What do you call it when an organization collects money for one stated purpose, but spends it on another?

In some cases, you might call it fraud.

If, for example, you donated $1 a month to a group claiming it would feed widows and orphans, but actually spent the money on sports cars and pole dancers, you’d call that fraud.

You might call the people responsible for it con men guilty of a bait-and-switch scheme.

In the context at hand, however, you’d have to call it business as usual, or since we’re talking about the Texas Legislature, maybe “bidness” as usual.

Lawmakers in 1991 tagged a $1 surcharge onto the bills of people paying for automobile insurance with the stated purpose of funding auto-crimes task forces across the state. It was a reasonable enough governmental action. Everybody owning a car kicks in a few dollars to help improve the odds that stolen cars get found and car thieves get prosecuted.

That clean, reasonable transaction actually happened for awhile, but politics and money being what they are, it didn’t last long. In 1997, lawmakers decided they’d devote 25 cents of each $1 to auto-crimes task forces and send 75 cents to the general fund.

That was dubious enough, but in keeping with tradition, the legislature in 2011 made things even more so.

At that time, pilgrims from auto-crimes task forces across Texas trekked to Austin to relate how they were being starved to death and to ask whether the state couldn’t give them some more of the money being collected from Texans for the stated purpose of paying for auto-crimes task forces.

The answer was “Of course not.”

What lawmakers could do, and did, was double the surcharge to $2 and promise to give task forces the added $1, plus the quarter they already were getting.

It was a brilliant move. The cops would shut up, take their $1.25 and go home, the general fund would keep its 75 cents and nobody would be the wiser.

The trouble is, the state didn’t keep its promise and kept the new dollars rather than sending them to the task forces.

Some in the auto-crimes policing world may have seen that as an insult-to-injury situation, but little did they know.

This year, like other state agencies, the Texas Automobile Burglary and Theft Prevention Authority, which allocates the money to regional task forces, has been asked to cut 4 percent — about $597,000 — from its annual budget.

The task forces have at least one ally in Austin. State Rep. Travis Clardy, a Republican from Nacogdoches, has filed a bill that would create a dedicated fund for all fees collected by the authority and limit the spending of that money to task-force expenses.

“This bill promotes transparency and ensures Texas is spending its state resources on the intended purposes we promised to taxpayers,” Clardy told The Daily News.

Two companion bills are in the Texas Senate.

Unsuccessful efforts were made in 2013 and 2015 to reform auto-crimes funding and the odds of success are longer this year as lawmakers work to trim the budget.

At very least, lawmakers should change the name of the surcharge to something more accurate. The “Tax Hidden on Your Auto Insurance Policy Because We Need Money But Say We’re Against Taxes” surcharge, maybe.

• Michael A. Smith

Contact Editor Michael A. Smith at 409-683-5206 or michael.smith@galvnews.com.​

(12) comments

Mike Zeller

Michael, good article. Sounds a lot like The Texas Lottery money, that was to go to schools, but now goes into the general revenue fund.

Carlos Ponce

It does not go to the general revenue fund any more. At first it did but that changed in 1997.
http://www.txlottery.org/export/sites/lottery/Supporting_Education_and_Veterans/index.html
63.0% goes to prizes paid
27.1% goes to Texas Education (Foundation School Fund)
5.4% goes to retailer commissions
4.0% goes to Lottery Administration
0.4% goes to Veteran's assistance

Jay Arnold

Good column Mr. Smith. Thank You.

Raymond Lewis

Good piece Michael and wow.

George Croix

"What do you call it when an organization collects money for one stated purpose, but spends it on another?"

Planned Parenthood.

Doyle Beard

This is nothing new MR. Smith. Politicians been doing this since the 1950 if you check out the facts. Are you trying to insinuate something here?

Michael Smith

I wasn't insinuating anything; not on purpose anyway. I was trying to state what I had to say plainly. Politicians have been doing similar things since there have been politicians. A lot longer than the 1950s. I didn't write about that because I wasn't writing a history column. I was writing an editorial about something happen now and affecting people here.

Bill Broussard

Michael: While the disclosure of the funds use was shocking, I thought the way you wrote it was excellent. Wish I could write like you do!

Bill Broussard

Sound like the city of Galveston. Remember the 30 MM 2007 bond council floated to run plumbing and sewer on the west end to get rid of septic? We're still paying down and not one cent was spent on the west end sewer. We're still on septic in the older subdivision

The recall the tax hike we got after Ike when's we were all hurting the most with the promise we would get it reduced when cash flow returned to normal? Well mayor Thomas retired and crazy Louie came in and we got a one third payback. I guess the two thirds we didn't is going to pay for the bond money we never got

Doyle Beard

What about the Social security funds collected for the people MR. Smith. After one retires social security can be taxable when one starts drawing out their IRA required distributions. I know that last sentence is off the subject but a sore spot for people who save.

Jim Forsythe

Taxing our  Social Security benefits was a way to decrease the amount the government  pays on the bottom line to us. If you want it changed , contact your DC Senators.
1983 Amendments Congress passed and President Reagan signed into law the 1983 Amendments. Under the '83 Amendments, up to one-half of the value of the Social Security benefit was made potentially taxable income


George Croix

It's 85% now, Jim.

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.