About that $18 billion hole
Fri September 10, 2010 10:48 am

Over the next few days, I’m going to be writing about my efforts to cut the budget by $18 billion in a feature story in the October issue. Part of the story appears on the Texas Monthly home page and readers can link to it here. To access the story in its entirety, you have to register and either be a subscriber or subscribe. I would prefer that the access be free and unfettered, but those decisions are made above my pay grade.

My general approach to cutting the budget was to try to separate the essential from the nonessential. I went through the entire budget, all 988 pages of it, looking for expenditures that I thought were nonessential. I started with Article I, general government, and looked for state agencies we could do without. I found four, two of whose presiding officials have already contacted Texas Monthly with objections. One is the Public Utility Commission, the other is the Railroad Commission.

* * * *

The four state agencies I proposed to do away with are Agriculture, the Railroad Commission, the Public Utility Commission, and TCEQ.

Agriculture’s main effort is a marketing program for Texas agricultural products. They do it well. The question is, in this and every instance, is this an essential state service? If we were not in a budget crisis, I wouldn’t have any quarrel with it. But we are, and so I would not fund it. Agriculture does other worthwhile things, like regulate pesticides and inspect gasoline pumps. But on the whole, we could get along without most of the things that cost general revenue.

The Railroad Commission has a line item in the budget that calls for promoting the oil and gas industry. My question is, why do we need to spend GR doing that? There are probably a million Texans who work in the oil bidness and promote it every day. Another line item calls for inspecting and monitoring oil and gas facilities. There are 87 inspectors and 108,000 facilities. How many do you think actually get inspected?

The PUC’s main function used to be regulating electric rates. We don’t need the PUC any more. The vast amount of the PUC budget goes for restructuring electricity, something we have already done. It’s deregulated. Oh, there is still the System Benefit Fund, which is supposed to be used to help the poor pay their summer electric bills. Some of the money does go for that, but most years, the cash remains in the fund and is used to help certify the budget.

TCEQ is a unique case. Governor Perry and the Environmental Protection Agency are in a big fight over the EPA’s takeover of some Texas air pollution permits. My recommendation is to let the feds have it. The whole damn thing. We can save the money, and we’ll end up with a far cleaner air than we have ever had.

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