Watson's 'Honesty Agenda' Moves Forward

Fiscal clarity bills attached to others as amendments

Austin state Sen. Kirk Watson
Austin state Sen. Kirk Watson (photo by John Anderson)

Less than a week after LegeLand pronounced his “Honesty Agenda” on life support, Austin Sen. Kirk Watson found a way to revive the patient.

The agenda – a series of bills designed to bring more openness to the state's budget process – was barely moving on its own, but Watson got four of the bills amended onto Senate Bill 1811, a fiscal bill by Sen. Robert Duncan that appropriates over $4 billion needed by the state to balance its books.

Watson's additions:

• The Legislative Budget Board would have to meet publicly at least once a year for updates on state finances;

• The comptroller would be required to publish an annual report on fees (that clever tool the state uses to raise money so that lawmakers can claim they haven't raised taxes), including what the fees are supposed to pay for, what fund they are deposited into, how much they increased, and how much was used to balance the budget instead;

• Hearings would have to be held whenever state officials make interim requests to reduce state agency budgets;

• And the state's Cash Management Committee (the governor, lieutenant governor, speaker of the house, and comptroller) would have to meet at least once a year for hearings on the state's economic health before the comptroller issues tax and revenue anticipation notes.

“These measures will make a real difference helping taxpayers know how their money is being spent and what fiscal shape their state is in,” Watson said.

The only one of the 14 bills in the Honesty Agenda to get out of the Senate on its own has been SB 701, requiring state agencies to post their most important financial information to the Internet. However, it has been pending in the House Ways and Means Committee for nearly a month.

Another three of the bills (SB 695, 698, and 703) are scheduled for a hearing in the Senate Finance Committee tomorrow afternoon (May 5). According to Watson, those bills would, respectively:

• "Require that money intended for specific purposes is spent only on those purposes, not used to balance the budget."

• "Block those who attempt to score reckless, fleeting political points by eliminating revenue the state relies on – but who don't do the hard work of declaring, openly and honestly, what functions and necessities would be eliminated to make up that money."

• "Require state agencies to report the impact of refusing to accept federal dollars."

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