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%?”


  1. Recall this article from last week’s advertiser, “Hawaii judges want 10% raise, despite call for salary freeze.”

    “Judiciary spokeswoman Marsha Kitagawa said the pay raises — including another 3.5 percent bump next year and 10 percent more in 2011 — are mandated under a state Salary Commission report that was adopted by the Legislature, and approved by Lingle, in 2007.

    “”Accordingly, the Hawai’i State Judiciary will be asking the 2009 Legislature to fund these increases,” Kitagawa said in a written statement.”

    DOUG: Um, did you (like most of the media and the indignant public) miss the part where she said that the salary commission report has to be accepted in its entirety by the legislature or, failing that, that the legislature has to submit legislation to override the salary commission recommendation? She’s right. It’s not up to (or allowed for) the Judiciary to override the recommendations of the salary commission. You could look it up…

    Comment by Charley Foster — January 7, 2009 @ 7:37 pm

  2. The California Superintendent of Education said at a workshop this summer “Across the board cuts are an abdication of responsibility”
    I think that pretty much covers the budget mess and how the administration is handling it.

    Comment by egan kawamoto — January 7, 2009 @ 8:20 pm

  3. No, I didn’t miss that. On the contrary, I linked to an AP report in which Marsha made that point in response to the Advertiser’s article. In fact, she pretty much makes that point in the language I quoted above – the pay raises are mandated by a report adopted by the legislature and approved by Lingle.

    DOUG: So, what is your point in bringing this up, then? That the Judiciary should adjust its own salaries in defiance of the proscribed method? You’re being (understandably) coy on this judicial salary issue, in my estimation.

    Comment by Charley Foster — January 7, 2009 @ 10:17 pm

  4. Great fundamental question regarding the budget. Relatedly, does anyone know how the Finance Committee drafts the House budget bill? Do they take the four budget requests, modify in consultation w/ leadership of both chambers as well as Ways & Means and then draft the House budget bill?

    Comment by cooneyhi — January 8, 2009 @ 6:41 am

  5. I was just passing along a related story. An “interesting” aside. No ulterior motives.

    Comment by Charley Foster — January 8, 2009 @ 7:37 am

  6. One small part of the answer to your question may be that each two-year budget cycle is part of a larger six year financial plan. Essentially, each budget is based on the previous financial plan and is the basis for the next one. Nothing is ever done completely from scratch but is a modification of past practice, which is intended to prevent wild swings in spending priorities. See HRS 37-69 (http://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/hrscurrent/Vol01_Ch0001-0042F/HRS0037/HRS_0037-0069.htm)

    DOUG: True, but that doesn’t really address the question of how the total revenue is (re-)apportioned to each of the separate budgets. …unless the modus operandi is simply “last biennium minus Y%.”

    Comment by Ted — January 8, 2009 @ 2:11 pm

  7. What’s a “Sotry”?

    DOUG: Bait for pedants. Heh.

    Comment by damon — January 8, 2009 @ 4:10 pm

  8. Re #6, yes, “last biennium -X%” is pretty much the way it’s going at the budget briefings so far. The money ommittees are asking the agencies from each branch (plus OHA) to come up with spending plan reductions of, for example, 10% and 20%, preferably without cutting warm bodies. That’s at least the starting point but if the revenue projections get really bad, then uniform reductions won’t fly; some programs (say, under federal mandates or standards) can’t be cut below a certain point, which means it would have to come from soemewhere else, including perhaps someone’s job.

    Comment by Ted — January 9, 2009 @ 7:48 am

  9. The House does the budget first and then it goes over to the Senate. So far, so good.

    It’s not an exact science, obviously, and it really doesn’t jell until the March forecast, anyway.

    But each chamber internally works with a percentage; that is, if the Council of Revenues projects a -3% growth, the House will either accept that, or come up with their own number up or down. Also, keep in mind that the discretionary side of the budget is relatively small after you factor in debt service, federal mandates, compliance mandates, collective bargaining, etc. Not a whole lot of wiggle room.

    DOUG: But there would be more “wiggle room” in the budget for one branch of government if a deeper cut were made in the discretionary portion of another branch, which is the crux of my post.

    Comment by charles — January 10, 2009 @ 2:53 pm

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