Senate Ways & Means to act on revenue forecast reform

January 15, 2014

The Senate Ways and Means Committee held a public hearing yesterday on SB 5910: Providing that a quarterly revenue forecast is due on February 20th during both a long and short legislative session year. The committee is scheduled to take executive action on the bill later today. The proposal passed the Senate unanimously twice last year (April 28 and June 23) but was not acted on by the House.

As we noted last year, this long-overdue reform could have three important benefits:

  1. By having the revenue forecast a month earlier the budget debate should also begin a month earlier instead of being crammed into the final weeks of session, reducing the possibility of special sessions;

  2. Having more time to act on the budget should further incentivize lawmakers to give the public and members more than a few hours notice to read and review the budgets before public hearings are held and committee action is taken on the proposals; and

  3. Not waiting till the last moment to work on the budget should remove any pressure lawmakers feel to utilize "Title-Only" bills to circumvent Article 2, Section 36 of the state constitution.

This is a win-win-win for citizens and lawmakers.

Here is video of WPC's testimony yesterday on SB 5910.

In response to Sen. Baumgartner's question at the hearing, one thing the Legislature could consider is adopting a budget resolution around the time of the revenue forecast laying out the basics of the balance sheet (expected expenditure levels, ending fund balance, etc) that then could serve as the foundation for the conversations around prioritizing spending on performance basis within that framework. That would allow the remainder of session to be focused on how to appropriate the funds within that framework but not leave it a mystery as to what the total size of the budget will be.

This also has the potential to help facilitate the Legislature’s POG (Priorities of Government) efforts that would set the total size of the budget pie early in session and then allocate to each priority area a spending cap with which to prioritize programs and policy bills that may have a fiscal impact. While this is essentially what budget writers do in their budget negotiations behind closed doors it would be a more public process providing other lawmakers and the public an early feel for what the expectations around the budget should be.

On a different topic, the fact that the Senate Ways & Means Committee held a public hearing again on SB 5910, despite its twice prior unanimous approval by the Senate, while also following the normal public notice requirements provides a nice contrast with the House's 1st day of session vote on HB 1817.

The public should have an opportunity to participate each session on the bills being considered before a vote occurs despite their treatment in a different year. Simply saying you held a hearing on a bill in a prior year would be a big loophole to public involvement each session which is why our model language to improve legislative transparency includes this requirement:

No bill shall be eligible for legislative action of any kind unless it has first been subject to a public hearing in the same session of consideration.

The House is poised to repeat this strategy again today (relying on public hearings from a prior year) for its vote on HB 1043.