Though this special session was supposed to be a can’t-lose opportunity for conservatives to pass much needed limited-government reforms, some lawmakers are looking to turn that on its head—and they’re receiving support from a prominent conservative in their ploy.
Authored by the most liberal Republican member of the Texas Legislature, State Rep. Sarah Davis (West University Place), House Bill 25 is a proposal to “reinstate pediatric acute therapy funding by making a supplemental appropriation to the Health and Human Services Commission from the Economic Stabilization Fund.”
If passed, the bill would drain roughly $70 million from the ESF (known colloquially as the Rainy Day Fund) over the next two years for an ongoing expenditure, meaning lawmakers would be on the hook for increased spending in the next budget. It would also open Pandora’s Box, encouraging other lawmakers to devise further schemes to use the account’s balance on.
It’s not surprising that HB 25 has support from liberal Republicans like State Reps. Drew Darby (San Angelo) and Charlie Geren (Fort Worth). Likewise it’s not shocking that House Democrat Caucus Chairman Chris Turner (Arlington) is also listed as a coauthor on the bill.
What is astounding is that State Rep. Matt Krause (R–Fort Worth), a member of the Freedom Caucus, is among them. And even more amazing: he’s written an open letter to Gov. Greg Abbott to add the bill to his special session call.
Using the Rainy Day Fund to pay for ongoing expenditures is something conservatives have opposed for years, knowing that it grows government and could put Texas on the path to emptying the state’s savings account entirely. During the regular and special session, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has led the conservative opposition to raiding the fund.
“The purpose of the ESF is to pay our bills when we have a recession. It also can be used for one-time expenses, paying down debt, or disaster relief,” said Patrick in April. “But one thing it should never be used for is ongoing expenses like adding personnel or programs just to fill in the operating gaps of an ongoing budget. That’s not its purpose.”
“If we do that, in a few years, the Rainy Day Fund could be totally depleted and we wouldn’t have the resources needed for tough times that may be ahead,” he correctly warned.
Krause and the Freedom Caucus agreed.
In April, the group put out a statement in opposition to House Speaker Joe Straus’ budget because it made an ongoing appropriation out of the ESF.
“It is not wise to take money from our Economic Stabilization Fund (aka Rainy Day fund) created in 1988 to “…offset unforeseen shortfalls in revenue” in order to pay for ordinary items that should be addressed in normal budget prioritization,” said the caucus at the time.
They were right.
During the regular session, Krause worked to advance conservative principles and secure taxpayer victories. Texans recognized him for those efforts and voted him one as one of the Citizens’ Choice Best Legislators of 2017, making his recent move both puzzling and disappointing for taxpayers.
UPDATE: After this article was published another member of the Freedom Caucus, State Rep. Jeff Leach (R-Plano), took to Twitter to announce his support for the Krause-Davis proposal as well.