Lawmakers aim to end 'bad habit' of budget diversions
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Transparency has been a common theme through this legislative session so far.
In an effort to strengthen budget transparency, lawmakers are considering the end of budget diversions, meaning money which is collected for a specific purpose, but is then used to balance the budget instead.
One prime example is the money from specialty license plate sales. Thousands of Texans buy the plates each year with the assumption that a portion of the purchase will go towards the cause of their choice, but the money often goes towards the state’s bottom line.
"They're dedicated, but they're not going where people think they're going," Evelyn Merz, conservation chair for the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, said. "If you look at the fund balances that have built up in each of these accounts, they built up over the years and they're being used to help certify the budget."
Several bills have been filed at the capitol to end diversions of this kind.
"Those in control at the Capitol have created a very bad habit," Democratic Senator Kirk Watson said.
Specialty license plates are only part of the battle. Watson wants to end the practice of diverting funds altogether.
"In fact, at the end of this biennium, it will amount to $4.9 or $5 billion of broken promises, money that was supposed to go to one purpose, being used for another," he said.
The Austin-based lawmaker has filed a bill that proposes a constitutional amendment prohibiting the diversions. If passed by lawmakers, the amendment would be decided by voters.
Supporters of the bill say they are optimistic by the number of diversion-related bills making waves at the capitol.
“Many bills have been introduced by people on both the Republican and Democratic sides of the aisle because everyone realizes this is a problem that we have to solve,” Merz said.
While lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have come on board with ending diversions, some worry the state has become too dependent on them to quit could turkey.
Senator Watson said his bill would ease the state off diversions over the next several years.