Senate Finance Committee Continues Examining Agency Requests
AUSTIN - The Senate Committee on Finance continued its early examination of state agency budgets that will be approved by the Legislature during the session that begins in January. Governor Rick Perry had earlier asked state agencies to cut their budgets an additional five percent. Today, September 14, 2004, the committee members once again heard about the effects of those proposed cuts from fifteen agencies as diverse as the Texas Cancer Council and the Department of Public Safety.
The first witness was Kim Edwards, Executive Director of the Texas Public Finance Authority. She said that in order to meet the 95% funding level, there would have to be salary cuts for staff, in addition to reductions in information technology purchases as well as other repairs and replacements. The Authority was created in 1984 by an act of the Texas Legislature to provide financing for the construction or acquisition of office buildings for State agencies.
Larry Olson from the Texas Department of Information Resources predicted that his agency could save more than $270 million dollars over the next five years by purchasing computers in volume for various state agencies. Frederick Rowe of the Pension Review Board warned the committee that with low returns from interest rates and the stock market, and with government employees growing older, a number of cities are facing heavy demands on their pension plans. He urged governments to be open with the press so that correct information about the various pension funds is reported and said that his agency needed a staff increase in order to do a thorough job of auditing these funds. Chairman Steve Ogden noted that the state and teachers' retirement systems faced similar funding challenges, saying "I think it's pretty terrifying."
Among the other agencies with representatives before the committee today were the Alcoholic Beverage Commission, the Juvenile Probation Commission and the Department of Public Safety.
The Senate Committee on Finance is chaired by Senator Steve Ogden. The Vice-Chair is Senator Judith Zaffirini. Members include Senators Kip Averitt, Gonzalo Barrientos, Kim Brimer, Bob Deuell, 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.
Government Organization Committee Looks for Cost Savings
The state's search for extra funds continued in the afternoon at a meeting of the Senate Committee on Government Organization. During this interim, two of the committee's charges include reviewing the economic benefits of co-locating state agencies and how debt collection techniques can be improved.
Edward Johnson, Keith Yawn and Dan Contreras from the Texas Building and Procurement Commission (TBPC), testified that locating agencies in the same building is an objective whenever possible. TBPC is the state agency responsible for leasing and purchasing office space for the state government. Kathy Williams from the Texas Department of Transportation, testified that her agency also tries to place personnel in the same building whenever possible, but that the nature of their offices precludes office personnel being housed with employees who are involved in highway construction or laboratory work.
The committee is also looking at how state agencies purchase cars. Chairman Rodney Ellis questioned the panel as to whether leasing vehicles might be less expensive and was told that it was currently being studied as an alternative. That's a major concern, since the state currently owns more than 27 thousand vehicles.
Regarding debts that are owed to the state, Ron Del Vento of the Office of the Attorney General, told the committee that as far back as 1985, the Comptroller and Attorney General's offices had been studying the problem of collecting delinquent debts. The conclusion was that the Attorney General should concentrate on large debts and send the small ones to a private collection agency.
The Senate Committee on Governmental Organization is chaired by Senator Rodney Ellis. Members include Senators Jane Nelson (vice-chair), John Carona, Mario Gallegos, Chris Harris, Mike Jackson and John Whitmire. The Committee recessed subject to call of the chair.