Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Quinn and Brady touch on budget ideas: Part 2

By Jamey Dunn

During recent debates, Gov. Pat Quinn has mentioned the “Budgeting for Results” provision — a plan to reform the state budgeting process — included in a budget bill approved last spring. (Scroll almost to the end of the bill. Section 50-25 is the bulk of it.)

However, Quinn has done little to describe the new law that seeks to make drastic changes in the way money is doled out to agencies and programs by next fiscal year.

The changes require the governor to work with legislative budgeteers and lay out priorities and goals for each agency in the budget. Executive officers will be required to set goals for their offices, as well. Budgeting for the next fiscal year will be based in part on the agencies’ abilities to meet their goals, and the governor’s office is required to report to the public on the results, compared with the original goals.

Democratic Sen. Dan Kotowski , who sponsored the bill that originally contained the reforms, said the measures represent a “paradigm change in Springfield.”

Kotowski said measuring effectiveness would give lawmakers the ability to “make decisions to cut, fund, eliminate and reform programs” based on data. He added that funding choices are now often made based on how much money a program got in the previous year and which programs have the most vocal backers. He said there is a mentality of “You have to support this because we’ve always supported it.”

Kotowski, who is from Park Ridge, said having measurable outcomes could make difficult cuts more tolerable for politicians and constituents, but they will also make it easier to justify funding for programs that work. “Here’s our budget, and it’s not just numbers, and it’s not just dollars being spent. It’s outcomes.”

In the end, he thinks such reforms could make voters more open to a possible tax increase. “When people see that government is making a difference in their lives, they are more likely to support revenue for those programs.” Kotowski made a down-to-the-wire decision to back the income tax increase approved by the Senate last year.

This new process would, in theory, mean no more budgeting in the way the legislature has for the last two fiscal years — approving lump sums and letting the governor make the cuts. “We wanted to turn a bad situation into a good one,” Kotowski said. He added that the reforms are intended to “make sure that we never, never do budgets like this again in the state of Illinois.”

Kotowski said he has been working with Quinn on the plan for the last year. If Brady wins the governor’s race, the senator said he could work with him on the reforms. However, he is worried about Brady’s proposal to cut the budget by 10 percent. “My concern is that he doesn’t understand the concept of funding: what works and cutting what doesn’t.”

Calls to Brady’s campaign on the subject were not returned. Brady voted against the bill, but since the reforms were contained in the “Emergency Budget Act,” which broadly expanded Quinn’s budgeting powers, little can be determined from the vote in relation to these measures. A section of Brady’s recovery plan does sound similar to some aspects of the new law:

No new spending initiative or program expansion will be allowed without a linked

funding source and measurable outcomes. … Further, when an agency seeks budget authority, it makes a contract with the people that it will meet its performance expectations, or it will be discontinued.

However, Brady’s plan puts more emphasis on balancing the budget and programs being linked to specific funding sources.

Kotowski admitted that the changes he sought have been met with some skepticism but added that he has been working with stakeholders on the plan for some time. He also pointed out that the requirements have been signed into law and will apply to the budget for fiscal year 2012. “If they don’t follow the law, we’ll file an injunction with the attorney general.”

Calls to Quinn’s budget office to inquire about the “Budgeting for Results” plan were not returned.

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