Texas Sunset Commission Delivers Efficiencies and Savings for State Agencies and Taxpayers
Austin, Texas—State Senator Glenn Hegar, the Chairman of the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission, said that the commission's work to eliminate waste and inefficiency in state agencies was particularly important during the recently concluded 82nd session of the Texas Legislature, which was forced to deal with a multi-billion dollar shortfall. Hegar said that Sunset commission members engaged in a high and low search for potential savings for state agencies and taxpayers which helped lessen the impact of the budget deficit.
"I am extremely proud of the work accomplished by the Sunset Commission throughout my 4-year tenure," said Senator Hegar. "Texans need to know that their tax dollars support state agencies that operate efficiently and in a transparent fashion that holds them accountable. That is the mission of the Sunset Commission and I am humbled to have led those efforts both as Vice Chair, and now, as Chairman. As a result of our efforts, the legislature has passed measures to improve functions at some of Texas' most vital state agencies, a list that includes the Texas Department of Public Safety, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the Texas Department of Transportation, and the Texas Department of Insurance, which resulted in the first successful action on a Department of Insurance bill in over 14 years," Hegar added.
The Sunset Advisory Commission conducts thorough reviews of state agencies, gathering information from the agency itself, members of the public, interest groups, and professional organizations over the course of a three to eight month review. Upon completion, the Sunset Advisory Commission determines whether the agency is needed or should be abolished. Those found to be no longer needed are abolished after a one-year "wind-down" period. More typically, a final report recommending changes to the agency is issued. The report is then used to develop legislation to implement the recommended changes in how the agency performs its mission.
Hegar said that for this most recent "Sunset cycle," 24 state agencies were reviewed, a list that included some of Texas' most important state agencies, including the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the Texas Youth Commission, and the Texas Water Development Board.
The Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) exists primarily to fund water projects and infrastructure. In recent years, TWDB has taken on the responsibility of ensuring sufficient water supplies exist through its roles in water planning and in providing technical assistance and water-related data. The Sunset review found that several threats exist to the development of the state's water resources, including insufficient bonding authority to meet the increased demands for financial assistance through loans to political subdivisions to meet water and wastewater infrastructure needs. Increased bonding authority was provided by the legislature, but will need final approval by voters this fall in the November 8th General Election. Additionally, the Sunset review also provided for the development of a water use reporting matrix to encourage conservation and to equitably compare water use and consumption across the State and across water use categories.
The Texas Railroad Commission (RRC) is the state agency responsible for regulating the state's oil and gas industry. Senator Hegar noted that the Senate proposed making fundamental changes at the RRC, including changing the Commission's name to more accurately reflect its 21st century mission and its governance structure to a single elected Commissioner, like other state agencies in Texas. The RRC is the only state agency and only similar agency nationwide that is governed by three statewide elected officials. Since its inception, the RRC was supported primarily by taxpayer funds. The Sunset Commission rejected this structure and sought to force the agency to be like other state agencies and support itself through surcharges on the oil and gas industry. Unfortunately, due to opposition by the Texas House of Representatives, the RRC Sunset bill failed to pass. While many of the important reforms will have to wait until 2013, when RRC Railroad Commission will once again face a full Sunset review, a major victory for Texas taxpayers was scored when the Sunset provision requiring RRC to fund itself on oil and gas industry surcharges was passed as part of a separate bill during the special session.
While the federal government requires states to regulate the environment according to federal standards, Texas takes a very state-specific approach to regulation — through the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) — which tailors its oversight to Texas' unique circumstances. The TCEQ Sunset bill ensures that the agency has a robust and focused public assistance function, effectively identifies and takes action against regulated entities as appropriate, is better able to address water quantity issues as they become increasingly critical, and has proper funding mechanisms to meet its regulatory responsibilities and comply with federal law.
Senator Hegar said that his Texas Department of Insurance (TDI) Sunset bill will work to better protect Texas consumers. The measure gives the Commissioner of Insurance more authority to punish rogue insurance companies who overcharge hardworking Texans. It also forces health insurance companies to provide their policyholders advance notice of premium increases in order to allow consumers time to shop for the best deal rather than simply accept a rate hike. The bill further requires insurers to report closed claims and how quickly they were settled to help ensure Texas insurance providers meet their obligation to policy holders by fully paying claims, and quickly.
Hegar joined with Senator Joan Huffman on the Sunset review for the Division of Workers Compensation (DWC). He said the DWC Sunset bill creates many new safeguards for hardworking Texans who are injured on the job. It also introduces changes to ensure that workers receive appropriate and prompt medical care.
The Department of Information Resources (DIR) is the main information technology agency for the state. DIR has drastically changed since the last Sunset review in 1996. The agency's responsibilities now include procuring and managing major outsourced contracts for the state. While its responsibilities have increased, the Sunset report concluded that DIR's oversight and accountability have not kept pace with the rest of the agency. Suggested changes centered on increased reporting and streamlined procedures. Unfortunately, Governor Perry vetoed the bill. During the special session, the Legislature took action to prevent the Governor's veto of the bill from shutting the agency down. Instead, it will once again undergo Sunset review in 2013.
After failing to pass in the 81st Session, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) Sunset bill won passage this session. Senator Hegar said the bill focuses on ensuring that our highway department operates in a manner that is transparent, responsive, and accountable to the people of Texas. It also continues the legislature's curtailment of the agency's comprehensive development agreement authority by not re-authorizing blanket authority, but instead only allowing for 11 narrowly defined projects, all of which have the support of their local community, and all but two of which are located in metropolitan areas.
"As my time as Chair of the Sunset Commission draws to a close, I want to share my sincere thanks for the untold hours of hard work put forth by Sunset Commission staff, my fellow commissioners, and the members of the House and Senate," said Senator Hegar. "While my leadership of the commission will end in September, its vital work will continue. I have every intention of staying involved with the Sunset process to ensure that it continues to deliver savings for the people of this great state," Hegar concluded.
The Sunset Advisory Commission is estimated to have had a positive fiscal impact to the state of over $945 million from 1982 to 2011.
Senator Hegar served two terms in the Texas House of Representatives and now represents Senate District 18 in the Texas Senate. He is a sixth generation Texan, and earns a living farming on land that has been in his family since the mid 1800's. He currently resides in Katy, Texas with his wife Dara, and their three children, Claire, Julia, and Jonah.