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Panel to review what state does with money

By Ed Sterling | Published Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Money paid in state taxes and fees doesn’t necessarily fund exactly what Texans think it will fund.

So, Texas House Speaker Joe Straus last week appointed an Interim Committee on General Revenue Dedicated Accounts as part of an effort, he said, “to make our state budget more transparent and accountable to taxpayers.” The committee will report its findings and recommendations to the House in early January.

Straus explained that for more than 20 years, the state has allowed money that sits in general revenue-dedicated funds -nearly $5 billion in the current fiscal biennium- to be used to certify the rest of the state budget.

“The practice of ‘funds consolidation’ has evolved from a one-time accommodation and turned into a decades-long bad habit in our state’s budget process, and now is the time to move toward a fairer, simpler and more straightforward approach for Texas taxpayers,” Straus said Oct. 9.

State Reps. Drew Darby, R-San Angelo, and John Otto, R-Dayton will co-chair the committee. Darby said the state “should provide the services people and businesses expect on those taxes and fees dedicated for a specific purpose. Truth in taxation also requires that we bring these revenues in line with fiscally responsible appropriations.”

Straus also appointed to the committee state Reps. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas; Larry Gonzales, R-Round Rock; Patricia Harless, R-Spring; Donna Howard, D-Austin; Jose Menendez, D-San Antonio; Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie; and Sylvester Turner, D-Houston.

SALES TAX REVENUE

Texas Comptroller Susan Combs announced Oct. 10 that state sales tax revenue in September was $1.96 billion, up 11.6 percent compared to September 2011, and that state sales tax revenue has increased for the 30th month in a row.

She said continued strength in the manufacturing and oil and natural gas sectors led to the sales tax revenue increase, while collections improved thanks to consumer spending at restaurants and retail stores.

VOTING ‘APPLICATION’

Secretary of State Hope Andrade on Oct. 3 announced the launch of SmartTXVoter, an English and Spanish language smartphone application “to help Texans stay informed about statewide voting information like registration deadlines, early voting dates and candidates or amendments on the upcoming ballot.”

SmartTXVoter, viewable in English or Spanish, is formatted to be accessible for Texans with visual impairments. The app is part of the “Make Your Mark on Texas” program meant to educate Texans about voting pursuant to the federal Help America Vote Act.

FISHER CASE

The U.S. Supreme Court on Oct. 10 heard oral arguments in Fisher v. University of Texas, a case contesting the university’s admissions policy, which allows the institution to consider an applicant’s race as a factor in choosing which students to admit.

Counsel for the plaintiff maintained the policy unfairly discriminated against Abigail Fisher, a white female student from Sugar Land, who scored higher on tests and other factors than some black and Hispanic students that gained admission.

Counsel for UT defended the university’s policy of “holistic individualized consideration” of each student application and asserted that race “doesn’t invariably make a difference with respect to every minority applicant.”

Some court watchers predict that if the court rules in favor of the plaintiff, it could spell the end of affirmative action policies now in place across the country. Others have expressed that a ruling in favor of the university is critical for continuation of efforts to promote racial and ethnic diversity.

A ruling in the case could take any length of time from a few days to many weeks, or months.

Ed Sterling is Membership Services Director for the Texas Press Association, headquartered in Austin.

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