As conservatives know, government is an inherently greedy beast. It seizes every opportunity to grow and, in the words of Democrat Rahm Emanuel, it “never lets a good crisis go to waste.”
However, in combating the natural trend of bureaucracy to expand, conservatives have a powerful tool in their arsenal: zero-based budgeting.
Traditionally, appropriators in the Texas Legislature utilize what’s commonly referred to as “incremental” budgeting. Under that process, agencies begin at their previous appropriation amount and are provided increases to account for rising costs, population, etc.
Such a practice is inherently flawed because it rests on the assumption that the particular agency is running efficiently and revenue is spent appropriately. In addition to enabling waste, fraud, and abuse, the process is also rigid and slow to adapt.
Perhaps technological advancement has reduced the need for additional appropriations in a particular department, likewise changing demographics or other factors may require additional resources for another.
The answer to this should be a zero-based budgeting system. Under that process, the state budget is wiped clean every time and is re-calculated as if starting from scratch. That way, departments, agencies, and other government entities find it much tougher to spend your tax dollars inefficiently because they cannot count on current levels of spending to be maintained.
By implementing zero-based budgeting, lawmakers could make government smaller and more efficient for taxpayers while also allowing appropriators to be significantly more nimble in addressing new issues.
In 2016, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Texas Senate Finance Chair Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) announced that they would begin incorporating zero-based budgeting into the state budget, drawing immediate praise from conservative lawmakers and Republican delegates at the Texas GOP convention.
Nelson continued that commitment in May of 2020 when she announced state agency budgets would begin at zero for the coming biennium.
That promise was kept throughout the budget process and lawmakers maintain that it will be continued in following sessions. But as always, citizens will have to keep an eye on the process and should continue to encourage lawmakers to codify the practice of zero-based budgeting into state law.