July 22, 2024

The Nerve Archive

Where Government Gets Exposed

Throwback Thursday: 2020 Budget Kickoff – Why Process Matters

dollars coat of arms

The 2020 budget process officially began this month, with agency budget requests due to the governor by Nov. 1. According to news reports, lawmakers are likely to have at least an extra $1 billion to spend in the 2020 budget – in addition to the $350 million surplus leftover from the previous fiscal year.

Unfortunately, lawmakers aren’t likely to see this as an opportunity to cut spending, save for a rainy day, address the pension deficit, or return taxpayers’ hard-earned money to them. Instead – based on how the state budget grows from year to year – this is just another opportunity to increase spending. And given lawmakers’ typical approach to surplus revenue, there’s no guarantee that the new money won’t find its way to lawmakers’ pet projects instead of legitimate government functions.

This is why it is vital that lawmakers follow the budget process mandated by state law. The typical process centers key decision-making in the hands of a few powerful lawmakers, enabling all kinds of legislative spending shenanigans that a little sunlight would go a long way to prevent. By contrast, the statutory budget process requires the two legislative appropriations committees to hold joint, open sessions on the governor’s proposed budget, rather than writing their own from scratch in a plethora of simultaneous subcommittee meetings that are not streamed online and not recorded – and impossible even for rank-and-file lawmakers to follow completely, let alone busy taxpayers.

Below is an overview of how this process is supposed to work:

The Budget Process: A Quick Primer

he budget process spelled out in state law is a thorough, deliberate process, designed to inform citizens at every stage and to maximize their input into the spending of taxpayer dollars. Unfortunately, lawmakers consistently flout this law in favor of a process that centers key decision-making in the hands of a few powerful lawmakers.

Here’s a timeline of the legal budget process, and who you can hold accountable at every stage.

November 1: Agency budget requests, and last year’s spending details

By the beginning of November, all state agencies should have submitted their budget reports to the Governor. These reports must include a) every dollar – new and recurring – they want to spend next year, b) where they are getting the money, and c) what they want to spend it on.

What you should know:

    1. How much each agency is asking for, in itemized form
    2. The agency’s reasoning for why it should receive the requested funding – both recurring and new expenses
    3. How much federal funding the agency is getting and what strings are attached
    4. Where the agency’s Other Funds (fines, fees, etc.) are coming from
    5. The purpose, goals, and quantitative measurements for every program the agency provides

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The Nerve