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Newsletter: Transparency for Taxpayers

Two years ago, the Texas House made our state budget more transparent and accountable. In our new legislative session, we are continuing that effort.

Our 2013 push for a more straightforward budget was driven by the belief that when Texans pay a tax or fee that is dedicated to a specific purpose, the money should actually fund that purpose… or the state shouldn’t be collecting the tax or fee.

Yes, this sounds simple. But for more than 20 years, the state had been collecting billions of dollars in fees and letting them sit in the state treasury. Instead of going toward their intended purpose — be it hospital trauma care or college financial aid or electric discounts for the poor — that money was counted to balance the rest of the budget on paper.

Due to the complexity and sheer size of our budget, such maneuvers are not easily undone. But we are starting to undo them. In 2013, we reduced the amount of money sitting in these accounts by $1 billion. And this year, the House is making additional reforms.

For one, we have proposed using all of the money in our State Highway Fund for transportation. This money, which largely comes from the gas tax, is supposed to go toward building and maintaining roads. But for decades the state has allowed some of that money to go to other programs.  Ending that practice will increase funding for roads by more than $1 billion, without higher taxes or fees.

The state is also supposed to use the sales taxes collected on sporting goods to help fund one of our greatest resources: our state parks. But that doesn’t always happen. The House has proposed a $60 million increase in the amount of money that state parks receive from sales taxes on sporting goods.

Finally, the House is working to increase transparency by phasing out the costly B-On-Time loan program for college students and increasing funding for the more effective TEXAS Grant scholarships.

B-On-Time provides forgivable loans to students attending Texas universities. It is funded with tuition dollars from other students, even if they aren’t B-On-Time recipients. Texas students now pay some $65 million each year to fund B-On-Time, but due to low demand, millions of dollars go unused in the program each year. Last year, $142 million in unused funds sat in the program. The House is working to phase out this program (students who are already receiving the loans would not lose them) and direct more resources toward TEXAS Grants.

We know that faith in government and other public institutions is in decline. I believe we can begin to restore the public’s trust by using taxpayer dollars as efficiently and effectively as possible, and I am very glad the Texas House is leading that charge.