The State's Budget, Part II: Who to Ask

May 06, 2016

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It's Who You Know!

By Paul Emerson, State Financial Analyst and
Rhita Koches, Core Legislative Group Coordinator

To prepare you to be a better advocate for counties’ interests, this is the second installment in TAC's three-part overview of the state's budget process — the 101 on the when, the who and the what: When to ask. Who to contact. What to say.

So, you want to talk to someone about getting a piece of the state budget pie. If you’ve read part one of this series, you now know the timing to make your request, but who do you ask? Knowing who to contact for assistance with issues like indigent defense, mental health and other areas affecting county government is the next step.
 

As a follow-up to TAC’s series on the state’s budget process, part two covers a very important aspect of getting your message heard — who to ask — which will largely depend on who you know in the legislative community.
Waiting until January 2017, when the legislative session begins, to forge key contacts and relationships with legislative members and their staff may be too late.

As said in part one, identifying the appropriate contact starts now. Here is a short list of key recommendations.

  • Knowing your local state representative and senator and their staff is a great starting point. Keep your local legislators informed about your request. Talk to them ahead of time and copy them on emails and correspondence. During TAC’s Luncheons with Legislators events across the state, legislators have repeatedly said that documentation is important, but stories sell the point. Rep. John Cyrier (R-Bastrop) told county officials “The best lobbyists are my fellow representatives on the floor.” Share with them what happened back home — in your county, in your county jail, with your county’s budget.  Remember, during the fray on the floor, they talk among themselves.
  • It is also important to understand whether your issue may involve a state agency. If so, understand how the state agency is funded and how much money is being targeted to that program. You may need a copy of the agency's Legislative Appropriations Request (LAR) to further understand the agency’s budget and how much money the agency is requiring for that program. Most agencies have intergovernmental relations departments who can serve as your initial contact. TAC’s legislative staff can also help you gather this information.
  • Contacting various members on key committees in both chambers, as well as the governor’s and lieutenant governor’s budget staff or senior key staffers may also be helpful.
  • Working closely with other affiliate organizations and coalition groups can help to formulate a tactical approach and may also help in compiling documentation and determining the widespread extent of the issue.
  • Reaching out to TAC’s legislative staff for guidance is always helpful in brainstorming which approach is best.
Below is a brief case study to illustrate the various degrees of who to contact when seeking additional funding from a state agency program.
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Case Study

Issue – Requesting funding for the Historic Courthouse Preservation Program (HCPP) to help restore and renovate courthouses that are in deteriorating condition. The purpose is to preserve the state’s most treasured historic landmarks.  

What agency (program) is impacted – The Texas Historical Commission (THC) administers the HCPP. Not surprisingly, Texas has more historic courthouses than any other state — 235 are in active use today.
In understanding the Texas Historical Commission and its priorities, try to review the agency’s LARs and determine how much money the agency is requesting for this particular program.  

Always check the agency’s website for complete descriptions of the opportunities offered and detailed descriptions of the type of activities covered. Be sure you’re familiar with the program details before moving on to the request stage.

Funding – The state appropriated $21.2 million in fiscal years 2016-17 for the HCPP, which includes salary for staff. As of 2015, only 63 courthouses have been fully restored, while 28 courthouses have received emergency or planning grants to complete smaller projects.  

Keep in mind, due to the sagging oil and gas prices, the Governor’s Office may be asking for a five to 10 percent reduction across the board for all agencies. Grant programs are among the first line items to be cut by agencies. If you have already made restoration improvements but still need assistance and sufficient funding is not available, or your project fails to qualify, check with the agency for auxiliary programs such as the Texas Courthouse Stewardship Program. The Stewardship Program helps counties with facility planning, budgeting and training to prevent future deterioration.  

Contacting – Contact local agency representatives or the agency’s intergovernmental relations department to determine what funding is being requested in upcoming appropriations. During the legislative session, contact the bill sponsor, as well as local legislative members, to determine if they have an interest in this program. This may include contacting key leadership offices to find out whether they support this increase or not.  

Budget Hearings (held in August) – These hearings are open to the general public but are usually conducted by the governor’s staff and the Legislative Budget Board (LBB) and also includes staff from both budget committees. The LARs are presented by the agency and made available to the public. Attending these hearings may help to identify which staffer to contact within the Governor’s Office.  

Rider Request – If the normal routine of funding is not available, initiating a rider request in the General Appropriations Act (GAA) to increase funding is another option. However, the rider must be presented by a legislative member, preferably by a member on either of the budget committees (Senate Finance or House Appropriations). Having the increased funding inserted into the state budget (in November or December) prior to the legislative session would be the better approach, which means the work begins now.

Now that you know where to direct your request, you’ll be better prepared to move forward with the battle for state funding and the reduction of unfunded and underfunded mandates to Texas counties.

If you have questions, you can contact Paul Emerson, TAC state financial analyst, or Rhita Koches, TAC Core Legislative Group coordinator.

NEXT:  The State’s Budget, Part III:  What to Say!