Texas and the Problem of ‘Muddling Through’

It is not on a whim that Charles Lindblom’s famous essay The Science of Muddling Through is often mentioned in conversations involved with public administration decision making. Lindblom is a part of a beloved group of public administration writer, including Herbert Simon, and Chester Bernard, who advocate for more scientific decision-making. In Lindblom’s essay, he describes two administrators formulating policy. The first lists all related values in order of importance then all possible outcomes, an inquiry into citizen’s values and “an equally prodigious set of calculations” to determine how much each value is compared to the other – finally, the administrator would compare all theories on the topic of the policy he wishes to create (Lindblom, 79). The second administrator on the other hand, focuses on their own goals and values and investigates little into new information and the citizens they are representing. Much like Herbert Simon’s Economic Man, Lindblom is advocating for not only scientific inquiry but also democracy because the deliberation in legislation is “the health of democracy” (Fry and Raadschelders, 362). I go on this long-winded summary to contrast to the State of Texas.

The general process of legislative approval begins with the various state agencies preparing legislative appropriations request to the Legislative Budget Board (LBB) and the Comptroller’s office for review. The LBB then drafts a general appropriations bill for funding for two years while the Comptroller’s office drafts the biennial revenue estimate. After House and Senate hearings, the bill is sent to the House and Senate for deliberation and vote (Texas Comptroller’s Office). Finally, the governor will vote and potentially veto. The process up to the line-item veto is a beautiful example of careful and professional review of information and deliberation. The executive power of the line-item veto is a worrying threat to the will of the people. As Lindsay Mesa explains, “it is hard to determine whether or not [the governor] made the correct decision”. She is absolutely correct. The review and expertise of the Comptroller’s Office, LLB, and the people’s representatives and Senators can be shot down by one line-item veto.

Another issue with the state’s system can be described in what John Stuart Mill described as “tyranny of the majority”. Within the changing tides of Texas, House Majority Leader Tom Delay aggressively fought and won the fight to redraw Texas congressional Boundaries to ensure the Republican Party could remain in power (Lee et al., 276-276).

The process of legislative approval for the State of Texas as well as its budget operates biennially and begins its budget cycle on the first day of September of an odd year. This setup is no uncommon for a State government – as Maggie Wright notes, 19 other states operate this way. But, scientific decision making depends on well-informed decision making and, as Wright explains, many critics of biennial budgets assert that budgets would be based on erroneous and outdated information.

The State has various oversight committees, but none that can stop undemocratic and unscientific habits like line-item vetos, tyranny of the majority, and biennial budget cycles. There is nothing wrong with the foundation of Texas’ process – if fact, it would seem like an ideal setup for scientific decision making. If the State of Texas adopted the Federal system, there would be little change besides the loss of line-item veto and the requirement of an annual budget cycle, which the loss of both would promote more informed decision making and mess executive power over the will of the people and their representative.

Works Cited

Texas Comptroller’s Office, “The Texas Budget Process: A Primer”. Access March 7, 2019 from https://comptroller.texas.gov/transparency/budget/primer.php

Lindblom, Charles E. “The Science of ‘Muddling Through’” Public Administration Review, Vol. 19, No. 2 (Spring, 1959), pp. 79-88.

Lee, Robert D., Ronald Wayne Johnson, Philip G. Joyce. Public Budgeting Systems. 9th ed. Burlington, MA: Jones & Barlett Learning, 2013.

Fry, Brian R., and Jos C. N. Raadschelders. Mastering Public Administration: From Max Weber to Dwight Waldo. Los Angeles: Sage, 2014.

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