July 11, 2003
Goodhair wins one, loses one in House

The House passed a boatload of bills that would give the Governor's office more power over agency heads as part of an effort to reorganize state government, and rejected a bill that would have allowed budget drafts to be kept secret.

House Bill 54 stemmed from Perry's decision to abandon his first attempt at writing a budget last session and instead submit one to the Legislature full of zeroes, telling lawmakers to start from scratch. The tactic was prompted by state Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn's announcement that revenue estimates would be much lower than anticipated.

Though Perry argued that the preliminary budgetary efforts were "working papers," Texas Attorney General Gregg Abbott ruled they must be made available to the public.

State Rep. David Swinford, R-Amarillo, the bill's author, had HB 54 tabled after mounting pressure from opponents.

"The news media really gets real persnickety about anything being closed, so they just start beating the living heck out of everybody," Swinford said. "There were a lot of our members that said, `You're right but we really don't want to take the beating,' so the intimidation factor of the news media worked, so they all ought to go celebrate."

Swinford said he will not bring the bill up for reconsideration unless legislators request a vote on it.

The House, however, did give final approval on other measures that either broadened the governor's powers or reorganized state government.

Among them was House Bill 53, also authored by Swinford, which allows the governor to designate the presiding officer of boards that govern state agencies.

Currently, about 55 percent of all presiding officers are appointed by the governor. Swinford said the bill brings uniformity to the appointment process.

The authority, however, does not extend to agencies or entities that advise or report to a state agency headed by a statewide-elected official. The bill also does not apply to university systems, river authorities or junior college districts.

I'm OK with HB 53, and I'm thrilled that HB 54 died the grisly death it deserved. Here's a reminder of what we now know about Perry's budgetmaking decisions, thanks to the requirement that his notes be made public:

Earlier this year, Mr. Perry chose not to submit a recommended state budget but instead delivered a zero-based budget proposal. He said lawmakers should start from scratch.

Critics said the governor was abdicating his responsibility to outline his budget priorities and sought release of the papers on a specific budget plan that his office had been working on.

For example, release of the papers at the attorney general's direction showed that the governor's staff had been considering boosting education spending but making cuts in health programs such as an HIV-prevention program.

So at least one good thing has come out of this stoopid special session.

One other thing the House did:

The House also approved a bill that places the Office of State-Federal Relations under the governor's office to improve the state's chances of getting more federal dollars.

State Rep. Carter Casteel, R-New Braunfels, said the state ranks 37th in gaining federal funding.

"If the governor can, through this office, maximize the amount of federal dollars, we're all winners," Casteel said.

The OSFR is the office that the state Senate threatened to close down in May for being a bunch of do-nothings. According to the Statesman, what this bill actually does is abolish the OSFR and move its responibilities to the Governor's office. I'm not sure if this solves the problems of the OSFR, which included being "forced" to hire a Tom DeLay crony at $15,000 a month, but I'll wait and see what the Senate has to say before I draw any conclusions.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on July 11, 2003 to Budget ballyhoo | TrackBack

What? Discuss budgets in the open, where any taxpayer might find out what the government is planning to spend the money on?


Sir, this is not what the founding fathers had planned. They wanted to keep the common man free from any political involvements and/or obligations.Let others think for us - that was the thought which created this great country!

Posted by: Henry on July 11, 2003 1:02 PM

I actually think OSFR - its FUNCTION, anyway - is useful. Yes, they reward supporters with the head OSFR job, but I think its important for the state to have a presence in DC. We have folks who can monitor stuff on the ground, assess the TX impact, and communicate that back home. They also let the TX delegation in DC know about our concerns and priorities. I suppose you can argue that it isn't a critical function. But the Texans in Congress are going to be looking at legislation from the perspective of their districts and not always the state as a whole (Senators are a bit more likely to consider whole-state impact).

Posted by: hope on July 11, 2003 2:04 PM

Forgot to add - I've worked with OSFR staff and state agency reps officed out of OSFR and in my opinion they were all working really hard. Maybe its just the top guys who are slacking. Or maybe they're all busting ass but Congress wasn't listening to them.

Posted by: hope on July 11, 2003 2:07 PM