Open Government

WPC's Center for Government Reform's mission is to partner with stakeholders and citizens to work toward a government focused on its core functions while improving its transparency, accountability, performance, and effectiveness for taxpayers.

What's New

Resources for Building the State Budget

February 7, 2009 in Publications

The largest and most difficult task facing lawmakers this legislative session is building the state’s 2009-11 operating budget. As of the November revenue forecast, revenues are projected to increase by five percent, $1.4 billion, in the next biennium, but the planned increases built into the existing budget result in a projected $5.7 billion shortfall.

WPC Annual Legislative Briefing Luncheon

February 4, 2009 in Events
Wednesday, February 4th, 2009
12:00 pm - 1:00 pm
Washington State Capitol
Olympia, WA

During this lunch event each center's research director gave an overview of our latest research and analysis on the key issues facing legislators this Session.

Governor launches budget calculator

February 3, 2009 in Blog

Governor Gregoire posted an interactive budget calculator on her website today. From her press release (in-part):

“Closing our state’s multi-billion dollar budget gap required making
many tough decisions,” Gregoire said. “This exercise gives people an
important understanding of the difficult choices our state government
must make when dollars are scarce.”

The interactive tool will allow users to change spending levels in
several policy areas until the budget gap is eliminated. As users click
through the calculator, they’re encouraged to keep an eye on the bottom
line to see how their choices affect the budget.

“With this budget calculator, you may find different priorities among
various programs,” Gregoire said. “Your feedback is important. If you
don’t like a budget decision, I want to know how you will fix it. What
would you sacrifice instead? The budget is a work in progress, and my
proposal is the first step in a long process that will continue in the
Legislature in the coming months.”

After a user has created a balanced budget, the user can submit personal budget ideas to the governor.

Last November WPC encouraged the Governor's office to make available a resource for citizens that would allow them to build their own budget by “purchasing” items from the state's Priorities of Government (POG) list to see the tradeoffs and help focus their budget recommendations to the Governor and legislators.

Although the Governor's calculator does not allow users to make purchases at a detailed level it does provide important information on the types of activities the state is spending money on.

The more budget transparency the better.

Building a balanced budget

February 2, 2009 in Blog

The largest and most difficult task facing lawmakers this legislative session is building the state’s 2009-11 operating budget.  As of the November revenue forecast, revenues are projected to increase by five percent, $1.4 billion, in the next biennium, but the planned increases built into the existing budget result in a projected $5.7 billion shortfall.

Requiring a balanced budget

January 27, 2009 in Blog

Last year the Seattle Times highlighted the fact that contrary to popular belief the state does not have a real balanced budget requirement. Although the state budget and accounting act (RCW 43.88) requires the Governor to submit a balanced budget to the Legislature, lawmakers are not required to adopt one.

A bill introduced today would change that. HB 1655 - Requiring a balanced legislative budget:

The legislature may not appropriate an amount from any account for any fiscal period that is in excess of the estimated amount of revenues and resources to that account for that fiscal period as of the date the budget is adopted.

Simple enough. Don't budget to spend more m!
oney than you expect to receive.

Look before you spend

January 21, 2009 in Blog

The saying "look before you leap" is very applicable to the legislature when it comes to considering potentially expensive programs. Unfortunately, lawmakers are often left in the poor position of voting on bills before knowing what impact their decision will have on taxpayer's wallets.

Based on a proposal introduced today, it appears a bipartisan group of Representatives are tired of playing this type of spending by Russian Roulette. Consider HB 1458 - Addressing fiscal notes:

Before either house of the legislature may vote on final passage on a bill that if enacted into law would increase state government expenditures or would increase or decrease state government revenues, a fiscal note prepared pursuant to RCW 43.88A.020 must be available on the most recent version of the bill that applies to the bill as it is to be voted upon. In !
no case shall the fiscal note be made available more than seventy-two hours after the bill is placed on final passage.

Perhaps they could call this proposal the "Truth in Spending Act."

"Please don't raise my pay"

January 20, 2009 in Blog

The Olympian reports today on a hearing of The Washington Citizens' Commission on Salaries for Elected Officials. Not surprisingly a majority of those elected officials testifying asked the Commission to not raise their pay in light of the economic situation. As noted by The Olympian:

Testimony before a state citizen salary commission blew like a headwind this morning against giving pay increases this year to state elected officials, judges or legislators.

New state Treasurer Jim McIntire, a Democrat, testified against giving raises, saying increases would put lawmakers — and others poised to freeze the pay of state employees and K-12 teachers — in a tough position. He urged commissioners not to raise pay.

Two other Democrats, Gov. Chris Gregoire and new Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark, both sent letters to!
the commission arguing against raises. Gregoire wrote that she recognized the difficulty of balancing fair salaries against public opinion.

Rather than force elected officials to beg a commission to not raise their pay, an alternative may be eliminating the Salaries Commission and restoring this conversation to the legislature. Such a change would also have a positive impact on the state's budget.

Consider the fact the Governor's 2009-11 budget provides $395,000 for the Commission's activities.

Budget Needs Reform for Taxpayers to Win

January 17, 2009 in Publications

What do the state budget and area football teams have in common? They share the need for fundamental changes to return to a winning formula.

An Economic Stimulus Package Must Focus on Long-Term Growth, Not Short Term Jobs

January 17, 2009 in Publications

As the United States struggles through a recession, political leaders are hoping a "stimulus package" will save us. There is nothing wrong with the government trying to stabilize or even energize the economy. It is the reason we craft fiscal and monetary polices. The problem with most stimulus packages is that they usually don't work.

Passing the budget test

January 15, 2009 in Blog

When preparing for an important test you should:

A) show up 20 min before the test and wing it;

B) look over a friend's notes on the way to the classroom and hope for the best; or

C) calmly and diligently spend time before the test to prepare? 

Now remember the question is what should you do not what do you do. The obvious answer is C).

Unfortunately when it comes to legislative budget proposals, lawmakers and the public are often forced to do either A) or B).

One way to address this problem is with a "budget timeout" before public hearings or votes could occur on legislative spending proposals. This is a concept supported by Congressman Brian Baird. It also appears state lawmakers recognize the need to provide more time to learn the details on budget proposals !
before action is taken.

Consider the introduction today of SB 5186: Establishing a period of public and legislative review of appropriations legislation:

The legislature finds that approval of the state budget is among the most important acts of the legislature in any year, and that the public is entitled to a reasonable opportunity to learn how public funds are proposed to be expended before bills making appropriations become law. The legislature further finds that public notice, dissemination of information, and informed analysis of proposed budgets is an essential requisite of transparent, accountable government.

Omnibus appropriations bills frequently have been acted on by the legislature in a manner that has afforded little opportunity for public review and information about proposed expenditures, or for members of the legislature to !
deliberate upon proposed appropriations in an informed and con!
scientious manner. The legislature finds this practice has weakened the performance of the legislature in its stewardship of public funds, and reduced public trust in government. The legislature finds that many other states, in their constitutions, statutes, or legislative rules, require an opportunity for public and legislative review of budget legislation.

The legislature therefore finds it in the public interest to provide for an appropriate period of public and legislative review of all omnibus appropriations bills before they are acted on by the legislature and submitted to the governor for approval . . . An omnibus operating, capital, or transportation appropriations bill, or proposed substitute, striking amendment, or conference committee report thereon, must be made publicly available to the members of the legislature and the public at least three calendar days before such a bill may be voted on by the senate or the house of representatives.


What do you think? Step in the right direction?

Here are some resources on the topic:

Waiting Periods for Fiscal Bills

Lawmakers Need a 72 Hour Budget Timeout