In a legislative session controlled by a rhetorically conservative super-majority, they accomplished the bare fiscal minimum but did little to control future government growth. This is reflected on the 2011 Fiscal Responsibility Index, with legislators averaging a paltry 61 percent.
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As we have written previously, this has been a legislative session defined more by reactive deal-making than pro-active policy-making. Lawmakers responded to crises, but did little to re-work a system bent on expanding government. Even with the state’s fiscal crisis, there were no spending limit-reforms enacted, no taxes eliminated, no curbs on future tax levies, no corporate giveaways ended, nor any unnecessary agencies shuttered.
Fiscally speaking, it was a super-majority bereft of the “super.”
But the regular session and follow-on special were not without successes, most notably the passage of the Health Care Compact. State Rep. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenahm) and State Sens. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) and Joan Huffman (R-Houston) pushed the HCC, cheered on by a bipartisan coalition of Texans. This “special” session also produced some interesting results, such as reforming the way teacher contracts are handled.
The 2011 Fiscal Responsibility Index rates lawmakers on their votes. In the House, more than 40 votes were used; 21 in the Senate. It focuses on the size and cost of government, providing voters with a measure of which lawmakers are working to protect Texas’ taxpayers.
Individual legislator ratings are reported as “A+”, “A”, “B+” and so on to “D” and finally “F.” Based on their 2011 rating, more than 60 legislators this year earned either the “Taxpayer Champion” or “Taxpayer Advocate” award.
In 2009, the House average was a 56.7, while the Senate average was a 47.7. The 2011 House average is a 63.2, the Senate a 51.8.
House Republicans averaged an 82.5 (up slightly from a 2009 average of 82.3), while House Democrats averaged a 22.8 (down from the ’09 rating of 30.9). Senate Republicans averaged a 73.2 (up from 59.1 in 2009), while Senate Democrats averaged a 17.9 (down from ‘09’s 29.7).
To understand why significant budget reform measures – such as reforming the state’s tax and expenditure limit – weren’t even given the opportunity for a vote in either chamber, one must recognize that the legislative leadership clearly didn’t have it as a priority.
The responsibility for selecting those committee chairs rests squarely with House Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) in his chamber, and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in the Senate.
But Mr. Straus, primarily, must explain why with a super-majority in the House, so few fiscal reforms were even attempted by his leadership team. He alone can explain why only perfunctory hearings were held on fundamental reforms conservatives — and Republicans — have long demanded.
Committee chairmen all hold the cards. They decide what legislation moves, and what doesn’t. Thus, he who appoints the committees controls the flow of legislation, and legislative outcomes.
House committee chairmen averaged only a 63.3 on the Index. The House’s Republican committee chairmen averaged a 76.7, greatly under-performing their caucus’ rating (82.5). In the Senate, committee chairs averaged a 62.5; Republican chairs in that chamber averaged a 70.3, also underperforming their caucus with an average (73.2).
The lackluster performance by the committee chairs, coupled with their unwillingness to pass substantive reforms, stands in stark contrast to the sheer number of right-thinking legislators who tried to promote proactive fiscal policies.
We were pleased to see that a majority of lawmakers would do the right thing when they were given the chance. After all, 92 House and Senate members passed the Index (C or better) and, as previouslty noted, more than 60 are getting awards. That the Speakers’ committee leadership team refused to allow those lawmakers more opportunities to reform government in Texas is a study in wasted opportunities.
While some ratings focus on personalities or process, the Index rests solely on public policy outcomes.
On an organizational note: the legislators endorsed by Texans for Fiscal Responsibility in the 2010 election cycle earned an average score of 85.4. While some endorsees didn’t live up to their promises, we’re proud that the overwhelming majority did – reaffirming their commitment to sound public policy that empowers Texans.
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