Legislative Priorities

Texas Legislative Priorities by Bob Hall
“The RIGHT Bob”

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1. Limit Government Growth and Spending

The Problem:  Spending at all levels of government is out of control and continues to increase the size and scope of government, which represents a clear threat to freedom and prosperity for future generations. When government expands, liberty contracts.

Solution:  Implement Tax and Expenditure Limits. State and local government spending from ALL sources should increase only by the sum of population growth plus inflation and no more. I will fight for a state constitutional amendment to set this limit in order to protect current and future taxpayers from excessive spending.

2. Protect the Rainy Day Fund – the Economic Stabilization Fund (ESF)

What is the Economic Stabilization Fund (ESF), which is also called the Rainy Day Fund (RDF)? Why is it important? In November 1988, Texas voters approved a state constitutional amendment that created the Economic Stabilization Fund. The explicit purpose of the fund – as stated on the ballot – was to function as a reserve fund to cover unforeseen shortfalls in revenues.

The Rainy Day Fund is generated largely by oil and gas production taxes. Appropriations from the fund to close a budget deficit caused by declining revenues require three-fifths approval by legislators; all other appropriations require a two-thirds majority vote.
The Rainy Day Fund gets most of its funding based on a formula involving the base year of 1987. When the state’s annual oil and gas production tax collections exceed those collected in fiscal 1987, 75 percent of the amount above that 1987 level is transferred into the fund. The Comptroller’s office typically makes these transfers in November of each year.
The Rainy Day Fund also receives half of any “unencumbered” general revenue — that is, unspent and not reserved for a specific purpose — left at the end of each biennium. The fund also retains interest earned on its fund balance.
The 2003 and 2005 Legislatures appropriated ESF funds to purposes including the Teacher Retirement System, state health and human services, the Governor’s Office and the Texas Education Agency. [Source: Comptroller’s Office: ]
The Problem:  The legislature, the Governor and the Lt. Governor have gotten into a habit of spending out of the Rainy Day Fund instead of doing the hard work of 1) paring down state spending to focus only on the core functions of state government, and 2) eliminating duplicated, overlapping state departments, agencies, and programs.

This session it got far worse.  The legislature started this year’s session with $8.8 billion in surplus revenue left over from the current biennium since actual tax collections exceeded Comptroller Combs’ revenue estimates. This $8.8 billion constitutes an unforeseen surplus in revenue – not a shortfall! [Note:  This $8.8 billion is over and above the balance in the Rainy Day Fund.]

Yet, by a vote of the 83rd legislature and with Governor Perry’s approval, about half of the $8.1 billion of the Rainy Day Fund is set to be drained from the fund. (Note: $8.1 billion is the projected balance for the end of the budget year Sept. 2013.)

Where is the $4 billion from the Rainy Day Fund going? If voters approve Proposition 6 on the November 2013 ballot, $2 billion will go to a redundant, duplicative water infrastructure plan. Another $2 billion was to be paid out of the fund by August 31, 2013. Approximately $1.75 billion of this $2 billion was to pay for an accounting gimmick from the last legislative session when payments to school districts were postponed in order to balance the state budget on paper. The balance of about $250 million from the ESF went to pay for various programs overseen by the governor – payments that should have been paid out from the $8.8 billion surplus (general revenue) – not from the People’s savings account!

That’s right! When total spending from general revenue and from the Rainy Day Fund are added up, spending increased 24% over the last legislative session! [Sources: Texas Public Policy Foundation, TEA Party Caucus Advisory Committee, and Legislative Budget Board documents]

Solution: Just as any wise business owner or family would do, the state legislature, the governor and the lieutenant governor must stop using the Economic Stabilization Fund like a cookie jar full of cash for extra spending. 

