At a press conference in the Texas Capitol, Lieutenant Governor-elect Dan Patrick delineated major items on his legislative agenda for the 84th session. Naturally, news outlets across the state bewailed the conservatism of Patrick’s checklist, suggesting recklessness and corrupt intentions. Despite the knee-jerk responses, however, it’s worth looking at a few of Patrick’s recommendations and why they are fiscally responsible routes to consider in this legislative session.
1. Quit funding corrupt agencies. Namely, the Texas Public Integrity Unit, a Democrat-led division of the Travis County DA Office which purports to investigate fraud and corruption. Already infamous for frivolously targeting Republican officials since its creation in 1976, the PIU became embroiled in controversy in 2013 when Travis County DA Rosemary Lehmberg was arrested for DWI, prompting Gov. Rick Perry’s warning to veto $7.5 million in funding to the agency if Lehmberg did not resign. We know the story: Lehmberg refused, and Perry was indicted on absurd felony charges of abuse of office after he vetoed funding for the PIU.
Truly conservative legislators will ensure that the PIU and its irresponsible leadership remain unrewarded with state money this session, denying Lehmberg the $6.7 million she has requested from the State Highway Fund (SHF). All responsibilities of the PIU should instead be transferred to the Attorney General’s Office, which already handles statewide cases and investigates corruption.
This fiscally responsible course of action eliminates a pocket of excessive government that has failed to demonstrate integrity and reliability.
2. Provide school choice. Allowing parents to choose the schools to which they send their children would create a bevy of benefits, not the least of which would be the estimated $653 million annual increase in state GDP. Economist Arthur Laffer’s recent report confirms that a school choice program would create new jobs, decrease crime rates, and increase school quality through competition.
School choice is a key issue that Patrick wants addressed in the 84th Session. State Senator Donna Campbell has already filed a Taxpayer Savings Grant Bill which seeks to implement the school choice program. This plan of action is fiscally responsible and, if signed into law, will benefit students, neighborhoods, and the Texas economy.
3. End gas tax diversion. 75% of revenue from the state motor fuels tax currently flows to the State Highway Fund (SHF). The SHF in turn funds eight state agencies, the Department of Transportation being the only one entrusted with roads and infrastructure. Currently, $1.85 billion of the SHF is funding other agencies such as the PIU, the Department of Insurance, the Texas Education Agency, and the State Office of Administrative Hearings.
Patrick’s idea is to stop channeling money into agencies that have little or nothing to do with transportation. Since energy transportation and explosive population growth take a critical toll on infrastructure, the SHF must be in a position to maximize opportunities for necessary, responsible transportation projects across Texas. Ending the fuel tax diversions to agencies to which transportation responsibilities are not delegated is a fiscally responsible course of action, and it should be pursued for the sake of Texas’ transportation and to properly appropriate taxpayer money.
Whether these issues recommended by Patrick will be effectively addressed in the 84th session, only time will tell. But they are courses of action that would save money, benefit Texas’ economy, and invest in the future as our state continues to provide a model for the rest of the nation.