Lawmakers have stockpiled nearly $5 billion in more than 200 dedicated revenue funds, using the money to help balance the budget rather than for their intended purposes, according to estimates from the Texas comptroller's office.
It's a practice that has been criticized for years, and both Gov. Rick Perry and House Speaker Joe Straus have called on legislators during the 2013 session to end the diversions.
Most of the funds are tied to fees and surcharges that Texans pay each year that are meant go toward furthering goals like helping low-income families with their electric bills or caring for stranded dolphins.
Yet lawmakers have allowed billions of dollars of that so-called dedicated revenue be collected without plans to spend the money for its intended purpose. Instead, much of the money has been used to help balance the state budget by making state coffers appear more flush.
"We told the people that the money we put in this piggy bank for this purpose," said state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, who for years has proposed legislation to end the diversions. "We collect the fee and then the budget writers take that fee and spend it on something else."
Since 2002, the amount in the dedicated accounts has more than tripled. The growth over the last two years has been especially large, as lawmakers only used $6.4 billion of $10.6 billion in dedicated revenue at their disposal during the 2011 session. That has caused the money in dedicated accounts to jump from $3.7 billion to $4.9 billion.
The largest pot of money is the System Benefit Fund, which is fed by surcharges that millions of Texans pay on their electric bills to provide discounts on bills for elderly and poor people. Since eligibility for the discount program was curtailed several years ago, much of the money collected in the fund has gone unused. It is expected to hold an estimated $850 million by the end of the current fiscal year.
Watson said he is encouraged that next year lawmakers will finally be ready to tackle the issue. Straus has called for ending budget diversions and created an interim committee led by state Reps. Drew Darby, R-San Angelo, and John Otto, R-Dayton, to investigate it.
"There will never be an easy time to make this important change," Straus said in July. "In the end, Texans will have a budget that is fairer, simpler and more straightforward."
Each dedicated revenue fund that the state's comptroller tracks on its state revenues and balances page can be found in the list below. They are sorted high to low by the "Estimated Balance at End of FY 2013." That number represents the estimated amount of money that will be left in the fund at the end of fiscal year 2013. It takes into account the remaining balance from fiscal year 2011, any estimated revenue for that fund, and any budget appropriations currently in place.
Use the filter to find funds for various subjects. For example, a filter for the term "plates" will show only the funds related to license plates.