From the Houston Chronicle (bold emphasis added):
The participants at the prayer vigil organized by Gov. Rick Perry were treated to arctic blasts of the stuff Saturday, with Reliant Stadium’s 12,000 tons of air-conditioning keeping temperatures nippy. But as historic temperatures scorch Texas for the third straight month with triple-digit misery, $650 million collected from Texas electricity consumers to assist poor elderly and disabled citizens with their utility bills sits idly in a state bank account.
Instead of serving its intended humanitarian purpose, the state’s $650 million System Benefit Fund now serves a political one — permitting Perry and other Republican leaders to keep their “no new taxes” pledge.
In February, the Perry-appointed Public Utility Commission voted to reduce aid distributed from the fund, allowing its corpus to grow ever bigger. The fund, a big positive entry in the state comptroller’s ledger of the state’s fiscal condition, is now an essential tool in “balancing” the state’s budget.
The SBF was the brainchild of Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, created when the Legislature deregulated electric utility companies in 1999. Turner, hoping to protect Texas’ most vulnerable consumers, proposed tacking a small monthly fee onto everyone’s utility bills to provide aid to the needy.
Over the years, the PUC has adopted rules limiting the number of citizens eligible for assistance, but about 500,000 Texans receive aid for their summer bills.
When lawmakers faced a budget crisis this year, the PUC reduced the percentage of assistance offered each consumer, from 17 percent of a monthly bill to 10 percent.
Stiffing the old and disabled had the happy effect of freeing up a wad of cash that lawmakers could use to “balance” the state budget adopted in May.
And Jesus wept while Tea Baggers cheered.