Newsletter: Protecting Texas Taxpayers

By Speaker Joe Straus

The state of Texas has increasingly contracted with private companies to carry out government services in recent years. These arrangements can often make sense because certain expertise and efficiencies that exist in the private sector cannot be found in government.

But the state agencies that issue contracts have a responsibility to protect taxpayers’ interests. Recent headlines have shown that agencies sometimes ignore their own protocols in the contracting process, or perhaps they lack the expertise to vet contracts thoroughly. Neither is acceptable, and that’s why reforming the contracting process at state agencies is a major priority for the Texas House in our current legislative session. 

We’ve learned in recent months that some high-profile agencies, including the state Health and Human Services Commission, have not handled major contracts properly. What we don’t yet know is how pervasive such problems are. Last week, the House Committee on General Investigating and Ethics asked 11 key agencies to provide information about a variety of contracts issued in the last three years. This inquiry will illustrate the frequency of contracting problems while helping the Legislature prevent future abuses.

Texans expect their elected representatives to provide effective oversight of state agencies, especially when billions of dollars in contracts are at stake. The committee’s request is an important step – but just one step — toward making sure state agencies are using taxpayer resources properly.

Providing Tax Relief      

The strong performance of the Texas economy, combined with our commitment to fiscal discipline, will allow the Legislature to provide tax relief this session. In fact, legislation to reduce taxes was recently voted out of a House committee and will soon arrive on the House floor.

This week, the House is scheduled to consider two proposals that would provide more than $4 billion in tax relief. House Bill 31 would reduce the state’s sales tax, while House Bill 32 would lower the franchise tax assessed on businesses. Each of these bills would provide a tangible reduction in the tax burden placed on Texans and help the private-sector economy continue to grow.

Improving Public Education

Another important proposal under consideration is House Bill 1759. This legislation would significantly reform our school finance system, giving public schools additional resources and distributing those resources in a more efficient way. The legislation would also reduce the amount of money shared between school districts through the “Robin Hood” funding system.

Our system of paying for public education is once again facing a court challenge. But many of us in the House believe that we don’t have to wait for judges to act in order to reform that system and help schools better educate their students. House Bill 1759 is the product of months of discussion and work by a bipartisan group of legislators, and it represents a real opportunity to improve education in this state.

If you want to provide feedback on these issues or any others, please contact me at joe@joestraus.org.

Newsletter: Education, Fiscal Discipline Highlight a Busy Week

By Speaker Joe Straus

My colleagues in the Texas House and I continue to address priorities that matter to our economy and our future. Each week, House committees weigh hundreds of bills and consider which ones to send to the full House. With a little more than seven weeks to go in this year’s legislative session, more and more of these proposals are seeing votes on the House floor. It’s a very important time in our session.

In fact, within the last week, the House has approved a number of significant bills. Each received overwhelming and bipartisan support. I’m proud of the House’s work on these issues and would like to highlight a few of them below:

Responsible Stewardship: Last year, the House launched a process called Strategic Fiscal Review in order to ask fundamental questions about the ways state agencies operate. As stewards of taxpayer dollars, we have an obligation to make sure that agencies are carrying out their mission as effectively and efficiently as possible. Last week, we passed House Bill 5 in order to continue these reviews. The Strategic Fiscal Review process allows legislators to better evaluate the funding and oversight that agencies need in order to best serve taxpayers.

Debt Reduction: Thanks to the strong performance of our private sector and the discipline exercised by the Legislature, the state’s Rainy Day Fund is projected to reach historically high levels over the next couple of years. State law caps the amount of money that can go into the Fund, putting any dollars that come in above that cap in the state’s General Revenue account. Because so much money has accumulated in the Rainy Day Fund, exceeding the cap is starting to become a real possibility. Last week, the House passed House Joint Resolution 8, a proposed amendment to the Texas Constitution. If the Texas economy performs so well that there is more money going into the Rainy Day Fund than the law allows, this resolution would use the extra dollars for the early retirement of state debt. Such a provision would save taxpayers money by allowing the state to pay off its debts faster.

Early Childhood Education: Also last week, the House overwhelmingly approved House Bill 4. This legislation offers school districts financial incentives to create high-quality programs for the students they serve in pre-kindergarten. The legislation specifically supports programs that require teachers to have college degrees, that use an enhanced state curriculum and that foster parental engagement. High-quality pre-kindergarten programs provide children with the strong foundation needed to begin their education, and that’s especially important for the at-risk students that House Bill 4 targets. Governor Greg Abbott labeled this legislation an emergency priority.

The authors of these proposals received strong support from their colleagues, and I look forward to working with the Senate to see that each one is passed into law. To provide feedback on these issues or any others, please feel free to contact me at joe@joestraus.org.

 

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