The End of Executive Dominance in State Appropriations

By Abney, Glenn | Public Administration Review, September-October 1998 | Go to article overview

The End of Executive Dominance in State Appropriations


Abney, Glenn, Public Administration Review


By the middle of the 20th century, governors dominated the state budgeting process (Anton, 1966, 34-35; Howard, 1973, 318; Sharkansky, 1968, 1231; Rosenthal, 1981, 299-300). Starting with a constitutional amendment in Maryland in 1916 (Willoughby, 1918), the introduction of the executive budget in the states gave governors the capacity to direct and control state financial matters (Schick, 1971, 18). By the decades of the 1950s and 1960s, most states had adopted the executive budget, giving governors a decided advantage in the appropriation process. Governors became the dynamic factor in state political systems while legislatures were inefficient and parochial (Moe, 1988, 18). The legislative dominance of the appropriations process in place in the 19th century had clearly come to an end. Our contention is that as the 20th century ends so has gubernatorial dominance of the state appropriations process. This article examines this decline, the reasons for it, and the consequences of it.

Beginning in the 1970s, state legislatures underwent a resurgence as they became more professional (Moe, 1988, 12). In a survey of state legislative and executive budget officials in 1982, Abney and Lauth (1987) found that gubernatorial dominance in the appropriations process was not as pronounced as might be expected. In that study, 52 of the officials surveyed reported the governor to be more influential compared to 38 who cited the legislature as more influential. In 14 states both legislative and executive officials identified the governor as more influential compared to nine states in which both officials said the legislature was more influential. In noting the surprising influence of the legislature, they cited the observation of Rosenthal (1981, 206) that legislatures came to the budgetary process far better prepared than in earlier years.

Based on the results of a survey of state executive and legislative officials conducted in 1994, we find that this trend has continued and that gubernatorial dominance appears to be over. Altogether, in 1994 we received responses from 99 of the 100 chief executive and legislative budget officials; only the chief executive official in Massachusetts declined to participate. Of our 99 respondents, 36 indicated that the governor is more influential in the appropriations process, 32 cited the legislature as more influential, and 31 stated that they are about equal. Surprisingly, executive officials were not particularly more likely to perceive the governor as more influential than were legislative respondents (see Table 1). The similarity of the perceptions in regard to relative gubernatorial influence supports our conclusion that the dominance of the governor in the appropriations process documented at mid-century has ended.

Table 1 Perceptions of Relative Gubernatorial Influence by Type of Budget Official

                        Executive    Legislative       All
                         Officers      Officers      Officers
Relative Influence      (N = 49)       (N = 50)     (N = 99)

Governor is more
  influential               19            17           36
Influence is equal          15            16           31
Legislature is more
 influential                15            17           32

The respondents were asked the following question: In comparing the influence of the governor and the legislature, who has the greater influence? (A) The governor has greater influence; (B) the influence of each is about the same; or (C) the legislature has greater influence.

As seen in Table 2, combining the perceptions of the two respondents from each state gives further evidence of this parity. When we averaged the observations of both officials from the same state, the two officials in 22 states either leaned toward the governor or both cited the governor as more influential. Officials in 20 states either leaned toward the legislature or both cited the legislature as more influential. …

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