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

President-Elect Obama Should Bring Government Transparency Into The 21st Century

December 17, 2008 in Publications

Do we want a government that is open and accountable? The obvious answer is yes. Unfortunately, roughly three-quarters of Americans believe the federal government is secretive and increasing in its secrecy. Independent observers agree that we are rapidly shifting from a society based on the public’s right to know to one premised on the need to know, where the government determines the need. This represents a fundamental shift in democratic precepts, which the new president must fix immediately.

Your budget recommendations

December 15, 2008 in Blog

The Governor asked and you answered.

I've spent the last few hours reviewing the volumes of budget recommendations provided to the Governor in response to her request for suggestions. So what have you been saying? Here is a sampling:

  • Don’t ask for federal bailout money.
  • Cut salaries versus layoffs.
  • Get the state out of the liquor business.
  • Increase state employee health care cost sharing.
  • Promote more telecommuting and more teleconferencing.
  • Merge state agencies with similar responsibilities (L&I/ESD).
  • Eliminate prevailing wage.
  • Consolidate state offices to save on rent.
  • Simplify and streamline all processes, such as contracting. Make things easier to accomplish, not more difficult.
  • Eliminate all state travel except field and work with the public.
  • Re-negotiate the union contract and eliminate pay raises for all employees – managers, elected officials, everyone for the next 4 years.

Here are additional recommendations and WPC's suggestions.

Many thanks to the Governor's office for responding so quickly to my records request and providing this information.

Deficit not that bad . . .

December 15, 2008 in Blog

. . . so says Speaker of the House Frank Chopp. According to the Tri-City Herald:

House Speaker Frank Chopp said Washington's projected deficit may not be as bad as it looks.

Chopp,
a Seattle Democrat, was in the Tri-Cities on Friday for a forum with
the Columbia Basin Badger Club, a local group that grills politicians
and newsmakers on political issues without taking sides.

Several
club members from the audience of about 75 asked Chopp about the state
budget, which officials estimated in November would face a $5.1 billion
shortfall in the upcoming biennium.

But Chopp said
the doom-and-gloom prophecies include estimates for $1 billion in
spending on new programs, which seems unlikely given the current
revenue picture.

"In fact, we won't do that now," he said.

Some programs -- like the idea of offering all-day kindergarten -- will have to wait until the economy turns around, he said.

Chopp
identified several ways he expects the Legislature will look at
slashing spending so it doesn't have to borrow money to balance the
budget.

Among those were cutting programs added to the budget in
recent years that aren't working, like a job search program through the
Employment Security Department that has only a 5 percent success rate.

"We're going to wipe that out," Chopp said.

Kudos to the Speaker for putting the budget discussion into context. It is also important to remember that state revenues are projected to be $855 million higher in the current budget than the last and $1.4 billion higher for the next budget.

General Fund State Revenue Growth
(Dollars in Millions)

Budget

Revenue

$ Increase

% Increase

1991-93

$14,862.2

-

-

1993-95

$16,564.6

$1,702.4

11.5%

1995-97

$17,637.7

$1,073.1

6.5%

1997-99

$19,620.1

$1,982.4

11.2%

1999-01

$21,262.1

$1,642.0

8.4%

2001-03

$21,140.7

<$121.4>

<0.6%>

2003-05

$23,388.5

$2,247.8

10.6%

2005-07

$27,772.0

$4,383.5

18.7%

2007-09

$28,626.6

$854.6

3%

2009-11

$30,070.4

$1,443.8

5%


Source: Washington State Economic and Revenue Forecast Council

It will be very interesting to see what the Governor proposes this Thursday when she releases her budget. Last week WPC sent the Governor our suggestions for budget reform. Here is an excerpt from our letter:

Washington Policy Center would like to offer its assistance in light of the state’s budget outlook. We appreciate your commitment to balance the 2007-09 and 2009-11 budgets without raising new taxes and fees. We share your belief that this is a unique opportunity to rethink what the government does and how it delivers vital services to the public.

Our organization stands ready to help in any way that you find useful to bring about the fundamental budget ref!
orms in which you have expressed interest . . .

To offer constructive suggestions, we have enclosed our “Do not buy list,” which we adapted from your 2009-11 Priorities of Government report, as well as a list of eight reforms that we believe will help put the state on the path toward a sustainable performance-based budget.

To read the full letter click here.

Review of state's 470 boards and commissions

December 10, 2008 in Blog

I'm a little late on this post but last week the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee (JLARC) released a pre-audit report reviewing the state's 470 boards and commissions. According to the report: "At the beginning of this project, no single list identified all of Washington’s boards and commissions."

