Investing in a better performing government
Members of the Texas House and Senate have filed 7,892 bills this legislative session and another 1,437 resolutions. This week, we’re talking about some of the other ways to measure a legislative session.
Putting the state’s retirement funds on a sounder footing 💵
Lawmakers this spring are seeking ways to best move Texas forward across a wide range of issues, including generational investments in education and the state’s infrastructure and making decisions on the size and shape of a property tax relief package, which the Governor, Lieutenant Governor and Speaker have made a priority.
A $32.7 billion revenue surplus has provided the impetus as well for lawmakers to improve state government performance and to take on other big challenges. That includes honoring our commitments to more than 256,000 state employees and retirees by shoring up the standing of several of the state’s retirement funds.
By the numbers: Employees Retirement System of Texas
- $1 billion: the lump sum legacy payment to the state employees’ retirement fund that is now in the supplemental budget bill.
- Why it’s important: Making this payment in the current budget cycle would save the state over $5.5 billion in interest payments over the next 30 years while eliminating the unfunded liability earlier than anticipated.
The other funds: Budget writers would also erase the unfunded liabilities of two other critical state employee retirement funds with a single fiscal year 2024 lump sum payment:
- $750 million for the Law Enforcement & Custodial Officer Supplemental Retirement Fund
- $105 million for the Judicial Retirement System Plan 2 fund
Why it matters: Under existing law and current funding levels, these funds were projected to deplete in 2045 and 2069, respectively, potentially threatening retirement for nearly 36,000 law enforcement and judicial employees serving Texans every day.
And that’s not all: These payments are in addition to separate payments in the budget shoring up the state’s employee retirement system fund, as required by last session’s Senate Bill 321. That bill saved the main ERS fund from total fund depletion and helped ensure that it is now on the path to actuarial soundness.
Pay raises, parental leave for state employees 👨👩👧👦
For Texas to thrive, we need to spend taxpayer dollars wisely and make sure critical government services — which run the gamut from processing driver’s licenses to building and maintaining roads to licensing children’s day care centers, to name just three essential services. It’s in the taxpayers’ interest that state government continues to run as efficiently and effectively as possible for a state that could top 38 million by our bicentennial in 2036.
To do this, lawmakers are taking steps to ensure that Texas state government can retain a workforce that can handle those growing demands for services. Today, more than 176,000 Texans complete tasks for state government that are essential to our current and future needs. To retain that needed future workforce, Texas will need to remain competitive on wages and other benefits.
On parental leave, many Texans may be surprised to know that the state does not offer parental leave at all to state workers. To address that, several bills have been filed, such as:
- SB 222, by Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, which received Senate approval on Wednesday.
- HB 1580, by Rep. Will Metcalf, R-Conroe, which was heard in committee on Wednesday.
On the pay raise front, budget writers have included $1.8 billion to fund a 5% or $3,000 annual across-the-board pay raise in fiscal years 2024 and 2025.
Worth noting: Many agencies that employ specialized staff, like Public Utility Commission of Texas attorneys, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality engineers, cybersecurity experts and other critical agency positions, will likely need even more of a lift to keep from losing their staff to other agencies and the private sector.
How this might play out: Committee discussions and testimony in both chambers suggest budget writers are open to doing more to ensure Texans get the best return on the investment of their tax dollars into a productive and efficient state government workforce, at the same time delivering property tax relief and investing in key infrastructure, higher ed and education opportunities.
Cybersecurity and IT modernization 🖥️
The problem with cybersecurity and IT infrastructure investments is that the public rarely thinks about them except when issues happen or important IT systems become so outdated that they cannot function when needed.
That’s why Texas 2036 has been supporting measures this session to modernize cybersecurity and IT practices and processes that would make government more secure, efficient and effective.
We’re tracking the following legislative vehicles:
🧑🏻💻 IMPACT: Budget writers are contemplating the inclusion of dollars to support staff at the Department of Family and Protective Services to start planning the upgrade of IMPACT, the IT system employed by child welfare caseworkers to align it with the most modern federal guidelines.
- The current IT system is based on guidelines dating from the 1990s, before technologies like the smart phone existed.
🧑🏫 IT workforce: HB 584 by Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, R-Southlake, would allow the Texas Department of Information Resources to enter an agreement with a community college to offer a state information technology credentialing program to address shortages in the state IT workforce.
- SB 635 by Sen. Sarah Eckhardt, D-Austin, and SB 1201 by Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, are companion bills on the Senate side, but have yet to be heard in committee.
🛡️ Intercepting cyberattacks: SB 271 by Sen. Nathan Johnson, D-Dallas, expands the types of cyberattacks required to be reported to the Texas Department of Information Resources. Currently, the reporting requirement is limited to attacks involving a computerized data breach. This bill would expand the requirement to include ransomware or distributed denial of service attacks.
- The bill would also require local governments to report cyberattacks.
- Companion bill HB 712 by Rep. Matt Shaheen, R-Plano, is scheduled for a hearing in House State Affairs this week.
- SB 621 by Sen. Tan Parker, R-Flower Mound, would create a Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) at the DIR.
⚖️ Improving judicial technology: Lawmakers are also addressing needed IT investments to boost performance in the judicial branch.
$6 million: The House and Senate both recommend investing this amount to replace the Office of Court Administration’s legacy Judicial Data System.
Why it matters: Adopting new technology would allow the Texas Judicial Council and OCA to collect case-level statistical data from the state’s trial courts. Having this more granular data instead of the currently available aggregated data sets will allow for better policy planning.
$2.2 million: A House budget rider for this amount would help implement a court text message reminder program for criminal defendants aimed at reducing rates of failure to appear for court dates.
- Why it matters: Similar programs in other jurisdictions have dramatically improved appearance rates, reducing negative consequences for Texans and saving time and resources for the broader judicial system.
Of the 50 states, how does Texas stack up?
Texas 2036’s Strategic Framework rolls out a vision for the Lone Star State built on six policy pillars representing the most significant drivers of Texans’ prosperity. It provides in-depth, cross-cutting data to inform key decisions about the most significant issues facing the state.
Our accompanying Strategic Framework interactive dashboard allows users to explore the data behind our 36 goals for the future of Texas. We recently launched a new feature that enables Texans to gain a national view through dynamic maps and charts that give a bird’s eye view of how we compare to other states on key metrics.
Explore our new Rankings system and then let us know what you found most interesting!