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Watson calls on Legislative leaders to follow ‘honesty agenda’ on budget
Tuesday, November 16, 2010 by Kimberly Reeves
Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin) used a legislative briefing on Monday to unveil his three-pronged approach to fixing a Texas budget process he says is badly broken.
Watson made his discontent with the process known during the gubernatorial campaign, calling on state leaders to provide more specifics about the impending deficit. At a briefing on Monday at the Bob Bullock History Museum, Watson said the current shortfall is projected at $20 billion but could be as much as $28 billion.
The budget deficit is not simply the result of a weak economy, although the economy did play a role in the problem, Watson said. He also laid blame at the feet of the state’s Republican leadership, saying it was time to stop with the accounting trickery and balancing the budget by “debts, diversion and deception.”
“The mismanagement of the budget – this irresponsible handling of our most moral document – makes it harder and harder to balance the state’s finances, and all but impossible to sustainably balance them,” said Watson. “And that means it’s harder and harder to provide necessities that are patently good for Texans and the future Texas economy.”
Watson unveiled what he called an “honesty agenda” on the budget for the upcoming session and pledged he would vote for neither cuts nor tax increases until lawmakers dealt with making the budget process more transparent. The impending budget crisis was a chance to set things right for the next generation.
“We dare not miss this chance,” Watson said. “Because if we do nothing but drain our state’s savings, deploy the last bits of accounting trickery that aren’t already in place, quietly raise taxes and fees on unsuspecting Texans, and cut cruelly into the needs of children, the elderly and every other Texan – in other words, if we truly come out of this session with ‘nothing good’ – then our budget crises will become chronic.”
Watson has been critical of a number of state budget strategies: collecting fees that never go to fund their intended purpose; diverting transportation funds to pay for non-transportation needs; and choosing long-term debt rather than a pay-as-you-go approach for funding transportation infrastructure.
Watson’s three-part package of reforms is intended to transform the way public money is appropriated, reported and spent. Among the changes Watson wants to propose to the budget process:
- Putting the final version of the budget out for public review for at least five days before a final vote so that legislators and Texans could have confidence in the final document;
- More timely updates on the state’s fiscal condition, with regular reports during the interim from the Comptroller to the Legislative Budget Board;
- No issuance of short-term budget-balancing debt unless top officials sign off on the debt after receiving a full picture of the state’s finances;
- Expanded use of technology to provide timely, and more useful, updates on the budget so Texans have a better idea of what’s actually in the document;
- Declining to put new laws into effect without funding, requiring more public information on the impacts of cuts and refusing to shift the cost from the state to local governments as a cost-savings measure.
Watson said his commitment is to create a responsible, truthful and moral state budget that does not hinge upon covering up losses. Instead, it would be a document that would invest in the state’s tangible future.
The 82nd Texas Legislature convenes in January for 140 days.
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