Budget cuts could cost Texas consumers millions

State agencies expect to investigate fewer consumer complaints of wrongdoing by insurance companies, veterinarians and utility companies, as a result of budget cuts proposed to comply with an order from Gov. Rick Perry and other legislative leaders.

Fewer elevator systems, funeral homes, beauty shops and tow truck companies would be scrutinized to make sure they're providing safe, quality services if the cuts go through as expected.

And consumers would likely lose out on millions of dollars that they would have otherwise pocketed. The Texas Department of Insurance alone estimates that policyholders would sacrifice up to $3 million that would otherwise have been recovered from resolving hundreds of complaints.

Regulatory agencies weren't spared from the required 5 percent budget cuts intended to help make up for an anticipated shortfall of at least $10 billion in the state budget, even though the agencies typically take in more than enough money from fees and penalties to cover their budgets. The agencies keep a portion, then send most of the money they collect to the state's general fund to be distributed for other uses.

"It's a hard economy," Public Utility Counsel Sheri Givens said. "We're stretched, but it's something the Legislature asked for and we've complied."

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