The Austin Chronicle

Count to Five Before Voting

By Lee Nichols, January 7, 2011, 10:48am, Newsdesk

The refrain of “greater transparency” is a constant among government-watchers. Austin Sen. Kirk Watson has an idea for how to make this happen at the 82nd Legislature: Force the Senate to stop, take a deep breath, and wait five days before taking its final vote on the budget.

Saying that the state’s current money woes have been caused by previous budgets that were balanced through “debt, diversions, and deception,” Watson announced on Tuesday – a week before the session starts – that he will propose that the Senate be forced to wait five days after the conference committee drafts the final budget before voting on it.

Usually, Watson complained in an e-mail to constituents, “[L]egislators, advocates, the media, and other Texans generally have about 48 hours, if that, to sort through an almost 1,000 page document” before the final vote, which occurs at the hectic end of the session.

“Taking five days – a business week’s worth of budget honesty – would help us all evaluate whether Texas, even in the midst of a tough economy, is maintaining its commitments to schools, health care for seniors, border security, and other moral priorities that will keep Texas economically competitive.”

This morning, Watson issued a press release boasting of support for the wait from both the Texas Public Policy Foundation and the Center for Public Policy Priorities – two think tanks on opposite ends of the ideological spectrum. The release had quotes from both organizations:

“In the spirit of transparency, it would give people more time to look at the budget,” said the conservative TPPF’s Talmadge Heflin, a former legislator who chaired the House Appropriations Committee. “We need to try to get more legislators to know what they’re voting on.”

From the liberal end, Scott McCown, executive director of the CPPP, said: “Having the final version of the budget lay out for five days would give the public time to learn what is, and what is not, in the single most important bill of the session – and ensure that Texans have time to communicate with their legislators before any votes are cast.”

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