AUSTIN (KXAN) — When our government charges us a fee, we expect that money to go to its intended purpose, but for years, Texas lawmakers have collected some fees and not spent them where they’re supposed to go. More than $4 billion currently sit in accounts that are only used to balance the budget at the end of the year.
On June 13, 2014, Jeff Brooks texted his wife, Cathy, that he would be home soon. A driver in a pick-up truck turned left and didn’t see Jeff on his motorcycle. Jeff died 45 minutes later.
“He was my world,” said Cathy, who now looks after their four children. “Trying to adjust to being a single mom, sole provider and just alone.”
Year after year, motorcycle deaths go up. Yet at the same time, funding for motorcycle safety programs go down. Each time someone renews their motorcycle license, $5 of that fee goes into a fund for motorcycle safety training and public awareness campaigns, but that money is never spent. Not a penny has left the account in almost a decade. The State’s Comptroller records indicate the account has nearly $18 million.
Jude Schnexyder teaches motorcycle safety courses and knows first-hand that the classes make a difference. He says the two most important elements are rider training and “Share the Road” public awareness campaigns for drivers.
“Every time they throw their leg over a machine, they know they’re taking their life in their own hands. So they are very pro-active about safety, or should be,” said Schnexyder.
State Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, says billions of dollars sit in around 200 accounts, all so lawmakers can balance their books.
“A horrible practice, that you tell the public, ‘We’re going to collect this fee or tax for a specific purpose,’ and then you break that promise to the tune of 4 billion broken promises,” said Watson.
Watson filed several bills to stop the practice, including one for the motorcycle account.
Cathy hasn’t spoken publicly about Jeff’s death until now, but she has talked to her daughter about it.
“I asked her, ‘What if those funds were released 10 years ago? What if they had been used over the last 10 years to educate?” asked Cathy to her daughter. “Her answer was, ‘Maybe dad would be around.'”
When lawmakers decide how to balance the budget this year, Cathy wants them to remember they’re dealing with real Texas lives, not just some numbers on a spreadsheet.
House Speaker Joe Straus has advocated for stopping the budget gimmicks.
“Transparency in our budget is a priority of mine, and that includes making sure that dedicated funds actually go toward their intended use,” said Senate Finance Chair Sen. Jane Nelson.