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

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

Appropriations subcommittee decisions (some with fiscal analyst's numbers) are forwarded to the Executive Appropriations Committee. Here they are assembled into the major appropriations bills and forwarded to the two chambers. But this is far more than a simple "assembly" process. The Executive Committee is quite powerful--especially when it considers issues regarding major appropriations items. Normally, it sends its bills to the floor on the last day of the session, often very late on the last day. Consequently, the Executive Committee must take into account all major controversies and make the compromises necessary to secure final passage. It accomplishes this so well that floor amendments are rare. The last-minute portion of the process is smoothed by the committee's practice of granting its co-chairs authority to make technical adjustments without calling the full committee into session. This is usually done in consultation with the fiscal analyst. An example of this process is the adjusting of appropriations for all departments to reflect legislative actions on salary increases.

Utah's unusual appropriations committee structure makes all legislators a part of the appropriations process (a system continued, even though the state now holds annual general sessions). Although most legislators have been able to affect decisions regarding only one or a few agencies, they have at least participated. As described by the fiscal analyst:

Participation in the subcommittee budget hearings process enables legislators to become thoroughly familiar with a functional area of state government, and also tends to foster trust in the total appropriations process because the legislators are aware that all aspects of the budget are examined by their peers in the same way that they examine the budgets they are assigned to hear. This is not to say that all legislators approve of the recommendations of the subcommittee--it does ensure, however, a complete understanding of the various elements of the budget. 19

To this should be added the qualification that a legislator might be quite dissatisfied with the numbers that come out of the Executive Appropriations Committee. Rarely do legislators attend meetings of appropriations subcommittees other than the ones on which they serve. Doing so is made logistically difficult by the subcommittees all meeting at the same time. Legislators who have concerns about programs or agencies that are not under their own subcommittee's jurisdiction generally seek to influence the Executive Appropriations Committee. They try to identify one of its members who will "carry their cause" and instruct the relevant subcommittee to make the desired change.


CONCLUSION

Utah's unique process for legislative budget consideration faces a difficult challenge in the immediate future. The enormous pressure placed on the state to increase funding for public education (presently at the elementary and secondary levels, later for higher education) would strain any system.

-112-

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