Readers will recall that last session, the Legislature collectively swept billions from so-called dedicated accounts, as the Trib put it, "using the money to help balance the budget rather than for their intended purposes." Out of more than 200 dedicated funds analyzed by the Trib, "lawmakers only used $6.4 billion of $10.6 billion in dedicated revenue at their disposal during the 2011 session. That has caused the money in dedicated accounts to jump from $3.7 billion to $4.9 billion."
The two largest dedicated funds raided for budget balancing came from a fee tacked onto electric rates and an environmental fund aimed at emissions reduction. But the next three largest were all related to criminal justice: The $388 million in hospital and EMS funds from the Driver Responsibility surcharge, nearly $200 million in the (dormant) Fugitive Apprehension fund, and around $165 million designated for 9-1-1 services.
Similarly, many court fees paid by criminal defendants have been swept from their intended purposes to balance the budget. Aggregated court costs are as follows: "Defendants convicted of a felony pay $133. Defendants convicted of a Class A or B misdemeanor pay $83. Defendants convicted of a non-jailable misdemeanor pay $40." Of that amount, some portion of the following accounts, which between them represent 40.8% of court fees, were raided to balance the budget:
- Criminal Justice Planning: 12.5537%
- Law Enforcement Officer Standards and Education: 5.0034%
- Fair Defense: 8.0143%
- Breath Alcohol Testing: 0.5507%
- Center for the Study and Prevention of Juvenile Crime and Delinquency: 1.2090%
- Comprehensive Rehabilitation (Dept. of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services): 9.8218%
- Sam Houston State Correctional Management Institute: 1.2090%
- Sam Houston State Bill Blackwood Law Enforcement Management Institute: 2.1683%
- Crime Stoppers Assistance: 0.2581%
Ironically, the folks who created the situation want credit for trying to "fix" it: "both Gov. Rick Perry and House Speaker Joe Straus have called on legislators during the 2013 session to end the diversions." But doing so would require plugging the gaps with tax dollars and, in the end, one suspects the practice will be as difficult to overcome as drug addiction or a smoking habit.