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Originally Published: December 15, 2008

Good Government Group issues recommendations to increase integrity, transparency, and efficiency of state budget process as Governor presents fiscal plan

Reform needed even more if public is to support budget decisions to deal with fiscal crisis

On the eve of Governor David Paterson’s release of his FY 2009-10 state executive budget, Citizens Union today issued a number of policy recommendations to improve and reform the process by which the state budget will be considered, debated and decided in the coming months. Citizens Union also commends the Governor for his early release of the budget given the state’s growing fiscal challenges, and called upon the Governor and Legislature to enact these needed reforms.

Despite respectable reforms adopted in 2007, New York’s budget process in 2008 was still complicated, opaque and rushed. It did not provide a meaningful role for “rank and file” members of the Legislature, and most importantly, it impeded meaningful public debate because the process did not allow for the public to be sufficiently informed about the budget decisions being made behind closed doors.

Citizens Union urges the Governor and the State Legislature to build upon recent budget reforms and increased transparency by enacting further and need changes to the budget process that are guided by the following three principles:

  1. Enhance the integrity of the budget process by providing a clear and accurate picture of the complete financial obligations of the state and expected revenue;
  2. Ensure that the budget process is transparent by making budget bills and documents publicly available in clear, consistent formats, and adhering to a publicly available budget calendar; and
  3. Ensure that the budget process is more efficient by allowing for more deliberate decision-making by elected officials.

Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union said, “Legislators should not vote on any final budget bill this year without fully knowing its content and understanding its impact. These proposed measures if adopted will bring greater integrity, transparency and efficiency to the state’s budget process. Public understanding and support will be essential if the Governor and the Legislature are to succeed in making the necessary tough decisions about how to spend limited taxpayer dollars. But that won’t happen if the process this year is the same as years past.”

Chief among the many reforms contained in the organization’s Issue Brief and Position Statement on State Budget Reform are these top ten reforms:

  1. All budget documents, including bills, must provide an accurate, comprehensive, and complete picture of the state’s financial condition to the public. These materials should include clear descriptions of the fiscal obligations of the state and its public authorities, such as tax expenditures and off-budget items which are financial obligations of the state;
  2.  All final budget bills should be publicly available well before a scheduled voteto allow sufficient time for analysis, discussion, and debate, as well as to provide the public with better opportunities for participation in the process and better information on its outcome;
  3.  Create an Independent Budget Office that would conduct economic analyses and provide nonpartisan projections of the state’s revenues and expenditures, including those of public authorities;
  4.  Limit the use of “messages of necessity” to prevent budget bills from being rushed through the Legislature without sufficient time for review;
  5. Lump-sum appropriations should disclose the detailed purposes and criteria set forth for their distribution, and follow-up reporting should be required on such appropriations that includes funds distributed, their recipients, and remaining funds;
  6.  Legislators’ names should be listed with the itemized member items and capital assistance programs they sponsor in budget appropriation bills before they are passed;
  7.  The budget for the Legislature should be itemized, as are the budgets for the Executive and Judicial branches;
  8.  Establish a later start date for the fiscal year which takes into consideration other important budget factors;
  9.  Incorporate the use of performance budgeting in the budget to help policymakers determine whether programs are meeting stated goals and to promote a more rational appropriation of state funds; and
  10.  Limit the ability of the Governor to enact or modify the use of resources in appropriation bills by requiring such bills be consistent with either existing law or proposed changes presented in separate legislation.

Starting earlier the state’s consideration and negotiation of this year’s budget will hopefully bring about a more informed public discussion and increased opportunities for legislative and public input into potential revenue sources, budget cuts and expenditures. Citizens Union also believes that the State Legislature should comply with the schedule of dates for legislative public hearings and the release of the joint budget conference committee reports.

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