Legislative concern

State Rep. Hugh Shine, R-Temple, explains the state budget process Monday during his monthly forum at the Belton Area Chamber of Commerce.

BELTON — A key Texas agency that assists lawmakers as they craft the state’s two-year budget is effectively being dismantled, state Rep. Hugh Shine, R-Temple, said.

The Legislative Budget Board, created in 1949, is tasked with tracking fiscal issues for the Legislature, analyzing bills and ensuring state government stays within its means.

The nonpartisan agency faces a bevy of problems, the Texas Tribune reported: Its board, chaired by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, has not appointed an executive director; four of the agency’s five executive leadership positions also are unfilled; and staffing has fallen 26 percent to 108 from 146 in 2015.

“This is the first time in 70 years since the LBB was formed that they don’t have an executive director running the show,” Shine said Monday during his monthly forum at the Belton Area Chamber of Commerce.

The erosion of the Legislative Budget Board worries Shine. He said the Legislative Budget Board’s shakiness could put the quality of budget information in jeopardy.

“If we drag our feet on this, it could negatively impact the budget process in the next session,” he said.

Lawmakers will approve the next two-year budget in 2021. But the budget process does not start then. It begins in March when state agencies start submitting budget requests.

“We have a leadership void here both here in the LBB and, to some degree, from elected officials,” Shine said, pointing out that key members of the agency’s board are either gone — as is the case with former House Appropriations Chairman John Zerwas, who recently resigned — or are embroiled in controversy, like Bonnen, who will not seek reelection next year.

On top of that, the lieutenant governor, the Tribune reported, has purposely blocked decisions from being made to remake the Legislative Budget Board. Without an executive director, staffers have to earn unanimous approval from Patrick and Bonnen to make decisions.

Legislators need to address the Legislative Budget Board’s issues now rather than later, Shine said.

“If the vacuum or void is allowed to get much deeper we’re not going to have … the things that they do adequately for the next budget process,” he said.

Patrick admitted in an opinion piece for The Dallas Morning News that he does want to change the Legislative Budget Board. The Tribune reported Patrick wants to replace the agency with two independent organizations — one under the House and the other under the Senate.

“If the Legislature decides to do something different, let’s do it during session,” Shine said, explaining that the existing framework should stay in place until legislators can create a proper replacement.

If lawmakers decide to create a new budgetary organization, Shine said they may have to do it during a special session. The 2021 legislative session will likely focus on redistricting and ensuring the longevity of the school finance reform bill legislators approved earlier this year.

Many Republicans and Democrats herald the Legislative Budget Board as providing factual, objective analysis without bias.

“I’ve always felt that the LBB was the one nonpartisan thing you can count on in the process,” Belton Mayor pro tem Wayne Carpenter said.