Why did Texas House Speaker Joe Straus hold up efforts to ask state agencies to control their spending and find ways to reduce outlays? After all, state leaders have been told for months Texas might experience a $7-$11 billion shortfall in 2011. Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst wanted the "Big Three" to send a warning letter to agencies (asking them to curtail spending as much as possible and seek efficiencies) more than a month ago.

Meanwhile the Dallas Morning News was running with the theory Karen Hughes (former Bush White House advisor turned Kay Bailey Hutchison cheerleader) talked Straus into delaying the action. Hughes is a PR advisor to Straus.

The Morning News’ thinking, apparently, was that delaying the proposed cut-spending request letter from the "Big Three" state leaders would somehow give KBH a chance to rip into Perry and "pounce on the budget situation."

Hughes told the Morning News: "Absolutely not. It would’ve been completely inappropriate and unethical for me to discuss this or any other matter involving the speaker with Kay’s campaign."

It certainly would have been inappropriate. But if not for crass politics, why then did the San Antonio Republican hold up the letter? After all, such a letter would merely ask the agencies — not require them — to be prudent in spending our money given the national economic situation, and seek efficiencies.

I bumped into the Speaker outside the Capital, and asked him.

Give the man credit for staying on message; Speaker Straus gave me the same response he gave the Morning News. He told them he "wanted to see one more month of sales tax receipts before deciding to co-sign" the letter with Perry and Dewhurst.

Why wait another month before asking agencies to reduce spending and find efficiencies?

Straus told me he thought one month wouldn’t make a big difference in the spending reductions. He said he just wanted to proceed carefully, with the best data available.

If you are contemplating a strate spending spree, that’s a good answer. But since the issue at hand is fiscal restraint and budget prudence, that answer isn’t so hot.

As someone who trumpets his fiscally conservative views (given his image as a social moderate), he should always be in the business of demanding that state agencies strive for fiscal efficiency — regardless of budget situations or monthly sales tax receipts.

With December’s sales tax numbers in now, Speaker Straus says he will be signing on to the Big Three letter.


Michael Quinn Sullivan

Michael Quinn Sullivan is the publisher of Texas Scorecard. He is a native Texan, a graduate of Texas A&M, and an Eagle Scout. Previously, he has worked as a newspaper reporter, magazine contributor, Capitol Hill staffer, and think tank vice president. Michael and his wife have three adult children, a son-in-law, and a dog. Michael is the author of three books, including "Reflections on Life and Liberty."


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