Legislature to consider requests for increased spending on cybersecurity

In writing the state budget for fiscal 2020-21, the 86th Legislature will consider proposals to increase spending on cybersecurity. Appropriations for cybersecurity are not contained in a single line item but spread across state agencies and included in various strategies, projects, and programs. These appropriations pay for state agency staff, ongoing IT maintenance, payroll systems, data center services, major information resources projects, and other items. Cybersecurity costs make up about 2 percent of a state agency’s IT expenses, according to the Legislative Budget Board (LBB). 

The Department of Information Resources’ (DIR) funding request for fiscal 2020-21 in all funds, including exceptional items, for cybersecurity-related projects is about $33.6 million, a 56 percent increase from fiscal 2018-19. DIR, which manages government information technology and provides guidance on cybersecurity for state entities, was appropriated $21.5 million in all funds in fiscal 2018-19 to provide security policy and related services, including assisting state entities in identifying security vulnerabilities. This included $3.4 million in new funding from general revenue, the only general revenue related funds currently appropriated to DIR, for additional cybersecurity assessments and vulnerability testing, requirements established by the 85th Legislature in 2017. 

For fiscal 2020-21, DIR has requested $12.3 million in additional general revenue funds for four new cybersecurity-related projects. The projects, listed as exceptional items in the agency’s Legislative Appropriations Request, are: 

  • a risk-based, multi-factor authentication tool that would require certain users to provide multiple means of identity verification at login to reduce improper or unauthorized access to state data;
  • a cloud-based email filtering service through Microsoft Office 365 to help protect against malware and viruses;
  • secure coding methods training for certain agency employees; and
  • security benchmarking for state agencies’ public-facing websites by a security rating service.

A main source of cybersecurity-related spending in the state budget comes from the Data Center Services program, which was created by the 79th Legislature in 2005 to reduce overall costs by consolidating IT infrastructure, products, and services across state agencies. DIR oversees the program, and participating agencies receive services that include upgraded technology, managed servers and networks, and enhanced security and disaster recovery. The program is available to all state agencies, institutions of higher education, and local governments.

DIR is funded primarily by fees it assesses for services provided by vendors to state agencies. Appropriations to DIR provide payments to vendors for those services. As a result, appropriations for the Data Center Services program are reflected both in DIR’s budget and in those of participating state entities. Fees for the program are deposited into the Statewide Technology Account for program operation and other functions. The Data Center Services program accounts for about 65 percent of DIR’s total budget.

Appropriations to DIR for the Data Center Services program increased from the previous biennium by $29.5 million in fiscal 2018-19, and DIR has requested an increase of $54.6 million, for a total of almost $545 million, for fiscal 2020-21. DIR estimates revenue in the Statewide Technology Account will be $549.7 million in fiscal 2020-21, up $60.8 million from fiscal 2018-19. The increase in both appropriations and revenue is due to program growth, as both the number of customers and the services consumed have increased. According to DIR, agencies are using more cloud services and showing more interest in shared, managed IT services.

As required by the General Appropriations Act for the 2018-19 biennium, DIR submitted a report to the LBB outlining the priority of state agencies’ cybersecurity and modernization projects. The report provides information on 67 projects from 28 agencies totaling an estimated funding request of $482 million. Other cybersecurity-related discussions during the upcoming legislative session could include cloud computing, IT delivery services, and other methods of securing the state’s electronic information.

By MacKenzie Nunez

Posted in General Government, State Budget | Tagged , , , , ,

As TERP fund grows, deposits set to expire in 2019

During the 86th regular session of the Texas Legislature, lawmakers may consider changes to how the state handles funds that are collected for certain programs but that go unused for those purposes. Appropriations of funds collected for one of these programs, the Texas Emissions Reduction Plan (TERP), decreased for fiscal 2018-19, resulting in growth in the balance of the program’s dedicated revenue account. This has raised questions about how dedicated state revenue for the program should be used in the future.

The fiscal 2018-19 budget appropriated a total of $744.1 million to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), a decrease of $165.2 million, or about 18.2 percent, from fiscal 2016-17 spending levels. Most of the change was due to a $50.5 million decrease in appropriations for the TERP program and to the defunding of the Low-Income Vehicle Repair, Retrofit, and Accelerated Vehicle Retirement Program (LIRAP).

