I am a Big Government person. With this many people in North America, or even in Texas, it just makes sense to me that we should fund a dedicated group to do some problem-solving on issues that affect everybody. Otherwise the only way to, say, build a hospital is to get everyone to pitch in on the evenings and weekends after work for planning, fundraising, and construction. Then there’s a fight over the color of the curtains, and the guy with the backhoe gets mad and goes home, etc. etc. Not pretty and not efficient.
But as a member of my generation, I recognize that government is made up of humans who have been given other people’s money to play with and can’t always be trusted to do the right thing. So I have a strong preference for transparent government. For one thing, it makes it easier to do my job, which is essentially pitching a fit about how Texas does not care about its children unless they’re embarrassing us with low test scores. It’s hard to do that without numbers.
So it’s depressing to visit the Criminal Justice Policy Council website, which is sitting there as if a state agency is still operating behind it and they will post another report shortly. That is not the case, thanks to a late in the day line-item veto by our man Rick Perry back in June. As I hear it, Gov. Perry was pissed off because the director of CJPC reported to the Legislature that research had proved something positive.
His report was that our state investment in programs to prevent juvenile crime over the past few years actually worked and even saved the state money. Since the state leadership had already decided that prevention programs of all kinds were destined for the chopping block, this report was not construed as helping.
When Perry made the veto a couple of months later, his official explanation was that CJPC had come into being to help the Legislature deal with the problems of Texas prison overcrowding, which has now been dealt with and therefore CJPC could just go away. Its functions were either obsolete or could be handled elsewhere.
It’s interesting to contrast that with the Correctional Managed Health Care Committee (CMHCC), a small state agency that is so untransparent that it has no website. CMHCC handles the contracts for state prison medical care, acting as an intermediary between the state prison system and the medical schools who provide health care to prisoners. It was created by the Legislature to help deal with the problem of Texas repeatedly and drastically failing in its Constitutional obligation to provide a reasonable minimum standard of health care to prisoners. CMHCC still exists, even though it’s a little unclear to me why the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) can’t take back the contracting piece.
CJPC had evolved to work with additional issues, such as planning and supporting the consolidation of various child abuse and juvenile delinquency prevention programs under one state agency where they would benefit from synergy and also get more support in tracking results of their interventions. Its staff had an overwhelming reputation for being straight shooters with the data, as an independent state agency with no loyalty to TDCJ, Texas Youth Commission, Texas Juvenile Probation Commission, etc. They also focused strongly on outcomes: are these programs worth what we pay for them?
With that in mind, what picture does this paint?
- Elimination of the Criminal Justice Policy Council. (scroll to the second update in this article for the bit on CJPC)
- Proposals to exempt some of the governor’s papers from review and restructure the Sunset Commission and the State Auditor’s Office, both of which are indepent agencies tasked with oversight of state agencies and activities. (again scrolling is necessary)
- Transferring authority for cost-saving audits from the independent Comptroller’s Office to the Legislative Budget Board.
- Eliminating, via legislative directive in the health and human services reorganization bill HB 2292, every health and human services agency workgroup, committee, and advisory board that was not required for the state to continue receiving federal funds. These groups were the major avenues for public input into state agency decision making.
- Several stories that reached our organization of constituents contacting their representatives’ offices during the Session and being told by staffers to just stop calling.
To me, this screams out a fundamental disrespect for having the public involved in their own government. It’s like the Miguel Estrada thing: “I want to be a judge but it’s none of your business what my views are on the law.” Rick Perry and the Republicans wanted to be your leaders, but now that they are you get no say, and it’s none of your business what the state does while they’re in charge.
This is not the Big Government I had in mind, y’all.