Sunday, March 13, 2011

Independent Budget Office Proposed

The creation of an independent budget office was proposed on Sunday by Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, R-Rockville Centre. This measure was part of a larger package (SB 4006) on the budget process, which includes a balanced budget requirement.
The creation of an independent budget office is something good government groups support, as Blair Horner, the legislative director of NYPIRG, recently voiced in his column.
Horner wrote:
[Independent Budget Offices] offer unbiased, comprehensive analyses of budget plans. Since New York has no such entity — although it should — the governor should fill that information gap by issuing an executive order to require that the state's Division of the Budget offer unbiased analyses of the state's fiscal situation as well as plans to deal with the states' budget deficit.

The IBO proposal from Skelos would provide legislators with a report on the proposed budget by March 1. The language of the bill also puts a strong emphasis on gauging the costs of any legislation with the IBO, to the point where it feels like a primary job, especially considering the order of the language.
The IBO is also tasked with judging the direct costs of state mandates, projecting state revenues and assessing the state's fiscal condition.
The proposal also includes some language about public disclosure, but it is very vague, as it requires published reports "from time to time" and requires information be made accessible online "to the extent practicable." This seems a far cry from Horner's position that an independent body should "Make publicly available on the Internet line-by-line accounting of state agencies' spending and with specificity that affords the public detailed access to underlying budgetary information."
Especially worrisome in this vein is language in the bill that basically says there is no guarantee for disclosure of information if it is deemed secret by state or federal law.
Also straining the "Independent" theme of this budget office is the fact that it will be composed of people chosen by legislative leaders.
Now I'm not an expert on the budget or budget language, in fact I'm more of a semi-literate clown, but I can't tell how serious this proposal is about removing all accounting gimmicks from the budget process. At first glance it seems like this proposal supports accountability, but the roundabout language (which to be fair is in all bills) has me a little concerned. Now if Dick Ravitch was to come out and say this bill addressed the budget tricks he tried to tackle last year, then I would be satisfied.

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