It should come as no surprise to Texans that the Legislature exercised very little in the way of fiscal responsibility during the 83rd Session. With a record tax revenues, lawmakers chose to hike spending rather than provide substantive tax relief. Long-demanded reforms to state government were left undone, and—worse—untried.
For conservatives, it was a second wasted legislative session in a row. Moderate leadership, and two-dozen anti-conservative Republicans conspired with Democrats to thwart reform and push big-government agendas despite a near-supermajority of self-proclaimed “conservatives.”
Our 2013 Fiscal Responsibility Index shows that in spades. We used more than 70 exemplar votes in the House, and more than two dozen in the Senate.
Here are the top-line numbers: the House average was a 46.9 percent and the Senate a 58 percent.
The House GOP averaged an anemic 63 percent, while the Senate GOP averaged a D+ 68.9 percent. The House Democrats averaged an 18.7 percent, while the Senate Dems averaged a 40.8 percent.
As we have come to expect, the House and Senate GOP committee chairs had worse ratings than their caucus averages. The Speaker Joe Straus-appointed GOP chairs averaged 10 points lower (52.97 percent) than the caucus, as did Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst’s appointed Senate GOP chairs (58.16 percent).
Personnel is policy, as the old saying goes, and nowhere is that more true than in the committees—where legislation can be pushed forward or killed silently. Committee chairmanships rest squarely with the lieutenant governor and speaker in their respective bodies. (It will be up to Mr. Dewhurst and Mr. Straus to explain why they picked so many moderates to chair committees and control the flow of legislation.)
Examples of anti-conservative action by Republicans abound. In the House there were pro-ObamaCare Medicaid-expanders Reps. John Zerwas and J.D. Sheffield, Republicans who rated lower than Democrats. They, and other allies of Speaker Straus, pushed reckless public policies while refusing to even hold hearings on items like zero-based budgeting or strengthening the state spending limit.
The Senate wasn’t any better. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and others hid behind the Senate’s “two-thirds rule” in refusing to move substantive legislation, while tacitly allowing liberal Republican Sen. Kel Seliger of Amarillo stealthily move forward patently unconstitutional legislation opposed by every conservative group in the state. (Two-thirds of the Senate later voted to “recall” the measure.)
The pervasive lack of fiscal responsibility in public policy is driven by the irresponsibility of the legislative leadership and their allies.
Simply: Texans cannot expect better policies until we have better personnel serving in those chambers.