Reducing spending should be a top priority to eliminate the state’s pending $720 million shortfall through 2022. However, that does not necessarily mean a reduction in quality services. Both the Kansas legislature and the Governor need to think differently about state budgeting. One such option is for the Governor to enforce the performance-based-budgeting that is currently state law. This tool, again that is already state law, makes tax reform, economic growth, and protection against the next recession more attainable.
The Kansas legislature has usually talked a big game about the importance of its “appropriations process.” However, the truth is it’s just a “spending process, “with a starting point of last year’s expenditures. The Kansas legislature has the power of the purse. Unfortunately, they don’t use it. Unlike everyday Kansans who ensure they are getting a bang for their buck, the legislature distributes funds and hopes for success. Additionally, there is no record of whether the state achieved goals in prior years and no sense of what the government hopes to accomplish in years to come. As it currently stands, the Kansas Legislature’s budget process virtually flies (spends) blind.
The COVID-19 budget demands should require state governments to get their fiscal house in order. Flying-blind budget processes are the last thing Kansas policymakers need. What they need is Performance-Based-Budgeting. It’s a budgeting practice that merely asks, “Are we getting what we paid for?” It’s a process that develops transparent and accountable budgets. If followed correctly, it will decrease deficits, grow the state’s economy, and potentially lead to higher approval ratings from constituents. Here’s how it works.
- Assign a measurable public benefit to each tax dollar spent.
- Insist state agencies assign measures to ensure they meet such public goals.
- Review performance to assess whether changes in public benefit is meeting expectations.
- Use performance reviews to determine the next year’s appropriation.
- The entire process must be open and available to the public.
For example, funding homeless programs should have the public benefit of decreasing the homeless population. A measure assigned to that public benefit can be moving more individuals from welfare to work. Or, from temporary shelters to more-stable living conditions. Suppose a performance review uncovers that appropriated funds are helping people look for and obtain work. In that case, the legislature should maintain, if not increase, next year’s appropriation. Suppose the review reveals appropriated funds are not improving a pathway for folks to get off the streets. In that case, the legislature should redesign the program. Or, what’s more, likely is to find one of the other homeless programs that exist in the state and invest in the highest performing program.
Far too often, political consideration on the budget is whether they are saving money (conservative) or spending more (progressive). Neither cutting nor raising spending guarantees success nor ensures effective core government functions. By focusing on spending money effectively, both sides of the aisle and the taxpayer can come out on top. Effective programs get a stronger case to see an increase in funds. Struggling programs are opportunities to save taxpayer dollars. Performance-based-budgeting guarantees a benefit to the public.
As it currently stands, a performance-based-budgeting is on the statute books, but no one in Topeka is not enforcing it. Kansas legislators still retain the power of the purse. They need to demonstrate the courage to use it. They can take the reins and force state agencies to spend money not just on aspirations, but on the concrete benefit delivered. Hopefully, doing so as Kansas pulls out of the COVID recession can get the state budget on a more solid footing while maintaining quality government services.