of diverting dedicated funds. This is the decades-old budget-writing practice of hoarding fees that Texans pay for a specific purpose – state parks, clean air, utility bill relief, etc. – and instead diverting that money to cover other needs in the Texas budget. Last year, my bill to limit diversions languished for nearly two months before it was given a hearing (though it was never voted on), and a floor amendment I offered that was similar to the bill was killed on a party-line vote. (I’m proud to point out that my efforts to pass my Honesty Agenda led Texas Monthly Magazine to mention me honorably in its biennial listing of best and worst legislators.)
The thing is, Texas can do better when it comes to leveling with taxpayers about what the state does with their money, and I have high hopes that, next year, Texas will do better. The work is paying off and, it seems, more people are signing on.
Over the summer, the Speaker of the Texas House declared that the state should end diversions. The Governor has similarly called for an end to budget gimmicks and trickery.
And in two weeks, the Finance Committee will take up the charge that it “develop strategies for greater legislative efficiency and transparency, including diversions of dedicated funding streams to alternative uses.”
It’s more exciting than it sounds. It could lead, at last, to the end of this practice. I’m hopeful that the years of effort are gaining traction and we’ll see the reform I’ve been calling for.
Parts of last week’s Democratic National Convention in particular reminded us that transparency in government should cover a lot more than just the technical details about how budgets get balanced.
Specifically, President Clinton’s speech on Wednesday night was rightly praised for the clarity and perspective it offered on four years of national politics and policy, as well as the choice that voters face in November’s election.
Clarity on the challenges facing the middle class, perspective on options for addressing those challenges … This, too, is transparency. It’s not just about how we spend people’s money – it’s about how we do their business.
A look at the headlines last week demonstrates that even beyond the appropriate quest to end diversions, Texas could stand a whole lot more transparency:
— We learned last week that the Governor’s new education chief will make $215,000 a year (a roughly 15 percent raise over his predecessor’s salary) despite his relative lack of education experience. Also, the education agency abruptly dropped its wrong-headed refusal to seek a waiver to the federal No Child Left Behind requirements (good) but provided little explanation for the shift (bad).
— In an area that fundamentally affects thousands and thousands of Texas women, we saw the terrible impacts of the cruel budget cuts to women’s health services … and the cynical politicization of the state’s Women’s Health Program.
— Do you happen to have insurance on your house? Then you might care about the massive rate increase that many Texans learned last week that they’re facing, or the overdue investigation into a company’s handling of hurricane claims.
— And we saw an ugly three-fer in the vital area of voting rights: Those in control of the state trying repeatedly to weaken some Texans’ access to the ballot box, spending millions of dollars for the privilege of suing to protect these discriminatory laws, and losing over and over again in court.
Again, transparency should mean a broad approach to governing. It should make sure citizens have as much information as they need to make decisions about their government and what it’s doing.
In short, transparency’s the thing that allows folks to trust and verify that their government really is of the people, by the people and for the people.
I look forward to talking and hearing more about it in two weeks.