Back in January, just after 'fessing up that her projection of a $5 billion budget shortfall was off by a factor of 2, Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn uttered the following words: "The last Legislature had a party and left this Legislature with a hangover." Quite a few Senators took umbrage to this assertion. Yesterday, they extracted a bit of revenge.
The Texas Senate on Thursday stripped the state comptroller's office of two major components, including one that has served as a platform for the comptroller to cite waste in state government.
Senate Bill 22 included a host of measures aimed at streamlining state government and broadening the powers of the governor.
But the most controversial measure was moving the comptroller's e-Texas division and state school performance audits to the Legislative Budget Board.
Supporters said the move will save the state $14 million a year.
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said the Legislative Budget Board already performs efficiency audits for other state agencies.
"Why in the world would we have a group in the Legislative Budget Board and a group in the comptroller's office doing virtually the same thing?" Dewhurst asked.
Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn hinted that the move was "political retribution" for her criticism of the Legislature for not showing more spending restraint during strong economic times.
"I believe the lieutenant governor is misguided, and I hope this is not some form of political retribution for my efforts to be a staunch defender of taxpayer dollars and an honest 'tell it like it is' watchdog for all the people of Texas," she said in a statement.
Sen. Rodney Ellis puts it best:
Ellis chuckled at the suggestion that he had any political motivation for including the provision stripping away Strayhorn's so-called E-Texas operation, which conducts agency audits and recommends money-saving measures to the Legislative Budget Board.
"I'm sure she was not referring to me," Ellis said with a grin. "Although I was chair of [the budget-writing Senate Finance Committee] at the 'party' she made reference to. I don't know if it was [another lawmaker] or me who said if there was a party, she must have been the bartender."
Because of a $300,000 loss in funding that some have blamed on partisan politics, the San Antonio-based outreach program will close three of its six statewide offices today.
Offices in Austin, Dallas and Fort Worth will shut down, while operations in San Antonio, El Paso and Houston will remain open.
"This is not hurting the American GI Forum; this is hurting veterans — period," said Ram Chavez, state commander of the civil rights group, composed primarily of Hispanic veterans.
The forced closures have sparked a political backlash from veterans and Democrats who charge that Republican Gov. Rick Perry cut the funding as retaliation to the GI Forum's boisterous opposition to Texas' congressional redistricting plan.
Democrats from Austin to Washington immediately registered their disapproval.
U.S. Rep. Ciro Rodriguez, D-San Antonio, questioned whether "political reasons" caused Perry to yank the funding that every governor has approved since the 1970s.
He was joined by state Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, D-San Antonio.
"It is beyond me why the governor would choose now to stop a federally funded program to aid veterans in their return to society," she said. "The only reason I can think of is retaliation for the GI Forum demonstrations against redistricting."