State leaders consider releasing dedicated funds

Posted by Jon Weist, on Fri December 07 2012 at 07:14 PM

An emerging discussion among state officials concerns the money Texas collects in fees for specific purposes, and then doesn’t spend it. This was raised at an Arlington Chamber of Commerce luncheon by Austin Senator Kirk Watson in 2010, and it’s finally got the attention of state leaders, or at least House Speaker Joe Straus and Governor Rick Perry.

Money from auto inspections in urban areas, red-light camera fines, surcharges on utility bills, special fees for vanity license plates and from a myriad of other sources is sitting unspent in state coffers, not being distributed to the agencies or programs for which it was collected. In the 2012-2013 biennium, having this $5 billion chunk on paper helped leaders certify they had balanced the budget in a year when another $27 billion was cut.
But with revenue prospects improving, some sense of fairness and transparency seems to be seeping back into the legislative discussion, with Straus putting a marker down on getting the issue addressed this session.
More than one third of the money is in three pots:  The System Benefit Fund, which assists the poor with electric bills, the Designated Trauma Facility and EMS Fund, for emergency services in mostly urban hospitals, and the Emissions Reduction Plan, which helps repair or remove high-polluting vehicles in urban areas to bring their regions into compliance with federal clean air standards.
The System Benefit Fund is the largest, at $850 million, and it benefits consumers all over Texas. The other two largest ones go primarily to urban areas, but the fees that fund them also come from primarily urban areas. Collectively, those three funds are 37 percent of the total held hostage in recent years.
An update on the current state of the discussion, and complete list of all dedicated funds and their balances, is at http://arlingtontx.com/images/uploads/Billions_of_Dedicated_Funds_Unspent___The_Texas_Tribune_120612.pdf
If you download and print this document, the list of dedicated funds is 34 pages.

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