Budget and Tax Reform

Budget and Tax Reform

Every year the battle at the state legislature is how to set priorities for the allocation of the General Fund, which is less than one-third of the total budget.  Very few persons actually understand this process, including state legislators and state officials.  A handful of persons do understand it and everyone else depends on them to reassure them that what they are doing is the best that can be done under the circumstances.

Did you know that each year two-thirds of the budget allocations are not voted upon by the legislature during the session?  We didn’t.  Now we do and we are going to try to get a better understanding of how the process works, including how priorities are set for the use of these dollars.  It turns out that approximately two-thirds of the annual state budget is segregated in two other funds:  Special State Fund and Federal Fund.  Each year approximately two-thirds of state revenue dollars in the Special State Fund and the Federal Fund, as a matter of policy, are diverted before they can get to the General Fund.  So every year approximately two-thirds of the state revenue is not included in the annual public battle over how best to spend state revenues.  The public process tends only to address the one-third of state revenues that are in the General Fund.

Make no mistake about it:  there is a whole lot of turf at stake, and enormous bureaucratic inertia and stakeholder interests exist to hold this part of the budget in its existing orbit.  This is not to suggest, at this point, that the expenditures are not for appropriate and necessary purposes.  But it is to say that these funds are not part of the annual setting of priorities that we associate with the battle over the allocation of state resources in the General Fund. 

Some portion of diverted funds might be better spent, at least for a period of time, on creating a quality public education accessible to all children, and ensuring that all of our citizens, especially the children, the elderly and those with limited resources, receive the health care to which they ought to be entitled in a fair and just society.  For the most part, our elected representatives have little to say, and say little, about approximately two-thirds of the budget that is allocated outside of the General Fund.  It is difficult to challenge what exists, and propose meaningful alternatives, when we understand so little about this process and how it works.

As citizens we have a right to participate in the process of setting these priorities.  But if we do not understand this process, and our legislators for the most part do not either, we cannot participate meaningfully or effectively.  If we neither understand nor exercise our rights, it is the same as not having those rights.

So – we are committed to obtaining an effective understanding of how this process works.  Hopefully, through this learning we can come to understand how best to generate the revenue needed to create a quality, first-class public education accessible to all children, regardless of race, class, special need, location or status.

As we learn more about how the process works, where the money come from and where it goes, we will share this information across the state with grassroots community groups, community leaders, activists, local and state public officials, including our legislators.