Texas House Speaker Joe Straus today reportedly said the state’s budget must be balanced without new taxes, without taping the “rainy day” fund and within available revenues — that is, by limiting government. Those principles, if followed, knock the budget-ball out of the park. Hopefully his committee chairs will get behind them.
The speaker’s comments were reported by the Lone Star Report.
Mr. Straus has consistently said he opposes new or increased taxes to deal with the projected budget shortfall (that is, the difference between what some might want spend and what revenues might be available). Several of his committee chairs, however, have been staking out different — and economically irresponsible — approaches.
For example, his transportation committee chairman, Joe Pickett (D-El Paso) has been traveling the state promoting an increase in the gasoline tax. The chairman of the Ways and Means committee, Rene Oliveira (D-Brownsville) has floated ending various sales tax exemptions. Meanwhile, Jim Pitts of Waxahacie and Edmund Kuempel of Seguin — the Republican chairmen of Appropriations (the spenders) and Licensing (oversight for gambling) — want to expand the footprint of “gaming” under the questionable premise it might bring more revenues into the state.
It’s important to remember that Mr. Straus appointed his chairs when the House was divided 76-74, and after 65 Democrats and 11 Republicans joined forces to expel former Speaker Tom Craddick (R-Midland) from the dais. (You’ll recall s Rice University study has painted a rather unflattering picture of the 11 Republicans.)
With it increasingly apparent Texas will have a much more Republican, and markedly more conservative, House, an opportunity is created for Speaker Straus to ditch committee chairmen who have varying degrees of disinterest in cutting spending and putting a hardline “no” to tax hikes. Removing wayward committee chairs is never easy, and fraught with inside baseball intrigue. (Just ask the aforementioned Mr. Craddick.)
Committee chairs wield sizable power on the Capitol’s west side during Session, meaning doing good public policy is made all the more difficult by bad committee chairmen.
For that reason, conservatives should be in contact with Mr. Straus’ office — giving him the practical cover needed to ensure better lawmakers are placed in these important positions of policy authority.