Commonsense, bi-partisan measures have been presented that would clarify the budget writing and reporting process, providing much needed transparency to a Texas budgetary format marked by a quagmire of confusion.

Currently the ins and outs of the Texas Budget are understood by very few. This often leaves the general public and many legislators and policy makers scratching their heads as they approach the budgeting process to evaluate spending priorities. This cycle’s budget consternation is a good example of this complication.

Boiling it down, the format in which the Texas Budget is offered presents a major problem. Currently the LBB presents the budget in a ‘strategic budgeting format’. This ‘strategic’ format is supposed to provide a long-term view of the budget based on goals and outcomes. More often than not, however, this format fails to be strategic as it often complicates the decision making process by not displaying clear and actionable information to appropriators and legislators looking to properly prioritize spending.

Some of the major issues with the current format confusing the budget are:

  • Appropriations line-items have become based on ideas and outcomes rather than actual programs or items
  • It is unclear where funding is coming from (General Revenue, Dedicated, Federal, or Other) for specific line-items
  • It becomes unclear where money is actually being spent
  • Ultimately, it is unclear if outcomes are related to spending

The Texas Budget and how we build it should be a transparent process, where spending details from agencies and programs are clearly itemized for consideration.

Fortunately Representative Erwin Cain (R – Sulphur Springs) and Senator Kirk Watson (D – Austin) are proposing legislation in the House and Senate that would go a long way toward making the budget significantly more transparent to the public and legislators, giving both the ability to make better informed decisions.

House Bill 2804 by Mr. Cain and Senate Bill 1653 by Mr. Watson both provide necessary and commonsense changes to the budget process that will greatly improve transparency. Some of the key improvements are listed below:

  • Include more line items (thus more information)
  • Limit the size of line items to amounts that describe discreet programs, or if a program is very large, to discreet activities within those programs
  • Line items based on programs and activities should describe what the program does and where it is authorized in law
  • Line items should have more information about the source of funds (general revenue, general revenue- dedicated, federal funds, and other funds) being appropriated

Rep. Cain’s HB 2804 has received considerable support thus far as it lists Representatives Mark Strama, Gene Morrison, Charles Schwertner, and Raul Torres as joint authors and carries an additional 22 coauthors. The bill will be laid out in the Appropriations Committee April 28th where it will hopefully be reported favorably and placed on the House calendar.

Texas’ budget needs to be more transparent so that Taxpayers and legislators alike can have a better idea how we are currently spending tax dollars and how we should spend in the future.

Andrew Kerr is the Executive Director of Empower Texans / Texans for Fiscal Responsibility

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