Governors, Legislatures, and Budgets: Diversity across the American States

By Edward J. Clynch; Thomas P. Lauth | Go to book overview

that process. Most players, including the public, appear to agree with the governor's words: "the measure of a budget is the extent to which it achieves an appropriate balance between the services provided by government and the level of taxation necessary to support these services." 52 The level of services and the tax effort at which the balance is achieved are subsidiary concerns.

This approach has the virtue of simplicity and consensus, but little else to recommend it. Although financial tracking continues to improve with computerization and systemization, operations are so complex and economic circumstances so fluid that precision and certainty are frustrated. According to one longtime participant, "fortune, good or bad, usually ranks alongside administrative skill in managing the year-end and surplus statement." 53

Although the governor submits a balanced proposal and the legislature passes a balanced budget bill, there is no legal requirement for a positive year-end balance. It is customary to add any negative balance to the next budget period. In addition, there is no restriction against bonding an operating deficit. The burden is kept within bounds because a joint executive-legislative body, the Finance Advisory Committee, approves reductions in allotments (recissions) when the projected operating deficit triggers statutorily defined limits.


CONCLUSION

In 1983, just about six months before the fiscal year would end with a small deficit, a bipartisan commission reported: "the projected deficit is not so much the problem as the reflection or symptom of the State's fiscal difficulties over the last decade--difficulties on both the expenditure and revenue sides of the ledger. These difficulties run broad and run deep and must be addressed if the State's budget problems are to be resolved." 54

The state has not resolved the "budget problems" and seems headed in the same direction. The appropriated budget was balanced for FY 1989 by drawing materially on the budget reserve fund and other funds. Because a sizable deficit is predicted for the next round and because the future costs of some programs, notably state aid to education, are high, increased controversy is likely. Accusations of poor management and overspending undoubtedly will vie with charges of inadequate taxes and a search for new or additional revenues. Considering the enduring value of frugality, there will be considerable pressure on the expenditure side. Many players will have learned that "We can't go solving all the world's problems at the same time and that's what we've been trying to do." 55

The resolution of "broad and deep" problems is bound to elude Connecticut's budget process because resolution is continuous and provisional upon changing conditions. A chief asset of the process is that it produces "appropriate balance" through compromise. That balance is necessarily a temporary phenomenon, to suit the times. Of course, compromise is easiest when prosperity diminishes the impact of tax effort. When projected deficits again constrain budget growth within more spartan margins, compromise will be more difficult and the process more

-51-

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