An excellent budget transparency amendmentwas added to SB 1811 in the Texas House of representatives yesterday. The amendment requires the appropriations bill to be patterned along the lines of the agency programs it is funding.

The reason this is needed is because the current strategic pattern of the appropriations bill completely obscures where the money is being spent. Well, one can see what agency is spending the money, but that is about as far as it often goes. It is usually impossible to see how much money is going to which program at an agency. And also impossible to see the source of money for each line item appropriation, i.e., GR, fed funds, etc. This amendment solves these problems.

The bottom line is while the state actually spends money through programs, it appropriates money through strategies. This leaves all but a few agency personnel, appropriators, and LBB staff unable to readily determine where the money is going. So if citizens or even the average legislator want to know how much money the Texas Department of Agriculture is spending on its Texas-Israel Exchange program, good luck. Get ready for a lot open records requests.

This is important because it keeps the eyes of the public off of how our money is being spent. Someone might think the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s Texas Emission Reduction Program is a wasteful corporate subsidy? It is, but hard to convince the public of this without knowing how much money is being wasted on it.

For all the good transparency work that has been going on over the last few years, this is the most important of them all because we can’t stop wasteful spending at the agency level once they have the money, it has to be done in the appropriations process.

Here is a link to a policy brief the Foundation did on HB 2804, the source of this amendment. It would be a great boost for transparency and for taxpayers if the amendment stays in SB 1811 when it goes to conference committee.

– Bill Peacock