Thursday, September 13, 2012

New criminal penalties wrong solution for TJJD pay hikes

In reaction to controversial raises for administrators at the Texas Juvenile Justice Department, reported Mike Ward at the Austin Statesman: "'We need to put in a criminal penalty for violating the Appropriations Act and not following the intent of the Legislature,' said Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire, a Houston Democrat who is also a member of the budget-writing Senate Finance Committee."

Really? More criminal penalties are the answer? I'll ask again: Why are increased criminal penalties seemingly the only solution the Lege can imagine to every problem that crops up? Making the suggestion more problematic, we learn deep in the article that the agency appears to have gotten around the legislative limits without actually "violating the Appropriations Act":
privately, other officials familiar with the budget laws said one problem with enforcing the pay-raise ban is how it was written.

The budget law contains a so-called rider that prohibits the juvenile-justice agency from giving raises to eight top officials above their base rate of pay on Aug. 31, 2010.

The term "base rate" is not defined. And several of the officials said that several officials who got raises had their job titles changed, which also got around the rider.
The Legislature has plenty of ways to punish agencies that flout their budgetary wishes. They've already run the executive director who authorized the raises out on a rail. And ironically, the new E.D. is using the same method to rescind raises which was adopted by his predecessor to allow them: Reported Ward, "no one lost their jobs in Thursday's reorganization, but some reassignments came with pay cuts for several former top officials."

As Grits has written before, "If the only tool you own is a hammer, everything looks like a nail, the saying goes. And thus for too long a bipartisan tool shortage has encouraged reformers of all stripes, and from all points on the political spectrum, to reach first for solutions involving police, courts, fines and punishments instead of other less coercive strategies." Certainly new criminal statutes weren't necessary to resolve this situation.

Whether or not one thinks the raises were inappropriate, it's over now and time to focus on more pressing concerns.


Anonymous said...

Grits, you hit the nail right on the head. There should not be more silly laws passed that punished people for stupid stunts.

Anonymous said...

I belive the SAO should look into this fiscal mismanagement to determine exactly how Townsend manipulated the system. You never know what they'll find and it may be that a law already exist on the books that'll address the issue. It needs to be looked at with a keen attention. Bring in the SAO.

Anonymous said...

Were any oysters given raises?

Anonymous said...

Great way to make/keep/influence friends/cronies/underlings -- give 'em raises. Works for me. Where was mine when I needed it most?

Oh, right... I think it went to pay for the new carpet in the Austin Powers That Be offices a few years ago.