Thanks to the work of JLARC, there is now a good description of each board and commission starting on page 25 of the report. Included are details on when it was created, authorizing statute, costs, and number of meetings.

Another nugget from the report is Appendix 2 - Statute Summary: 

The Legislature has declared that boards and commissions have been:
• Created in excessive numbers;

• Created without legislative review or input and without a!
n assessment of whether there is a resulting duplication of purpose or process;

• Duplicating duties of existing governmental entities, creating additional expense, and obscuring responsibility; and

• Difficult to control in terms of growth because of the many special interests involved.

Accordingly, the Legislature established a process found in Chapter 43.41 RCW to eliminate redundant and obsolete boards and commissions and to restrict the establishment of new boards and commissions (RCW 43.41.220).

The Legislature also finds that the “continued proliferation of both statutory and non-statutory groups of this nature without effective, periodic review of existing groups can result in wasteful duplication of effort, fragmentation of administrative authority, lack of accountability, plus an excessive and frequently hidden financial burden on the state.” (RCW 43.88.500)

Furthermore, the Legislature finds t!
hat a lack of current and reliable information about boards an!
d commissions hinders the effectiveness of legislative oversight and review these entities. Therefore, the Legislature has created a central clearinghouse in the Office of Financial Management (RCW 43.88.500).

It looks like the need for each of the state's 470 boards and commissions should also be part of the current budget savings debate.

State searchable budget website live @ noon tomorrow

December 2, 2008 in Blog

The new searchable budget website authorized by SB 6818
(Promoting transparency in state expenditures) will be launched tomorrow by the Legislative Evaluation and Accountability Program
Committee (LEAP) and the Office of Financial Management (OFM). SB 6818
was based on Washington Policy Center’s (WPC) recommendation for the
state to adopt a searchable budget website. It passed the legislature
unanimously in 2008.

The website is Fiscal.wa.gov (will be live at noon on 12/3).

The
searchable budget website provides an unprecedented level of
interactivity allowing users to create their own budget reports to
compare state spending over time.

This website is a great resource for citizens regardless of the level of their budget expertise. From the green eyeshade policy analyst to the casual observer, users
can create a customized look at how our tax dollars are being spent.

Included on the website are details on:

  • state expenditures by fund or account
  • expenditures by agency, program, and subprogram
  • state revenues by source
  • state expenditures by budget object and subobject
  • state agency workloads, caseloads, and performance measurements.

The
budget website also links to performance information on the Government
Management Accountability and Performance (GMAP) website and OFM’s
website on personal services’ contracts.

To help build on
the success of Fiscal.wa.gov, WPC sent letters to GMAP and OFM
encouraging these agencies to enhance their websites to mirror the
functionality of the new budget website. This effort could also serve
as a template for creation of a tax transparency website. Earlier this
year WPC released a proposal for a ‘Taxation Disclosure Act’ similar to
SB 6818.  

We are hopeful that state officials will
build on the success of the new budget website and also make details on
taxation more transparent to help citizens learn more about what
government decisions mean to their pocketbooks.

If
adopted by state officials, the tax transparency proposal would set up
an online database where users could find their state and local tax
rates (such as property and sales taxes) by entering their zip code,
street address, or by clicking on a map showing individual taxing
district boundaries. An online calculator would let citizens determine
their total tax burden and which officials are responsible for which
parts of it.

Additional Information
Governor signs Washington Policy Center proposal for searchable budget website
Taxation Disclosure Act
GMAP website letter
OFM website letter

Changing the Budget Status Quo

December 2, 2008 in Publications

When lawmakers come to Olympia in January they will be tasked with solving a projected $5 billion budget deficit. Thankfully there are several common sense reforms that policymakers can adopt to change the budget status quo and help put the state on the path toward sustainable budgeting. Adopting these reforms will help promote efficiency, improve the quality of services to the public and resolve the constant sense of crisis that pervades the state’s public finances.

No need for $11 in savings for every $1 spent?

December 1, 2008 in Blog

One of the biggest surprises from the recent Priorities of Government report is the recommendation to discontinue the state's performance audit program enacted by the voters in 2005. What makes this proposal so difficult to understand is the fact that according to the State Auditor the ratio of cost savings to audit cost so far has been $11 to $1.

Rather than looking for ways to eliminate a program with these types of returns one would think state officials would instead be fast tracking any audit recommendations yet to be implemented.

an style="font-size: 13px; font-family: Arial;">Here is a sampling of the state's editorial boards on this controversy:

One change worth discussing, however, is to focus the program more on state versus local performance audits. Local performance audits add good value (example Port of Seattle audit). After all taxpayers savings are taxpayer savings whether state or local but the bigger bang for the buck may be realized by digging deeper into state programs and spending.

