With a nearly $1 billion budget shortfall and Texans hurting from government-ordered economic shutdowns in response to the COVID-19 situation, Texans for Fiscal Responsibility argues now is the time to rein in the size of the state government and for citizens to effectively engage their government.

2020 was filled with issues that affected all Texans. In earlier parts of this Legislative Preview series, we explored citizen concerns such as abortion, education and family rights, election integrity, local government tyranny, medical freedom in regards to coronavirus vaccines, and property tax burdens.

In the final part of this series, we sat down with Texans for Fiscal Responsibility to discuss Texas’ projected budget shortfall of nearly $1 billion, what caused it, and the solution.

What Caused the Shortfall?

For TFR’s new Executive Director Tim Hardin, who previously served as chief of staff for retired State Rep. Jonathan Stickland (R–Bedford), it’s not rocket science.

“I think the biggest problem we had in 2020, and the biggest frustration from a lot of the small businesses, was the mandates coming from the governors’ office,” he explained. “We’ve had thousands of businesses close. Many of these mandates are still going on, and it has absolutely destroyed the lives of thousands of people.”

It’s absolutely caused a shortfall in our budget that we’re going to have to deal with.

He clarifies it is the government—not the virus—that is the problem.

“Often you hear media and people say, ‘Coronavirus has destroyed our economy,’” Hardin said. “I would say that’s actually incorrect; our government has destroyed our economy.”

For TFR President Cary Cheshire, 2020 was also enlightening.

“It has revealed the problem in our republic,” he said. “A strong disconnect between those in elected office and the people they are charged to represent. You have a strong disconnect between those who have a guaranteed income because they work for the government and those who are in the private sector, who are actually working to support all of the things in the government.”

But there is good news.

“I think there is tremendous opportunity for Texas right now in the sense that the vast majority of the problems in the state are government-made and can be government-fixed,” Cheshire said.

The Solution

The Texas Legislature can’t ignore the almost $1 billion shortfall. Unfortunately, according to Cheshire, the best option isn’t being considered.

“They’re counting on taxpayers to save the economy,” Cheshire said.

Hardin confirmed this, adding the Legislature is discussing taxes on marijuana and gambling.

But there is a better way. With Texans hurting from the shutdown, Cheshire advocates instead for the Legislature to “show shared sacrifice” and do what working individuals have to do every day.

“Let’s look at our budget. Let’s analyze needs versus wants,” Cheshire said. “Where can we cut? Where do we still need to spend because it makes sense?”

But wouldn’t any cuts to government spending hurt Texas families?

“It’s just not true,” Hardin replied. “The reality is when you look at the budget, there [are] so many programs that we spend millions and millions and millions of dollars on that have absolutely nothing to do with individual families. It’s more corporate welfare.”

It’s not fair that the government shuts down self-owned businesses and destroys the lives of countless citizens of Texas, but then when it comes to their own budget, they refuse to do something like a 5 percent cut across the board.

“The only way out of this is to grow our way out, and we do that by giving agency back to taxpayers,” Cheshire said.

“The question is: Are our representatives going to be responsible in our fiscal policy and reining back to parallel the drop in revenue?” Hardin asked.

And if spending is cut, how would that help Texans?

“Then we’re in a very strong position to use those savings to reduce the high taxes that we have,” Hardin replied.

What Citizens Can Do

Both Cheshire and Hardin are emphatic that the only way to bring about change is for citizens to become engaged.

“We want more people looking at the Legislature,” Cheshire said. “We want more people reading bills. Reading bills is actually relatively easy here in the state of Texas.”

“What citizens have to do is engage their government,” Hardin said. But in his experience, he’s seen many citizens trying to do that but not being effective.

But that doesn’t mean citizens can’t be effective.

“I have seen organizations that have effectively petitioned their government, and influenced their government, and it works,” Hardin said. He mentioned Texans for Vaccine Choice as an example.

“There are citizen activist groups that have an incredible impact on public policy,” Cheshire agreed. “And they do it by being present, by being relentless, and by recognizing that we have to be persistent because it’s going to take a very long time.”

You can’t just show up at a rally and expect things to change the next day.

And it is by helping citizens become effective that TFR hopes to serve them, providing training and helping them hold the government accountable.

Concerned citizens may contact their state representative and state senator. Those interested in learning more about Texans for Fiscal Responsibility may visit their website.

Robert Montoya

Born in Houston, Robert Montoya is an investigative reporter for Texas Scorecard. He believes transparency is the obligation of government.