Governors, Legislatures, and State Budgets across Time

By Dometrius, Nelson C.; Wright, Deil S. | Political Research Quarterly, December 2010 | Go to article overview

Governors, Legislatures, and State Budgets across Time


Dometrius, Nelson C., Wright, Deil S., Political Research Quarterly


Abstract

Prior research by Abney and Lauth concluded that governors were losing ground to legislatures in shaping the state budget. Goodman examined Abney and Lauth's explanations for this change and found empirical support for some but not others. This article's findings reveal that governors, as a group, have not declined in budgetary influence, although some have gained and others lost during recent decades. The longitudinal analysis arrives at two major conclusions: (1) executive-legislative influence changes that take place stem primarily from political rather than structural changes, and (2) budgetary influence is not unidimensional as governors and legislatures compete in a non-zero-sum game in pursuit of different budgetary outcomes.

Keywords

state government, state budget, gubernatorial budget influence, legislative budget influence

Wildavsky (1988) observed that governing and budgeting are now largely the same thing. This point was confirmed by Gosling (1986) in his study of the Wisconsin budgetary process and concisely summarized by Kettl (2003, 1): "All political issues, sooner or later, become budgetary issues." It is not surprising then that scholars have focused on budgetary influence to assess how the many changes in state governors and legislatures from 1970 on have affected the relative roles of these institutions (Sharkansky 1968; Thompson 1987; Clarke 1997; Abney and Lauth 1987, 1998; Goodman 2007).

This consistent attention to the issue, however, has yielded inconsistent results regarding who has more influence over budgets and why. Reflective of this are two important recent studies by Abney and Lauth (1987, 1998), followed by a more intensive exploration of their results by Goodman (2007). Abney and Lauth surveyed top state legislative and executive budget officials in 1982 and 1994, securing their views regarding the relative influence of the governor versus the legislature. They found the number of budget officials citing the governor as most influential dropped from 52 in 1982 to 36 in 1994. This led them to conclude (Abney and Lauth 1998) that executive dominance over state appropriations, a movement begun in the early part of the century, had ended in the late 1990s.

Considering their observed differences across time, Abney and Lauth (1998) suggested a number of potential explanations for declining gubernatorial influence including declining agenda control, increasing partisanship, and increased legislative sophistication in counteracting the item veto. Goodman (2007) took up the challenge (at least regionally) of testing these propositions, finding support for some but not others based on his more extensive data. Along the way, he also found that both legislative and executive budget analysts who perceived an influence shift across time declared the governor, not the legislature, to be the beneficiary of any shift. With data covering only thirteen Western states rather than the fifty states covered by Abney and Lauth, Goodman suggested that unique patterns in the West might explain those states' divergence from the national trend.

To these prior studies, we bring both more extensive and deeper state-based data and a different theoretical perspective aimed at resolving some of the conflicting results. We rely on more than 1,000 respondents and cover the years before, during, and after the Abney and Lauth (1987, 1998) surveys. Our analysis does not reveal any consistent decline in gubernatorial budget influence. Rather, we find that governors, on average, held their own or slightly increased their budgetary influence visà- vis the legislature from the 1980s through the 1990s. Goodman's results for Western states were not an anomaly but reflective of this trend.

While nationwide the slope is positive, some governors have lost influence while others have gained. Goodman's (2007) analysis produced a more sophisticated understanding of forces affecting the executive-legislative budget game, but the broader question of what explains the change remains unanswered. …

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