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This was supposed to be the year when Texas finally did better when it came to budget honesty.
We were going to use parks money to pay for parks; clean air money for cleaner air; utility fees for utility relief … The list goes on.
But taxpayers aren’t seeing the reform they expect, which means your money – tax dollars, fees and such – still aren’t being spent the way you were promised they would be.
Here’s how they get you:
The state budget is honeycombed with hundreds of “dedicated” funds – little piggybanks where those in control collect your taxes and fees. The state promises to spend the money on a specific, usually popular purpose that you probably support.
But then, much of that money is hoarded in the accounts, diverted from its intended purposes and used to cover other costs.
Over the years, the state has allowed those accounts to get bigger and bigger, starving necessities (like parks, trauma care, 911 service and clean air) that it was meant to pay for and covering up for the failure to fund basic state functions (like schools and healthcare) in more honest, transparent ways.
And, as a result, nearly $5 billion was diverted away from its dedicated purposes in the current 2012-13 budget.
At the start of this session, folks like the Governor and Speaker of the House promised to start weaning the state from its addiction to diversions. But, if anything, things are getting even less transparent.
Right now, those in control of the legislature are pushing a pre-election utility rebate gimmick that would divert more than $700 million from its purpose. That’s money Texans have given the state to help low-income families in deregulated electricity markets pay their utility bills.
The reason the money was collected – the need it’s meant to address – still exists. Hundreds of thousands of poor and elderly Texans still can’t afford their bills in brutally hot months.
Budget writers are using that broken promise to underwrite another one: they pledge to divert no more than $4 billion — $4 billion! — in the next budget.
That’s close to the $4.95 billion they’re diverting now, minus the $700 million they’re writing off in the rebate scheme.
In other words they’re still addicted to diversions, pursing business-as-usual while shrouding it in fake reform. Worse still, budget writers have rejected calls to craft a plan to wean the state off of this practice over the next few budgets. I filed a proposed constitutional amendment that would bring true, long-term reform to this process; it hasn’t even been given a hearing.
That’s not real reform. That’s like someone promising he won’t keep drinking any more without promising to drink much less, either.