/Legislative budget process There’s got to be a better way

Legislative budget process There’s got to be a better way

A few select negotiators work together to negotiate a multi-billion-dollar budget. It is a hectic, fast-paced couple of days. The 174 members of the Legislature spend hours twiddling their thumbs, and then rush into session to pass dozens upon dozens of budget bills within a deadline. Most don’t know what the bills are. Some legislators have tried to get more information, such as spreadsheets, before they vote. Due to the late nature of Mississippi’s budget setting, this information is often not available. Transparency for the public? This process is a disaster for public transparency. READ MORE: 2022 session ends with historic spending spree. Over the years, politicians have compared it to a game whack-amole. College students scrambling for term papers after procrastinating, and a goat rodeo. Other comments were less complimentary. This frenetic affair can lead to mistakes. Sometimes they are big. For example, in 2016, lawmakers spent $57 million more than necessary due to a “staff error”. One example is when $57 million was accidentally spent by lawmakers in 2016 due to a “staff error”. Another example is the $18.5 million that 10,000 teachers were unable to receive a teacher raise because of a “clerical mistake” in 2019. Sometimes, things are slipped into spending bills where they would not otherwise pass the test of legislators and the public. This budgeting scramble may be a reason why lawmakers and budget staff have not been able to uncover some of the multimillion-dollar corruption, embezzlement, and bribery scandals which have rocked the state over recent years. It would be a good idea to spend more time on agency spending and budgets. Sometimes lawmakers have pledged to improve the budgeting process and allow for more discussion. This was true years ago when “performance-based budgeting” was being promoted. Lawmakers pledged to analyze more closely what taxpayers get for their money with state agency spending and programs. These efforts failed. Aside from that, it appears that there is very little long-term planning in the Legislature’s budget work. Instead, Mississippi’s state budgeting seems to have become more hurried and more power is concentrated on a few top legislators. Some policy changes have made it less possible for rank-and-file legislators to scrutinize budgets and provide them with less input. The House and Senate Joint Legislative Budget Committee hold fall budget hearings. This is primarily for state agencies to submit budget requests and justify spending. It also allows lawmakers to ask questions. These hearings, which were open to the media and public for a few decades, lasted approximately a month and gave a lot of detail. The hearings became more formalized and shorter over time. The hearings have become shorter and more proforma in recent years. Only a few agencies show up to give brief overviews. READ MORE: 2022 Legislative Session: Spending billions, cutting taxes and fear, loathing and fear: While it wasn’t pretty, some lawmakers pushed for policy and structure changes, often to no avail. For years, Rep. Hank Zuber (R-Ocean Springs) has filed such bills. The one-year limit would be on general legislative sessions, where legislators offer general or non-budget bills. This would reduce the amount of unnecessary legislation, allow for more scrutiny and consideration of state spending, and permit for greater vetting. John Polk, R-Hattiesburg, is the Chairman of Senate Accountability, Efficiency and Transparency. He recently suggested that budgeting could be halted for a time. Polk suggested that the Legislature recess for at least a week after the budget conference reports (or agreements between House negotiators and Senate negotiators) are filed. This would allow lawmakers and the public to examine the proposals. Polk stated, “It’s an option.” Polk stated, “It’s an idea.” Arizona is an example of this. The public can comment on the budget during joint House and Senate Appropriations Hearings. A joint committee from Wisconsin visits the state to collect citizen feedback on state spending. Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann is currently serving his first term. He said that he did not enjoy conference weekends. Hosemann stated that he had intended to push forward budget negotiations this year and avoid a scramble at end. He said that the House refused to negotiate tax cuts because it was unable to agree to a $7 billion budget. This led to negotiations being delayed and more chaotic than usual. Hosemann stated that it was his goal to ensure that the process is not repeated at such a rapid pace. “… We are open to looking at ways to make it more positive and better. It is important to continue this work for a longer time. More eyes would be better.