Republican U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, running for governor, said she wouldn't hesitate to trim state spending to cope with a looming state revenue shortfall of up to $17 billion.
"We should start cutting across the board now in our state agencies," she said during the GOP gubernatorial debate Jan. 14. "We have over 300 state agencies. Forty-five of those agencies are related to health care. I'm just wondering if we couldn't consolidate some of those state agencies."
Forty-five agencies, all concerned with health care? We decided to check.
Hutchison's campaign sent us a list of 50 councils, boards, committees and state departments, all characterized by Hutchison's camp as relating to health care in some capacity. The 50 were plucked from a list of more than 300 entities that the governor was making appointments to as of February 2008.
Case closed? Not quite.
The veracity of Hutchison's statement depends on how broadly "agency" is defined.
Two experts we spoke with understood how Hutchison made the stretch. But Harvey Tucker, a political science professor at Texas A&M, said that according to how state law defines what constitutes an agency, Hutchison "probably went too far."
Ken Levine, interim director of the Sunset Advisory Commission, which reviews government agencies and makes recommendations to the Legislature about what services can be consolidated, declined to weigh in on the truthfulness of Hutchison's claim. But he said that it's not realistic to count all the entities on Hutchison's list as full-fledged agencies.
For instance, the governor appoints members of advisory committees — we counted four of them on Hutchison's list, including the Dental Hygiene and the Family Practice Residency advisory committees. But "I wouldn't count those as state agencies," Levine said.
Also, some of the entities Hutchison may envision as targets for possible consolidation to cut costs don't cost much money now.
The vast majority of advisory committee members are not salaried state workers. Put another way, panels including the Dental Hygiene Advisory Committee do not have line-item appropriations in the budget. The dental hygiene panel's six members only get state money to reimburse travel expenses.
Separately, we found three published state lists that put Hutchison's claim of 45 health-related agencies in question.
According to an appendix to the latest state budget and compilations by the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts and the Texas State Library and Archives, Texas has no more than 15 health-related agencies including the mammoth Health and Human Services Commission, which oversees smaller units.
One way Hutchison gets to a higher number is by counting components of some agencies as if they were separate entities. For instance, Hutchison includes on her list the Executive Council of Physical Therapy and Occupational Therapy Examiners plus the Texas Board of Occupational Therapy Examiners and the Texas Board of Physical Therapy Examiners. A council spokeswoman told us that those three entities amount to one state agency.
Except for a section of the state ethics code relating to financial disclosure by public officials, it's difficult to find a strict definition or criteria for what constitutes a state agency in Texas. We decided to take the state's word for how many health-related government agencies it has: 15, including the five health and human services agencies traditionally associated with health care.
Hutchison's list — ranging from the sprawling HHSC to itty-bitties like the Chronic Kidney Disease Task Force — shapes up as overly long.
We rule her claim False.
Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, Agency address index, accessed Jan. 21
Office of the Governor, Governor appointments, accessed Jan. 20
Hutchison's list of state agencies related to health care
Interview with John Barton, Legislative Budget Board manager, Jan. 19
Interview with Ken Levine, Sunset Advisory Commission interim director. Jan. 19
Interview with Stephanie Goodman, Health and Human Services Commission spokeswoman, Jan. 20
Interview with Jennifer Jones, Executive Council of Physical Therapy and Occupational Therapy Examiners executive assistant, Jan. 20
Interview with Harvey Tucker, political science professor, Texas A&M, Jan. 21.
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