Speaker, Lt. Gov., split over efficiency report

Published 9:35 am Friday, January 27, 2017

A little-known annual efficiency report has caused a dust-up this week in Austin and is pitting two of the state’s most prominent Republican lawmakers at loggerheads.

The report in question is the “Government Effectiveness and Efficiency Report,” and it is published each legislative session by the Legislative Budget Board, a nonpartisan state office, to give lawmakers an opportunity to improve effectiveness and efficiency.

However, on Monday, the nonprofit Center for Public Policy Priorities, a Texas public advocacy group, announced on their blog that Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick asked that the report not be published.

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Dick Lavine, the author of the blog post, said in an interview that this is the first time he’s aware that anyone has requested the GEER not be published.

“The GEER report has been put out for many years,” he said. In fact, he said, the request might violate state law, as the law requires the document be published.

Lavine also pointed out that even though the report usually contains a raft of suggestions for better efficiency and effectiveness, lawmakers are free to ignore the report, and they often do.

“It makes no sense to not allow it to be published,” Lavine said. “It’s still up to the Legislature if they want to consider the ideas. This stifles the conversation.”

Lavine pointed out that in 2015, the Legislature changed state policy based on partial suggestions by the Budget Board, illustrating that the report is in no way binding.

“They don’t have to adopt the whole recommendation, and that’s the point,” he said. “There’s no reason not to at least have the Legislature take a look at it first.”

However, it might yet be published because on Wednesday, state Rep. Joe Straus, the Speaker of the House, sent a letter to the Budget Board requesting publication of the GEER.

“While I am not endorsing all of the options identified in these reports, I believe (legislative) members should have the opportunity to fully consider this information and the merits of these proposals,” wrote Straus.

Both men are Republicans.

Patrick’s office did not return calls for comment. Straus’ office sent the Speaker’s letter to The News and the Budget Board’s communications officer said they plan to respond to Straus’ request. R.J. DeSilva, the officer, seemed to indicate the report will be published, but he declined to say outright whether it would be published or not.

“We have received the Speaker’s letter and are currently in the process of compiling responsive information as directed, and expect to release such information and post it on our website in the next several days,” he wrote in an email.

Lavine pointed out that requesting the report get quashed could itself be an example of inefficient government as he suspects the Budget Board has spent the last 18 months combing through state departments looking for waste and inefficiency, and so to ignore the report would be rendering the work moot.

“I’m assuming they worked on it and the lieutenant governor stifled it,” Lavine said. “And I don’t know why.”