The Houston Chronicle in its coverage honed in particularly on Texas' low per capita spending as an example of the state's efficiency, but that could also be because the state underspends on education, drug and alcohol treatment, indigent mental health care, and other critical services that caused the prison overcrowding crisis in the first place.
As last year's budget deliberations began, Texas was looking at a 17,000-bed shortage of prison space over the next five years. To deal with that problem, the Department of Criminal Justice submitted a $520 million proposal for three new prisons, as well as modest support for drug treatment in order to cut down on recidivism.
But the legislature, bolstered by a report from the Sunset Advisory Commission — a legislative entity that assesses the effectiveness and efficiency of Texas' agencies — crafted an alternative plan to invest more funds in programs with a track record of reducing recidivism. This biennium, those efforts are getting $240 million. Current projections for prison population show zero growth over the next five years.Is this kind of work now part of the state's permanent governmental culture — impervious to changes in leadership? That's hard to know. But the state's budget process leaves legislators with the tools they need to focus on performance.
The Texas state government spends less money per resident than any other state in the country, according to a new survey that also ranks Texas as the fourth best-run state in the nation.
"Initially championed" is a little strong to describe the Governor's actual role in this process. The main credit Rick Perry deserves is for not vetoing the legislation the way he did a nearly identical bill in 2005 (see a discussion of some of that history in this post).
Texas spent $3,638 per year for each person in the state, according to the report — less than one-third the amount of top spender Alaska's $12,833. While the Lone Star State budget ranked third in the country, Texas spent about half as much per resident as the states ahead of it, California and New York.
The report card from the Pew Center on the States, released Monday, gave Texas an overall grade of B+ for quality of governance, improving upon its grade of B from its last report card in 2005. The state scored highest for its innovative uses of technology.
Only Utah, Virginia and Washington state received better grades from Pew's Government Performance project. Texas finished in a five-way tie for fourth place in the study.
Despite the state's positive scores, the report had little good to say about Gov. Rick Perry, concluding that legislators succeeded despite Perry's "distaste for performance budgeting."
Perry spokesman Robert Black dismissed the criticism and noted that recent Texas prison system reforms lauded in the study were initially championed by the governor in his State of the State address.
Here's the home page for Pew's Grading the States project.