TERP, which provides financial incentives to reduce emissions from mobile sources, such as grant programs to replace diesel-powered vehicles, was appropriated $154.7 million in dedicated funds for the current biennium, a decrease of 24.6 percent from fiscal 2016-17. TCEQ has requested the same program funding for fiscal 2020-21.

At the beginning of fiscal 2018, the TERP account had a balance of more than $1.4 billion. The fund receives some motor vehicle taxes, certificate of title fees, and vehicle registration and inspection fees.  

Fees and surcharges collected for the TERP account regularly exceed $230 million a year, about three times the amount currently allocated to TERP programs. The surplus has been used to certify the state budget in recent biennia. The comptroller used $1.7 billion in TERP funds to certify the fiscal 2018-19 budget, and for fiscal 2016-17$1.2 billion from the account was used for certification. The House Appropriations Committee was charged this interim with reviewing TERP appropriations and the TERP fund balance and revenue sources.

Established by the 77th Legislature in 2001, TERP was created to incentivize the reduction of nitrogen oxides (NOx) from mobile sources, including vehicles and machinery, in areas of the state that do not meet national standards for air quality and ground-level ozone. Areas that are found to be out of compliance can be penalized in a number of ways, such as by losing federal highway funds or experiencing higher industry permitting costs, according to TCEQ. A 2015 report funded by a TCEQ grant estimated the potential cost for the Austin area if it failed to meet air quality standards to be as high as $41 billion.

TERP was set to expire on August 31, 2019, but SB 1731 by Birdwell, enacted by the 85th Legislature in 2017, extended it to the end of the biennium in which Texas attains the national ambient air quality standards for ground-level ozone. The bill established new grant programs and revised eligibility requirements for existing ones. SB 1731 also expanded the list of items that must be funded under TERP, changed how money from the TERP fund appropriated to TCEQ must initially be allocated, and revised the way funds may be moved between grant programs in response to demand.

Although the TERP program was extended, the funding mechanisms that direct revenue toward the account are set to expire at the end of fiscal 2019. Some revenue sources will continue but be directed to other agencies. For example, the Texas Department of Transportation will continue to collect Motor Vehicle Certificate of Title fees, but equivalent transfers of those funds to the TERP account will end.

The House Appropriations Committee met in May 2018 to discuss the TERP program and fund. The 86th Legislature may discuss several uses of and changes to the program’s funding in 2019, including allocating more of the funds collected for the program to TCEQ, extending the funding mechanisms that direct revenue to the TERP account beyond the end of fiscal 2019, or redirecting TERP funds to other  budget items.

By Kaulie Lewis

Posted in Natural Resources, State Budget, Transportation | Tagged , , , , , , , ,

TxDOT seeks funding for ship channel improvement loan program

The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) has requested $450 million in general revenue to capitalize the Ship Channel Improvement Revolving Fund in fiscal 2020-21. The fund, established by the 85th Legislature in 2017 through SB 28 by Creighton, was intended to be used to finance loans for projects that deepen or widen a ship channel. The 85th Legislature did not provide funding for the revolving loan program but may consider granting TxDOT’s request for funds in the upcoming regular session.

According to TxDOT, projects to increase the width and depth of Texas ports would help accommodate larger vessels, allowing the state to remain competitive with ports in nearby states and the Panama Canal. Continue reading

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DFPS seeks funds to expand prevention and early intervention programs

As the Texas Legislature has examined state efforts to protect children and vulnerable adults from abuse, neglect, and exploitation, proposals have emerged to expand prevention and early intervention programs to help address problems before they escalate to the point where a child may enter the foster care system.

Of the approximately $4.1 billion in all funds appropriated to the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) for fiscal 2018-19, about $209.9 million went to prevention and early intervention programs, which provided for about 65 employees each fiscal year. General revenue and general revenue dedicated funds for these programs totaled about $129 million. Continue reading

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Education officials expect increases in special education enrollment, spending

Texas education officials say they are anticipating increased costs for special education as the state implements a federally mandated plan to improve services for children with disabilities. The plan is expected to increase the number of students served by school district special education programs through certain initiatives, including outreach to families of students who may qualify for services. Continue reading

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