January 7, 2009

Who divvies up the forecasted revenues among the branches of government?

Filed under: Hawaii State Politics — Doug @ 6:41 pm

I had never really thought of this before, but a Star-Bulletin article has got me wondering.

The S-B reports that the Senate Ways and Means Committee, currently in the middle of the annual “budget briefing” season, is sending the Judiciary and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs back to work on their respective budgets because they did not incorporate any spending cuts to reflect the expected decline in revenue.

I’m pondering a more fundamental question, though: when the Council on Revenues makes a forecast for revenues, is there anything that compels the four entities that submit budget bills to the Lege (i.e. Executive, Legislative, Judiciary, and OHA) to agree on how the forecasted revenues will be allocated among the branches of government? i.e. Just because the COR says revenues will be $X, down Y% from the previous figure, does it automatically follow that each branch of government must lower its budget by (at least) Y%? Here, it looks as if the Judiciary and OHA are saying, “make the necessary cuts in the Executive and Legislative budgets, but leave our budgets alone.” It’s interesting, to me, because it presents obvious separation of powers questions. Ultimately the Legislature controls the budget process, but I could understand the urge for the Judiciary (for example) to stand firm (or even ask for an increased budget) and to see if they could not convince legislators to make up the revenue shortfall by deeper cuts in the “other” budget bills.

So-called “across the board” cuts are often, I’d even go so far as to say usually, a short-sighted method to trim a department budget because worthy programs are cut back just as much as less worthy programs; with both programs then slipping (or slipping further) toward unworthiness. Why should we expect “across the branches of government” cuts to make any more sense?

If the Lege expects the other branches of government to budget with a certain expenditure limit, then do they tell each branch in advance what its limit will be? Or is it as simple (-minded) as “you must each cut your budget Y%?”

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