On Tuesday, Talmadge Heflin, Director of the Center for Fiscal Policy, testified before the Senate Finance committee urging lawmakers to make the budget more transparent so that taxpayers can more easily understand how the state is spending money.

As it’s written today, Mr. Heflin argued, one needs an advanced degree or an army of Legislative Budget Board analysts to track where the money goes in the appropriations bill. However, this can be remedied by changing the format of the bill. That is, moving from a strategic planning and budgeting system to a program-based budgeting system, the latter of which tracks state spending by program.

Other reforms put forward by Mr. Heflin included:

    • Include more line items (and thus more information);
    • Limit the size of line items to amounts that describe discreet programs, or if a program is very large, to discreet activities within those programs;
    • Line items based on programs and activities should describe what the program does and where it is authorized in law; and
    • Line items should have more information about the source of funds (general revenue, general revenue-dedicated, federal funds, and other funds) being appropriated.

Currently, save a few number crunchers on staff for the Legislative Budget Board, and perhaps experienced members on the Finance and Appropriations committees, it is doubtful that anyone else can artfully decipher state expenditures from the appropriations bill alone. That is not the kind of transparency and confidence we seek from the people’s government. Texans deserve better.