Tuesday, November 21, 2006

It's simply not a deficit!

The JS is flat out wrong on this one. The gap that occurs when total budget requests exceed projected revenues is not a deficit. Period.

As a matter of fact, someone show me the last time budget requests did not exceed expected revenues. I'll wait, probably forever. Budget requests always need to be weighed and whittled, whether at the federal, state, or local levels of government.

I know I'm joining a longish line by chiming in on this one. In Effect has a post, and so does Folkbum and What's Left.

But I used to be in the news biz and now I'm in the budget biz and it boils down to this: the JS was wrong to suggest that budget requests = defiticts, and was doubly wrong to let Republicans use budget requests to hammer Gov. Doyle about deficits.

Here's how it usually works in real life. Departments submit funding requests to a central budget office. If it works right, the budget requests outline what department managers think they need to provide services the following years. (If it doesn't work right, department managers use budget request to try to expand their little empires or maybe get some really fancy things they don't need, but in those cases the managers should be canned and that's the end of that.)

Department managers can use budget requests to propose new programs, to suggest alternate ways of providing services, or simply to estimate what it will cost next year to maintain this year's services. This is a good thing. It allows decision-makers to look at the overall requests and set priorities. How much does the Department of Natural Resources say it needs to maintain service levels? What about the Department of Workforce Development? Does DWD have a new system of doing something that will save $1 million that can then be shifted to DNR to save X number of ranger jobs? Or does DWD need to keep that money to operate a new jobs training program in Ashland?

The decision-makers take the budget requests, look at anticipated revenues and, working with department managers and others, massage and whack and adjust the requests so the resulting total budget matches the total anticipated revenue.

Budget requests give a big picture. They are competitive, and not everyone will get everything asked for. It's why there is a budget process, and why no one with five minutes' experience or half an ounce of common sense would suggest that budget requests being greater than anticipated revenue somehow means there is a deficit.

And I know that most reporters and editors at the JS know better. So I wonder why....

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Excellent point Gretchen. I tried to make the same point to a couple of people last night (I told them I didn't think the headline reflected what the story actually said), but because they'd spent most of their day listening to the poisoned AM airwaves, I don't think I got it across. I'm a former print reporter and have sat through committee meetings and entire budget processes and watched those initial requests get whittled down pretty smartly.