The News-Journal recently published an editorial regarding a news report from The Texas Tribune that was billed as a bombshell investigation regarding the state’s Legislative Budget Board. The editorial claimed I was “letting the state’s budget agency fall apart.”
My response was, “Absolutely!” Although it would have been more accurate if it had reported I am reshaping and downsizing the agency. While I served in the Texas Senate, and since I was elected lieutenant governor in 2014, I have fought to keep state budget growth at a minimum, to shut down programs that weren’t needed and to reduce regulations and eliminate red tape so taxpayer dollars are spent wisely.
While there are many good people who work at the board and do their jobs well, in the past, some staff began to push the state budget agency in a liberal direction that did not comport with the vision of the state‘s conservative majority. The budget board expanded to nearly 150 employees in the past several years and they did not always provide a work plan or budget to the Legislature for review to justify spending and staffing levels. The lawmakers Texans elected to be accountable for state spending had little control over hiring and firing or the direction and accountability of the agency.
For over three years, the former speaker would not meet with me to discuss these issues. Since the speaker and the lieutenant governor have equal say in the matter, I could not unilaterally replace the director or change the direction of the staff unless the speaker agreed — and, of course, he never agreed. The former budget board director resigned after the speaker stepped down, creating the current vacancy at the top of the agency. During the past legislative session, we worked with interim staff leadership at the board while we continued the search for a new director. Working with the House, it is my hope to have a new director in place in the next several months.
The state Constitution does not give responsibility of the state budget to a group of Austin-based, nonelected officials. The mission of the budget board staff is to provide accurate numbers so that I and elected state senators and representatives can write the state budget. Somewhere along the line — whether intentionally, by liberal bureaucratic drift, or at the direction of past leadership — some staff at budget board began to take on the role of telling lawmakers, who were elected by the people, what programs should be funded and how taxpayer dollars should be spent.
I stood up against the bureaucracy and I will continue to stand up to them going forward. The Texas Constitution is clear. At the end of the day, it is the Legislature that is responsible for the state budget, not staff.
I was elected to office because I am committed to a lean and efficient state government. I am very proud of what we have accomplished since I have been in office. We have increased efficiency, reduced waste and kept budget growth at or below the rate of the increase in population times the rate of inflation. This has kept our economy strong and allowed us to focus on our priorities. We have passed over $6 billion in tax cuts while also meeting the needs of a fast growing state.
Speaking of the budget, there has been some misinformation out there. Let’s take a quick look at the actual numbers after adjusting for almost $19 billion for Hurricane Harvey recovery, which was predominately federal funds, and nearly $6 billion in cuts for taxpayers.
The first budget I oversaw as lieutenant governor was in fiscal year 2016-2017. The average annual budget growth was 2.8%. The second budget I oversaw as lieutenant governor was in fiscal year 2018-2019. The average annual budget growth was 3%. In the budget passed in the most recent legislative session for fiscal year 2020-2021, the average annual budget growth was 1.4 percent — we project actual growth will be 2.5%.
Keeping state budget growth low is key to ensuring businesses can continue to grow and create jobs and the Texas economy can remain one of the strongest in the world.