What shouldn't be on the table, however, is eliminating performance audits. Now more than ever the state needs to be looking at ways to improve the economy, efficiency and effectiveness of every tax dollar spent.

Time for a real spending limit

November 20, 2008 in Blog

Though the shock of yesterday's revenue forecast will not soon fade a great opportunity is at hand if lawmakers will rise to the occasion. The unsustainable spending growth of the past is being brought back to reality by the economy. If state officials respond by enacting a meaningful constitutional spending limit next year we may be able to avoid future headlines of multi-billion dollar deficits.

Consider what may have been had I-601, the 1993 voter-approved spending limit, not been eviscerated by lawmakers in 2005. During I-601's heyday (1993-2005), state spending growth averaged just under 8 percent per budget. Assuming an even more liberal 10 percent budget growth since 2005, state spending today would be $1.2 billion lower.

Projected General Fund State spending based on 10 percent growth since 2005
(Dollars in Millions)

Budget

Spending

$ Increase

% Increase

2003-05

$23,671.7

-

-

2005-07

$26,038.9

$2,367.2

10%

2007-09

$28,642.8

$2,603.9

10%

Actual General Fund State spending growth since 2005
(Dollars in Millions)

Budget

Spending

$ Increase

% Increase

2003-05

$23,671.7

-

-

2005-07

$27,766.1

$4,094.4

17.3%

2007-09

$29,838.2

$2,072.1

7.5%

If state officials really want to get off the boom and bust budget roller coaster a meaningful constitutional spending limit modeled after I-601 is the solution.

Revenue down but also up

November 19, 2008 in Blog

Today's headlines will likely read: "State revenue down $1.9 billion." This is the news coming out of the state revenue forecast. What is important to remember, however, is despite this decrease, revenue is still projected to grow by 5% in the next budget cycle and revenues are still expected to be higher in the current budget than the past. This fact is demonstrated in the table below.


General Fund State Revenue Growth
(Dollars in Millions)
 




























































Budget


Revenue


$ Increase


% Increase


1991-93


$14,862.2


-


-


1993-95


$16,564.6


$1,702.4


11.5%


1995-97


$17,637.7


$1,073.1


6.5%


1997-99


$19,620.1


$1,982.4


11.2%


1999-01


$21,262.1


$1,642.0


8.4%


2001-03


$21,140.7


<$121.4>


<0.6%>


2003-05


$23,388.5


$2,247.8


10.6%


2005-07


$27,772.0


$4,383.5


18.7%


2007-09


$28,626.6


$854.6


3%


2009-11


$30,070.4


$1,443.8


5%



Source: Washington State Economic and Revenue Forecast Council


This does not mean the state isn't facing a real problem. The reduced revenue growth for the current budget means that the state is now facing a potential $413 million cash deficit due to the spending levels adopted (not including budget reserve account).


According to the Budget and Accounting Act - RCW 43.88.110(8):

If at any time during the fiscal period the governor projects a cash deficit in a particular fund or account as defined by RCW 43.88.050, the governor shall make across-the-board reductions in allotments for that particular fund or account so as to prevent a cash deficit, unless the legislature has directed the liquidation of the cash deficit over one or more fiscal periods . . .

With today's economic news, now is the time for Washingtonians to become actively involved and offer their recommendations to state officials on how to build a sustainable core function focused budget.

SC Governor to DC: Don't bail us out

November 17, 2008 in Blog

In a message few in D.C. thought they'd hear, South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford is telling the federal government NOT to bail out the states. Here is an excerpt from Sanford's Wall Street Journal op-ed:

I find myself in a lonely position. While many states and local governments are lining up for a bailout from Congress, I went to Washington recently to oppose such bailouts. I may be the only governor to do so.


But I suspect I'm not entirely alone, as there are a lot of taxpayers who aren't pleased with Christmas coming early for politicians. And I hope these taxpayers make their voices heard before Democrats load up the next bailout train for states with budget deficits . . .


In 2008 bailouts became the first resort. Over the past year the federal government has committed itself to $2.3 trillion (including the tax rebate "stimulus" checks of last February) to "improve" the economy. I don't see how another $150 billion now will make a difference in a global slowdown. We've already unloaded truckloads of sugar in a vain attempt to sweeten a lake. Tossing in a Twinkie will not make the difference.


However, there is something Congress can do: free states from federal mandates. South Carolina will spend about $425 million next year meeting federal unfunded mandates. The increase in the minimum wage alone will cost the state $2.6 million and meeting Homeland Security's REAL ID requirements will cost $8.9 million.

Meanwhile The Heritage Foundation last week published this report: Why Government Spending Does Not Stimulate Economic Growth


UPDATED: Here is a video of Governor Sanford's testimony before Congress.