If we truly believe in personal responsibility, then the State of Texas should lead and preserve the Rainy Day Fund for economic downturns and for true natural and man-made disasters. We need look no further than the recent example of the devastation wreaked by super storm Sandy. The states of New York and New Jersey immediately turned to the federal government for relief, and many of the people of those states are still waiting for help. The Rainy Day Fund should be preserved so that Texas can be strong and less dependent on the federal government in times of disaster. 

3.   Limit Government Size and Function

The Problem(s):  According to federal data, Texas leads the nation in road debt at $31 billion, not counting local toll road debt. According to State Budget Solutions, Texas is #3 in the nation for total state debt. (New York is #1 and California is #2.) According to the Tax Foundation, Texas is #11 - near the top - in the ranking of the states that rely most heavily on federal aid dollars for their state budget. Texas has not been a donor state since 2008. That means…in Texas, we take in more federal aid than we pay in federal taxes. We are now helping dig the federal deficit and debt holes.

Solutions:  [Source: TX TEA Party Caucus Advisory Committee’s Legislative Priorities and Solutions]
1) Eliminate departments, agencies, commissions, and programs that exceed the core constitutional functions of state government; this includes corporate welfare and crony capitalism hand-outs of tax dollars to special interests under the guise of economic development.
2) Stop Chasing Federal Dollars – Make Texas strong and independent of federal strings; reduce state reliance on federal dollars and restrict all new federal grant programs, watching out for the poison pill of declining matching funds.
3) Implement Tax and Expenditure Limits – State and local government spending from ALL sources should increase only by the sum of population growth plus inflation and no more. A constitutional amendment is necessary to set this limit in order to protect current and future taxpayers from excessive spending.
4) Reduce State Debt – We should avoid a state fiscal cliff by resisting the temptation to add to our state debt just because interest rates are low. Soaring debt is just as wrong for our state as it is for the federal government.
5) Enact Zero-based Budgeting – starts a budget from zero and requires justification for requested funding for each line item of a budget. This budgeting discipline has not been used by the State of Texas since 2003, but should be instituted immediately to ensure taxpayers get the most value for their tax dollars.

4. Truth in Taxation and Spending

The Problem:  The legislature is guilty of collecting taxes and fees for one purpose, but spending the funds for something entirely different or using the funds to balance the state budget on paper. This is dishonest and a miss-use of tax dollars. Deceptive practices such as these erode public confidence in government.

Solution: Enact Budget Transparency with a constitutional amendment that requires the legislature to practice truth in budgeting by ending diversions. A tax or fee should go to fund the original intent of the legislation that created the tax or fee. Should a surplus occur, the fee or tax should be reduced, and the surplus used to reduce state debt. If the original purpose of a tax or fee was to fund a one-time capital expense or improvement, once that investment is complete, the tax or fee should be sunset immediately.

5. Transportation Policy, Planning and Funding

The Problem:  Current transportation policy in Texas commits Texas to a future we do not want:

• More clogged roadways
• More tolls (taxes) for drivers
• More diversions of tax dollars to projects that increase rather than reduce
• More public debt, with interest
• Higher fuel and maintenance costs for drivers dealing with congestion and poorly 
    maintained roads
• More erosion of private property rights to condemn land for economic development
    and non-transportation revenue purposes
• Growing state bureaucracy to manage all of the “innovative” strategies to create 
   new streams of revenue.

The Texas Department of Transportation’s policies, planning and funding are out of step with the state’s needs and should be addressed with a “clean sheet of paper” approach. I support recommendations made by the TEA Party Caucus Advisory Committee (TPCAC) and Texas Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF):

Solutions:  Our state lawmakers should focus on sound fiscal planning and return transportation to its core purpose – guaranteeing the free association of people to exercise freedom in the market place for the exchange of goods and services. We believe free market commerce depends on an effective and efficient transportation system. We believe taxpayers deserve the highest quality services at the very best price with the least amount of government restrictions in conjunction with the safeguarding of private property rights and a decreased dependence on debt. Transportation is a core constitutional responsibility of state government that impacts all Texans and all who come to our state to conduct business and to freely associate. 

