Children across our community returned to campus this week for a new school year. It’s an exciting time – one filled with inspiration and promise as students and their parents ponder all that they will learn and discover in the months ahead. Julie and I still cherish the first-day-of-school moments we shared with our daughters, just like the ones that many of you experienced in recent days.
On Monday, I had the honor of greeting families as they arrived at the new Tex Hill Middle School in North East ISD. Opening a new campus requires years of preparation, and I want to congratulate everyone who played a role in helping this great new school open its doors. I also want to thank all of the educators across our community who made this first week of classes a success.
Nothing is more important to the success of our state than education. Over the last couple of years, we in the Texas House have put more resources into public schools while also reducing the burden of excessive standardized testing. We’ve also taken steps to better prepare students for success in our fast-changing economy. As we head into the legislative session that begins in January, I want to hear your ideas about ways to improve public education in Texas, so please contact me and share your thoughts.
Again, congratulations to students and parents for a successful return to school. I look forward to seeing you at other campuses around our community, and I wish you all the best for the upcoming year.
Finding Efficiencies for Taxpayers
As stewards of taxpayer dollars, it’s important that those of us in the Legislature consistently evaluate state agencies and programs to see that they are using resources appropriately and efficiently.
I recently launched a new process called Strategic Fiscal Review. It requires the Members of the House who focus on writing the state budget to ask fundamental questions about the ways state agencies operate and the purposes they serve. In the months ahead, my House colleagues will be looking at agencies such as the Department of Transportation and the Department of Public Safety to see what they’re trying to accomplish and how they’re going about it. Their findings will be very helpful to the entire Legislature as we decide how to allocate resources in our session next year.
Government should be limited, but it should also be effective. The Strategic Fiscal Review process will put a spotlight on ways to return more value for taxpayers, and I look forward to telling you more about our findings in the months ahead.
Speaker of the House
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.
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