Sen. Watson calls for details of state finances
That’s what the moderate Democrat and former Austin mayor did recently on his campaign blog, about his difficulty in getting up-to-date information on the Texas budget from either Gov. Rick Perry or Comptroller Susan Combs.
In his weekly online message to constituents, Watson went after Republicans Perry and Combs for stonewalling.
Current estimates of the potential budget shortfall for the two years beginning next Sept. 1 is $21 billion, And, there are estimates that the current budget may come up $4.5 billion short.
So on Sept. 1, Watson sent a six-page letter to Combs, asking for an update since her last revenue estimate in January of 2009.
Watson used italics to underline the comptroller’s responsibility on revenue estimates: “Supplemental statements shall be submitted at any special session of the Legislature and at such other times as may be necessary to show probable changes.”
Even while school districts and other public bodies are trying to plan for the future, the governor told a reporter Watson’s request was “bizarre.”
So in his Sept. 14 “Watson Wire,” the senator had a little fun before getting serious.
“I told you last week about a letter I wrote on the budget – and some basic fiscal information that I’m having a surprisingly hard time getting,”
“Now, this is important stuff. It’s information we absolutely should have so we can get started working on what’s sure to be a tough, tough budget next year.
“But, to be honest, it’s a little ... well, dry. So I assumed that a lot of folks just wouldn’t pay much attention.
“Well, a reporter asked the Governor about the letter, and he responded, ‘It sounds like a Bih-Zaar request.’
“Bih-Zaar, of course, is the stage name that the Governor’s been encouraging me to take. I guess he thinks that if folks equate budget accountability with Top 40 radio, then more people will pay attention to this issue.
“I wouldn’t have thought it would work, frankly. But, sure enough, after he announced the request came from Bih-Zaar, it was in the newspapers all week. So I guess I owe him one.
“Now, some folks were confused and thought he said ‘bizarre.’ Easy mistake to make.
“But I know better. Because, I mean, he wouldn’t have been rapping a straightforward, substantive request for basic budget information in the midst of what he calls ‘a major financial crisis,’ right?
“He wouldn’t be dissing a request that Texas government be open and accountable to the taxpayers, right?
“And he surely wouldn’t be blowing off the most basic sort of financial information that so many worried Texas families and businesses themselves are poring over right now ...
If you think politics might be involved here, you are correct.
Combs, who has no Democratic opponent Nov. 2, has campaigned beside Perry. The Democrat challenging Perry is former Houston Mayor Bill White, who is endorsed by Watson.
White says Perry is trying to keep the details of the bad news from being revealed before the election. White recently pledged as governor to have monthly, public budget updates.
Watson had asked Combs for the up-to-date information to “help us all prepare for a situation that demands preparation.”
“A private business of any size should never fly into a fiscal storm blindly, and neither should Texans or their elected officials,” Watson wrote.
In the “Watson Wire” he wrote “I simply will not support new or higher taxes, new or higher fees, or a raid on our state’s savings accounts during the next session – because right now, the budget is being balanced through an embarrassing mix of debt, diversions, and delays, and I just don’t think anyone can assure you that your money will pay for what you’ve been told it will.”
Watson said he’s frustrated by “the failure, or even refusal, of those in control of our state and its budget to provide information that might help us prepare for this challenge that we all know is coming and that so many folks are deeply concerned about.
“(I)nformation is good. People like it. . . . And particularly on something as fundamental as the budget, the only thing information might damage is someone’s ability to deny the reality we’re facing. . .
“Now, I completely expect some well-meaning budget writer to pull me aside at some point, put an arm on my shoulder, and tell me ever-so-patiently that they’re just doing things the way they always have – and that folks like me, who want this kind of basic information, just don’t understand the way the budget gets written in Texas.
“You know what? They’re probably right.
“And that’s entirely the problem.”
Longtime Texas political columnist Dave McNeely, who retired from the Austin American-Statesman in 2004, writes a weekly column on Texas politics for three dozen Texas newspapers. With longtime Dallas journalist and author Jim Henderson, McNeely is the author of “Bob Bullock: God Bless Texas.” Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (512) 458-2963.