Speaker Joe Straus today instructed Texas House budget-writers to begin taking a deeper look at certain agencies’ responsibilities, costs and operating practices.
As they write the state budget every two years, members of the Appropriations Committee gather information about every state agency and its priorities. This process has allowed the Legislature to consistently and proactively limit spending and produce balanced budgets with healthy reserve funds. As a result, the current state budget stays beneath expected growth in population plus inflation. And Texas continues to have one of the lowest per-capita spending rates in the country, ranking 47th out of the 50 states in 2012.
To continue — and further — the House’s commitment to fiscal restraint and sound priorities, Speaker Straus instructed the Appropriations Committee to hold hearings on a pilot process called Strategic Fiscal Review (SFR). Through SFR, committee members will ask fundamental questions about the services provided by agencies, their use of state funds and the extent to which they could carry out their missions with fewer employees and resources. This work will provide tools and information for the 84th Legislature to make more informed budget decisions.
“This process will allow legislators and agencies to have a needed conversation about the role of government, the use of taxpayer dollars and the priorities that we set as a state,” Speaker Straus said. “It’s a more comprehensive approach that will give legislators better information to use when making budget and policy decisions.”
The following agencies and programs will undergo SFR in the coming months: Trusteed Programs within the Office of the Governor; Department of Information Resources; General Revenue-funded programs at the Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services; Higher Education Coordinating Board; System Offices of General Academic Institutions; Available University Fund; Texas State Law Library; Juvenile Justice Department; Department of Public Safety; Department of Transportation; and the Public Utility Commission.
“This is a significant change in how we allocate taxpayer dollars, and those types of changes are not made overnight,” Speaker Straus said. “By starting with a small number of important and visible agencies, we are taking the first step in a larger process of more closely evaluating how every taxpayer dollar is used. Our experience with these agencies will help the House expand SFR to other areas of state government in the near future.”
Speaker Straus has made budget transparency a top priority in recent years. Under his leadership in 2013, the House significantly reduced the decades-old practice of allowing unspent fee revenue to pile up so that it can be counted to balance the rest of the budget. Earlier this year, Speaker Straus announced that the introduced House budget for 2016-17 will use the State Highway Fund solely for transportation, instead of allowing some of that money to fund other priorities.
Texas House Speaker Joe Straus released the following statement after the Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations voted 6-1 to admonish and censure University of Texas Regent Wallace Hall Jr.:
“I want to thank the Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations for its deliberate, thoughtful work over the last year. Today’s vote sends a clear message: The Legislature encourages regents and other executive appointees to ask difficult questions of the agencies in their care. But when appointees’ actions begin to harm those agencies — as Regent Hall’s repeatedly have — the Texas House will not ignore its own oversight role. Going forward, the monitoring requirements imposed today will prevent the types of abuses that this committee has discovered over the last year. The committee’s enhanced oversight, combined with reforms already implemented by the UT Board and the arrival of new UT System leadership, will help the System move past this episode and focus on the students it serves.”
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