Earlier this year in a Sunset Commission meeting for the Texas Lottery Commission, a commissioner said that the Sunset Commission doesn’t sunset agencies. That’s not their job. Their job is to make sure agencies are “operating effectively.”
Actually, he was wrong. In 2009 the Texas Residential Construction Commission was sunsetted by the sunset commission. So, the Sunset Commission can sunset after all.
The running joke in Austin is that the Sunset Commission was sold as a way to end unnecessary or problem agencies, but has become a mechanism to grow them. That is, Sunset examines how “effectively” the agencies are being run and shockingly discovers that agencies need things like “wider missions”, “more resources,” and “the (increased) authority to be effective”.
Not only that, but all kinds of goodies that have nothing to do with the agency under review get put into sunset bills. This Grade A corruption would be impossible if Texas passed a constitutional amendment requiring any contents of any bill to be germane to the title of the bill. Currently the Senate may treat any bill as Christmas tree to hang goodies on. The GOP platform supports a germaneness rule for both legislative chambers.
The conventional wisdom, that the sunset process often makes things worse, certainly appeared to be on display as the commissioner grilled a witness who was advocating for sunsetting the Texas Lottery. The witness was making excellent points that the commissioner raised his voice to try to counteract.
One of those points was that the lottery is a tax on the poor.
Actually, the commissioner seemed to agree with the point, arguing a way to fix the optics of the problem but not the problem itself.
The problem is that it makes no sense to specially tax people who have very little money, much or all of which is provided by the taxpayer.
What was the commissioner’s proposed solution to the problem of poor people buying lottery tickets they can’t afford? Entice rich people to buy them too so we won’t all look so bad. It was an aesthetic-only fix. The suggested “solution” leaves the existence of this poor tax completely untouched.
The witness then smartly pointed out that the Lottery Commission already tried to attract players who can afford to play via the introduction of the $50 ticket. The scheme failed. It turns out that people who can afford to play the lottery just aren’t going to play.
Furthermore, the Texas Lottery has a pattern of bad behavior, helping racetrack owners circumvent the legislature to get slot machines legalized.
In Texas, if one of the gambling oligopolies gets a new privilege, the other ones get it too. The Texas Lottery keeps trying schemes to help racetrack owners legalize the components needed to get slot machines for racetrack owners. Racetrack owners call slot machines “VLTs”.
The Sunset Commission was set up to sunset unnecessary and problem agencies, and many are saying the Texas Lottery Commission fits the bill to a tee.
–To watch the Sunset Commission exchange, go to this website and click on the “audio” link for April 10, 2012 and jump to 7:26:30