Senator Orie: new independent fiscal office needed to help reform budget process

Senator Orie:  new independent fiscal office needed to help reform budget process

The Pennsylvania Constitution requires the General Assembly to pass a budget that “shall not exceed the actual and estimated revenues and surplus available in the same fiscal year.”  In other words, Pennsylvania must adopt a balanced budget.

Over the past eight years, one of the major impediments to adopting a budget by the June 30th deadline has been questionable budget projections by the Executive Branch.  Currently, the Governor has the sole discretion to set revenue projections.
·         In 2009, there was no consensus as to whether Pennsylvania would see one or two percent growth, let alone any growth, during our economic recovery. 
·         In 2010, a budget was adopted that relied upon $850 million in federal aid that was not guaranteed.  While the federal government ultimately passed legislation, Pennsylvania will only receive $600 million.  As such, the state budget will have to be re-worked — and in my opinion reduced — to achieve the needed savings. 
·         Meanwhile, it has become commonplace to set the final budget projections at the same time that the budget is adopted.  In other words, the cart (the budget) comes before the horse (the projected revenues).
I strongly believe that Pennsylvania must reform its budgetary procedures — to make the process as open and transparent as possible to the public. 

First, we should pass legislation establishing an independent fiscal office that provides nonpartisan budget projections to the legislative branch.  Currently, 36 other states and the federal government have independent fiscal offices like the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) which provide nonpartisan budget figures to legislators, regardless of whether they are Republican or Democrat.  The fiscal office would have access to the same agency and department financial information as the Governor’s Budget Office.  One of the key duties of this office would be to set a binding revenue estimate by June 15th for the coming fiscal year.

I am cosponsoring Senate Bill 1, which would establish the Independent Fiscal Office.  The General Assembly passed legislation in 2009 that initially set up an independent fiscal office but it has since sunset (expired).  And most recently — in July — the General Assembly expressed its intent to pass legislation establishing an independent fiscal office by October 1, 2010.  It is my hope that legislation will be enacted within this time frame.

Establishing an Independent Fiscal Office is the next in a series of reforms by the Senate.  These reforms include an overhaul of the Open Records Law, posting all Senate roll call votes and amendments on the Internet, requiring a 6-hour wait before voting on amended bills, limiting Senate sessions to between 8:00 a.m. and 11:00 p.m., prohibiting Senate-funded “robo-calls,” eliminating leased vehicles for Senators, eliminating per diems for Senators who live within 50 miles of the Capitol, and instituting a health care co-pay for all Senators.

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