FINANCE LOOKS AT AGENCY BUDGETS
(AUSTIN) — The Senate Finance Committee continued work Tuesday on its interim charge to oversee the use of funds appropriated to agencies in 2007 by hearing testimony relating to four state agencies.
The committee began with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission (TPWC), an agency which received a $164 million increase in funding from the last fiscal year. Of this amount, $2.1 million was intended for border operations, and $2.2 million was earmarked for additional law enforcement personnel and equipment. Some committee members were concerned about TPWC's involvement in immigration enforcement. Colonel Peter Flores, who heads up the law enforcement division at TPWC, assured committee members that game wardens are not pursuing undocumented immigrants. He added, however, that TPWC wardens may communicate with Border Patrol officials when they see illegal immigration activity, but that his wardens do not have the authority to enforce U.S. immigration law.
TPWC Executive Director Carter Smith reports that his agency projects $39 million in revenue from national parks this fiscal year, $5.7 million more than was projected last session. Smith said that this additional money will go toward continuing operations and capitol equipment expenditures. He listed employee retention, increasing inflation, and fuel costs as the top challenges facing Texas Parks and Wildlife in the near future.
Juvenile Probation Commission Executive Director Vicki Spriggs testified that her agency could face a significant loss in federal funds because of administrative rule changes at the national level. Although the Legislature appropriated an additional $57 million in state funds to the agency, federal funding could decrease by $53 million in 2008-2009, leaving the agency with a net gain of $4 million.
Texas Department of Criminal Justice officials highlighted staffing issues as a top challenge. According to Executive Director Brad Livingston, TDCJ has 3600 open positions. He attributes this to high turnover, 24 percent for all employees, but 43 percent for employees that have worked at TDCJ less than a year. To offset this, Livingston said the agency has upped starting salaries for applicants with a Bachelor's Degree or military experience. The agency is also shortening the time between an applicant's hire and the beginning of training. Like other agencies, TDCJ is facing increased fuel and utilities costs, and Livingston anticipated asking for a $150-180 million emergency appropriation to balance costs for the 2008-2009 fiscal biennium.
The Finance Committee is chaired by Senator Steve Ogden and is comprised of Senators Bob Deuell, Judith Zaffirini, Eddie Lucio, Jr., Florence Shapiro, Jane Nelson, Robert Duncan, Kevin Eltife, Troy Fraser, Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, Kyle Janek, Tommy Williams, Royce West, Kip Averitt and John Whitmire.