Senate Finance Committee Looks at State Investments
AUSTIN - The Senate Finance Committee spent the day Tuesday reviewing transactions from various state funds and examining how money from those transactions benefits the state. First to testify was Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, who described in detail a number of land sales in the Houston area that put money into the state's coffers.
Senator Robert Duncan took the opportunity to criticize recent General Land Office moves to sell state water rights to private companies. "We need to think through some of these issues that are just now emerging in Texas...and my request to you today is to slow this down so that we can come to some consensus." When asked directly, Patterson said the Land Office could indeed enter into private contracts with companies before the next legislative session. Duncan asked "Why is it you just can't say...I'm going to postpone any further development until the Legislature has had time to weigh in on this?" Patterson replied that his agency was complying with the rules sent down by the last Legislature.
David Anderson, general counsel for the Texas Education Agency, and other agency representatives, described the current performance of the Permanent School Fund. The fund peaked in value in 2000, and has slipped since then. But the committee heard that despite the downturn, the fund had still maintained a five percent annual return over the past five years.
Representatives from The University of Texas and Texas A&M then testified on the status of the Permanent University Fund. When asked whether they had outside consultants, such as alumni, looking for more efficient ways to educate students, they replied that they had delivered accurate performance and accountability reports to the Legislature, and had commissioned performance and efficiency studies centering on eight of the University of Texas campuses.
Also speaking today was Paul Ballard from the Comptroller's office on how certain other state funds, such as the tobacco settlement trust, were being managed. The committee was to also hear testimony regarding Rural Health Assistance, the Higher Education Fund and the Economic Stabilization fund.
The Senate Finance Committee is chaired by Senator Steve Ogden. Members include Senators Kip Averitt, Gonzalo Barrientos, Kim Brimer, Robert Duncan, Kyle Janek, Jane Nelson, Florence Shapiro, Eliot Shapleigh, Todd Staples, Royce West, John Whitmire and Tommy Williams. The Committee recessed subject to call of the chair.