Statement from the office of State Senator Kirk Watson

January 19, 2011
Contact: Steve Scheibal (512) 463.0114

Senate creates essential window into Texas budget

AUSTIN — The Texas Senate on Wednesday adopted an important part of Senator Watson's Honesty Agenda for fiscal transparency in the state, voting to require a vital budget document to be public for 48 hours before senators finish their work on the Texas budget.

"This new window into the Texas budget is a good step forward," said Senator Kirk Watson, a strong advocate for budget openness and honesty in Texas government. "Today's vote gives hard-working Texans an important and essential tool to see whether the budget finally addresses the challenges they face. It allows them to make sure the legislature followed through on moral commitments that are critical to maintaining Texas' economic edge."

The rule change addresses what's known as the Outside the Bounds resolution for the conference committee report on the budget. It's a legally required summary of actions taken by the five state representatives and five state senators who are appointed to a conference committee that reconciles differences between the House and Senate versions of the budget. The conference committee draft is the single budget document that must be identically passed by both chambers, normally at the end of a legislative session, and sent to the Governor.

The members of the conference committee frequently meet and negotiate in private. Those negotiations generally lead to items being added and removed from the final budget draft, and those changes often are not apparent to the public until after the budget has been passed.

The Outside the Bounds resolution describes in detail all of the changes that were made by the conference committee. However, that resolution frequently is not available for as long as the draft of the final budget draft itself, leading to potential confusion about what the conference committee actually did to the budget.

Under the Senate's new rules, the public will have this vital tool to know the specific changes that were made by the ten budget conferees - changes that will affect roughly 25 million Texans for the two years of this budget and beyond.

"This essential budget document isn't nearly as well-known to Texans as it should be, and that's about to change," Senator Watson said.

The rule change stems from a proposal Senator Watson has advocated to have both the Outside the Bounds resolution, and the conference committee report itself, be available to the public for five days. The five-day proposal won wide bipartisan support, and the principles behind it were supported by both the Texas Public Policy Foundation and the Center for Public Policy Priorities. The Senate did not ultimately support all aspects of that proposal. Nevertheless, Senator Watson described Wednesday's vote as a "very good compromise."

"Today's vote represents real progress toward budget honesty. It ensures there will be enough time for the people to be heard before the last votes are cast on this all-important bill," Senator Watson said.

"I sincerely want to thank Chairman Ogden for working with me on this rule change, supporting it, and helping to carve out this middle ground. I'm looking forward to working with him - and with all of my colleagues - to make information more readily available and to be completely open in how we spend the people's money."