Convenient Budget Switch? - Texas Scorecard

House Speaker Joe Straus has finally come around to supporting an end to fund-diversion gimmicks as a way to balance the budget. Of course, his support was nowhere to be seen in 2011 when he had a GOP super-majority that could have permanently rectified the problem. Instead, his appropriations committee just kicked the problem down the road.

To be fair: Speaker Straus’ team didn’t invent the fund-diversion game, but they also didn’t try to solve it the last two sessions. For nearly 20 years, the Texas Legislature has balanced the state’s budget through “funds consolidation” – a gimmick allowing legislators to use funds for things other than their intended purpose.

On Monday Speaker Straus called for an end to such diversions, leaving taxpayers to wonder what’s behind his sudden policy change. Perhaps it was having the poorest-re-election showing of a sitting speaker in 20 years? Or maybe the prospect of a race for the speakership in 2013?

Speaker Straus directed an Appropriations subcommittee to look into ending the practice of “funds consolidation” – a fancy term for using funds outside of their intended purposes. Last session, almost $5 billion of the state budget was appropriated in this manner.

He even used the very example we’ve been using: the diversion of trauma care dollars.

It’s not as if those calls weren’t already made before (and during) last session. Straus literally had a super-majority of Republicans in the House at the time, yet failed to push for such common sense fiscal reform.

He is also on the record publicly opposing Governor Perry’s Texas Budget Compact, a set of conservative reforms that include spending limits and cutting wasteful government.

Under Straus’s leadership last session, spending limits never even made it out of committee, much less to the floor of the House. Meanwhile, GOP primary voters have supported limits on state spending by an overwhelming 90% or more when asked during the past four election cycles.

The Speaker has also been dismissive of pursuing budget cuts. He told the El Paso Times last October that “you can’t cut your way to prosperity.”

But that’s exactly what the Legislature would have to do if they committed to ridding $5 billion of spending gimmicks out of the state budget – unless of course he wants to bring in more revenues to make up for it.

One alleged revenue scheme pushed by Straus’ team and other Austin big-spenders: expanding gambling.

The chances of passing a crony-based gambling bill took a hit on election night when three of Straus’ lieutenants were defeated in the primary – including Pro-gambling lackey “Tuffy” Hamilton who chaired the House Licensing and Administrative Committee.

Taxpayers should be happy to see an end to funding diversions in the budget, but shouldn’t take the bait once the cries for more revenue ring out. Gambling has proven time and again to be a fiscal boondoggle on state budgets.

Ending budget gimmicks should be the first step to enacting meaningful spending limits and an honest Texas budget. Whatever his rationale, we’re glad Speaker Straus has finally decided to join Gov. Perry and conservatives in ending these heinous budget gimmicks.

Tell your legislators you support spending limits, cuts to wasteful government, and truth in budgeting by signing the Texas Budget Compact.