The letter signed by Lieutenant Governor Dewhurst and Speaker Straus directing state agencies to reduce their budget requests by 2.5% may not seem like a big deal, but I think it is. Starting with the 2003 conference committee negotiations on the budget, the governor’s office has been allowed to insinuate itself into the budget process. In August 2006, for example, Governor Perry instructed state agencies to plan for a 10% budget cut. In the current budget cycle, Perry called for a reduction in spending for travel. I do not know what the effect of these instructions have been, but if in fact agencies reduced their legislative appropriations requests in response to the governor’s actions, that is not the way the Texas system of budgeting is supposed to work.
The Legislature has control of the purse strings. The budget is the province of the Legislative Budget Board. Agencies submit their budget requests to the LBB. If the governor doesn’t like the budget, he can veto the whole thing, or he can veto line items. But he should not be part of the process of writing the budget. The Dewhurst-Straus letter was a step toward restoring the Legislature’s supremacy in budget issues.