For well over a decade, wonky Texas lawmakers each session have digested something called the GEER report, dozens of recommendations from the state-funded Legislative Budget Board on how to make Texas government more efficient and effective.
This year, however, the dry document lies at the center of a turf war between the leaders of the Texas House and Senate.
House Speaker Joe Straus on Wednesday asked the budget board to release its latest recommendations to members of the House and publish them online. Such a request would not typically register as newsworthy. But it came on the heels of news that Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick had directed the board to do the exact opposite.
On Monday, Budget Board Executive Director Ursula Parks told the Senate Committee on Finance — without elaborating — that Patrick directed her colleagues to not produce its biennial "Government Effectiveness and Efficiency Report." The revelation surprised some senators.
“We’ve used that in the past to determine additional efficiencies," said state Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas. “We’re not going to have anything to look at?”
The board’s staffers have distributed the report every two years since it gained the responsibility in 2003. Before that, the comptroller’s office performed the duty, producing what was called the Texas Performance Review. The first one of those came out in 1991.
Though Senate Finance chairwoman Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, assured West that her committee would “continue to look at efficiencies,” the development troubled some other budget watchers.
"GEER recommendations have, when enacted, improved the efficient functioning of the state, helping save taxpayers money," said Dick Lavine, a senior fiscal analyst with the liberal-leaning Center for Public Policy Priorities. "Censoring the LBB’s recommendations is a costly error."
In 2015, the 437-page report offered 106 recommendations on a wide range of topics, such as the funding and operation of the state’s Rainy Day Fund and keeping the Teacher Retirement System’s insurance fund solvent.
For his part, Patrick doesn’t put much stock in the board's recommendations, whatever they may be this time around.
Alejandro Garcia, his spokesman, told the Tribune Monday that there were "a number of persistent questions about these staff-driven reports, which were not requested by the leadership.” Patrick believes the board “should focus on their principal mission, which is developing the budget, and leave the policy making to elected officials," he added.
On Wednesday, Straus made clear that he disagreed with Patrick's assessment. In a letter obtained by the Texas Tribune, Straus asked Parks to distribute to House members and publish online "a number of efficiency and informational reports" recently compiled by her staff. Such a request would include the contents of the GEER report.
"The Texas House has often found that these recommendations contain useful ideas that can save taxpayers money," Straus wrote in the letter, delivered late Wednesday.
Straus wrote that he was "not endorsing all of the options identified in these reports," but he believed House members "should have the opportunity to fully consider this information."
- Texas House and Senate leaders are starting out the legislative session nearly $8 billion apart according in dueling budget proposals released Tuesday. Among the sticking points: spending on public education and border security.
- In a day-long hearing this week, university presidents and chancellors said their schools might have to lay off faculty and cut classes if state leaders don't add back hundreds of millions of dollars worth of "special items" to the budget.
Disclosure: The Center for Public Policy Priorities has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.