Overview of transportation solutions:

  • Return to pay-as-you-go road financing. Stop building roads with debt. According to federal data, TX has the highest road debt of any state at $31 billion, not counting local toll road debt. 
  • Ensure adequate tax revenues for Texans to control their own transportation destiny rather than being subject to the whims of the federal government, interest rates, and private toll road companies. 
  • Redirect transportation-related taxes to roads by ending diversions of the gasoline tax, dedicating/tightly restricting vehicle sales taxes and registration fees to adding road capacity. 
  • Ban ‘public private partnerships’ that hand public roads to private corporations. 
  • Prohibit tolling existing free lanes, and/or the conversion of public right of way into toll roads, and stop paying for toll projects with taxpayer dollars. 
  • Require all toll projects be self-financed and prohibit taxpayer bailouts of and subsidies for losses in toll revenues and failed toll projects. 
  • Ban ‘non-compete’ agreements that prevent the state from building new capacity. 
  • Repeal ‘system financing,’ which allows toll revenues from one corridor to be used to prop-up or finance another – even when they are not toll viable. 
  • Prohibit leasing out of public right-of-way to a private company when the land was condemned for a ‘public use.’ 
  • Make elimination of congestion the top priority of TxDOT; end use of road funds for transit, parking garages, parks, bike and walking trails or Agenda 21-driven “Complete Streets” plan. 
  • Downsize the Department of Transportation as part of a state government- restructuring project. 
  • Prohibit taxing authority by unelected boards via constitutional amendment. 

6. Right to Life

While Texas has made progress in protecting God-given life, work remains for some significant improvements in further protecting young life and the life of our older citizens.
1.“Personhood”: Texas needs legislation that clearly defines the status “personhood” to begin at conception so that a “yet to be born” child has the same right to life as any person enjoys after they are born.
2.“End of Life”:  Texas needs to protect the individual right (and the family’s right) to choose to allow death naturally. The early termination of a life for the convenience of doctors or hospitals should not be permitted.

7. Legal Immigration

All immigration laws should be strictly enforced to protect legal residents and America’s economy. “American English” should be the official language; government materials should be published only in “American English”.
In Texas – illegal immigration should be discouraged by the interior enforcement of the rule of law. For example,
• Sanctuary cities/counties (hideouts for illegals) should be banned;

• Lawmakers should support state and local law enforcement to protect citizens, legal residents, and businesses from cartels, organized crime, and human-trafficking; increase penalties for trafficking minors;

• Lawmakers should require the Texas Attorney General to defend state and local law enforcement officers against actions brought by the US Department of Justice regarding the enforcement of federal and state laws pertaining to persons found to be in the country illegally;

• Make it a felony or high-fine misdemeanor for anyone who knowingly employs illegal workers. For those found guilty of hiring illegal workers, business licenses should be forfeited in addition to fines. Penalties must be severe enough to encourage the use of E-verify to determine individuals that may be classified as legal workers;

• Require state agencies dealing with Primary and Secondary Education, Higher Education, Health and Human Services, and Criminal Justice to track and report the cost of undocumented alien residents; the legislature should report that cost to the taxpayers and to all Texas US Representatives and US Senators;

• Legal status should be required to get a state business or professional license;

• End the Texas Dream Act – repeal in-state tuition breaks for foreign-born children of illegal aliens and file bill for a constitutional amendment that prohibits same;

• Codify & mandate eligibility for access to social services, including local government services, such as non-life threatening health care services under the state mandated indigent health care program;

• Close loopholes allowing illegal immigrants to collect unlimited, permanent welfare benefits through TANF   (Temporary Aid to Needy Families) because of their children;

• Support streamlining the process to become a citizen of the United States. The current process is so mired in federal bureaucracy that it often takes more than a decade to complete the process. The Texas Legislature should encourage a meaningful, deliberate, streamlined process to replace the current system, but should never support amnesty.

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