Friday, December 07, 2012

Budget Bait and Switch: Raiding dedicated criminal justice funds

Three of the five largest dedicated funds that the Texas Legislature raided to balance the budget fall in the criminal justice milieu, the Texas Tribune reported yesterday, led by nearly $400 million raised by the Orwellian-named "Driver Responsibility" surcharge that was never passed through to trauma-center hospitals, who're supposed to benefit from the misguided law.

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%
Grits finds it particularly notable that so much money from the Driver Responsibility surcharge was diverted from hospitals to budget balancing. With the Governor intent on turning down Medicaid funds and Disproportionate Share funding for hospitals' indigent costs soon to be eliminated under Obamacare, trauma center hospitals have vigorously argued against eliminating the Driver Responsibility surcharge for fear of putting themselves in a deeper financial bind. But clearly, just "dedicating" funds to that purpose doesn't mean hospitals will actually receive them.

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.


Prison Doc said...

Well surprise surprise! With all the shenannigans that the lege has done in recent years to avoid raising taxes or raiding Rainy Day Funds, this isn't at all surprising and we should probably just expect more of the same.

It's hard to be optimistic about the upcoming lege--they have painted themselves into such a corner on criminal justice funding it is difficult to see a way out.

But the DRP and fees on felons have got to go, they can't afford to pay them anyway. It was never any more than just a financial Potemkin Village anyway.

HomasWorld said...

There is much irony in the theft of fees collected from scofflaws. The DRP was clearly double jeopardy and totally unfair. And to refuse Medicaid funds for right-wing ideological reasons is just plain ignorant. Until the Texas public cleans house from these tea party idiots we can expect a continuation of this crooked and stupid behavior.

rodsmith said...

Well color me silly but if the law says the funds are required to be used for "x" and instead they are going to "y" sounds like time for a lawsuit to force the state to not only use the current funds for what the law requries or repeal the law if they are not needed for it. Plus restore any funds stolen from the accounts.

Anonymous said...

This shows the stupidity of 'dedicated' funds. All monies realized by the state should flow to the general fund for item by item spending authorization by the weasels in the house and senate.

Force them to show what comes in and what goes out, line by line.

rodsmith said...

that's true 7:18

Of course you know why they use dedicated funds in the first place

Well first it's hard to get the public to agree to general taxes.

second they would have to do their jobs and show what they are providing really costs. That of course could result in a mall dieoff of the pubic from the STICKER SHOCK!