The first draft budget includes a significant cut, but it’s early days.
Already under investigation by the FBI and facing calls to resign from both the left and the right, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton now has the Texas Legislature to worry about.
State lawmakers have rolled out an initial state budget that would slash his request for funding and eliminate more than 150 positions from his office — far deeper cuts than most state agencies face, reducing his staffing to its lowest level since he was elected.
In October, Paxton requested $1.26 billion over two years for his agency with 4,217 positions. Instead, the Texas Senate will begin debate on a budget plan this week that would give him $1.17 billion over the two years and 4,063 positions. That represents $89 million less than requested and 154 fewer positions.
Neither the Republican attorney general nor his colleagues in the state Senate are saying much publicly about the cuts, but that will change on Wednesday when Paxton and his staff are set to testify before the Senate Finance Committee.
“We have a lot of questions that need to be asked,” said state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, a Houston Republican who is a member of that committee.
The cuts stand out when compared to the proposed budgets of other statewide elected officials. Gov. Greg Abbott and State Comptroller Glenn Hegar both are getting exactly the amount of money and staff they requested.
“Many state agencies saw a reduction in our introduced budget, including the attorney general,” said Senate Finance Chair Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound. “We made clear we did not want to see a reduction in services for crime victims, including rape crisis center services and sexual assault nurse examiners. This is a starting point.”
One of the biggest proposed cuts is to Paxton’s fund for hiring outside law firms, consultants, expert witnesses and information technology services. He asked for $205 million for the two-year budget, but the Senate is proposing $118 million.
Paxton’s office did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
In budget documents, Paxton says he needs tens of millions of additional funding for managing crime victims services programs and for technology upgrades.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic and the slowdown in oil and gas revenues, most agencies have been warned to lower their budget expectations.
The proposed cuts come as Paxton faces other administrative woes.
In 2019, the Legislature halted work on upgrading the child support enforcement system that had been on the books since before Paxton took office. Originally budged at $223.6 million, the project had jumped to $419.6 million before lawmakers finally pulled the plug. State budget writers cited the terminated project as a key reason for Paxton’s drop in funding.
Although it is not detailed in his budget request, the Associated Press reported Paxton was seeking about $43 million in state funding to hire outside attorneys for a high-profile antitrust lawsuit against Google. The whistleblowers told the Associated Press that before they reported him to the FBI in September and began resigning, the lawsuit against the search engine giant was set to be handled internally. Paxton runs one of the largest state attorney general’s offices in the United States.
See here for the background. It’s too early to say what will happen – he may answer all of those questions that Bettencourt and others want to ask in a satisfactory way to them on Wednesday, or maybe the Lege will give him more money for things they approve of to make up for the things they cut. Even if there is ultimately a net decrease in funding for Paxton, that doesn’t mean it will be taken as a rebuke for anything in particular. But at least it gets the conversation started.