House will reform budget, further squeeze dollars

08/20/2014 5:46 PM

08/20/2014 5:48 PM

The Texas House knows how to cut taxes and balance budgets.

During my time as speaker, we have reduced taxes on consumers and businesses alike, delivering more than $1 billion in relief when we met last year.

It’s also important to use resources efficiently and transparently.

Texas continues to have one of the lowest per-capita spending rates of any state in the country. Last year’s balanced budget kept spending beneath expected growth in population and inflation.

But as we prepare for the Legislature to convene again in January, we need to know that the agencies receiving taxpayer dollars are using them in the best possible ways to support their mission.

Last week, I announced a new process called Strategic Fiscal Review. House budget writers will put key state agencies under the microscope and ask fundamental questions about what they are trying to achieve.

This is a significant change, and such changes do not happen overnight. That’s why I’ve identified a handful of important, visible agencies — such as the Texas Department of Transportation and the Department of Public Safety — to undergo this first round of review.

The lessons we learn will help us apply similar scrutiny to other agencies going forward.

Earlier this year, I named a committee to review the effectiveness of programs that offer incentives to businesses looking to create jobs in Texas.

At a hearing last week in North Texas, the committee asked a number of necessary — if at times uncomfortable — questions about one of those programs, the Emerging Technology Fund.

While these programs can undoubtedly benefit the state, the House wants to know whether they are worth the investment that taxpayers make in them.

I expect the Legislature to have a healthy debate about whether these programs should be renewed, retooled or replaced, and I look forward to hearing the committee’s recommendations.

Finally, the House is continuing to untangle the knot that our state budget has been twisted into.

For more than two decades, the state assessed taxes and fees for stated purposes — state parks or trauma care, for instance — but allowed that money to pile up unspent, used only to help certify that the total state budget wasn’t spending more money than it had available.

The House reversed that trend in a major way last year by using more dollars as intended while eliminating some taxes and fees.

When the House releases its proposed new two-year budget in January, we will take the next step by using all of the money in the State Highway Fund for transportation.

For decades, some of this money has been used for other purposes, such as funding the Department of Public Safety.

Using those dollars — which come largely from the gas tax — for transportation alone will increase transparency in our budget and provide an additional $1.3 billion over two years to improve mobility. And we won’t have to increase taxes to do it.

Republican Joe Straus of San Antonio represents part of Bexar County in the Texas House and serves as speaker.

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