February 9, 2009
When the state is short billions of dollars to meet the budgets for both this year and next, the General Assembly should be looking under every rock to find savings.
Unfortunately, the legislative leadership does not appear ready to do that.
Another session has opened and for another year the legislature will not be undertaking zero-based budgeting, a process in which lawmakers scrutinize every program to determine whether it fulfills its purpose and is still a priority. Zero-based budgeting takes budget writers back to square one with every program and asks one question: Do we need this?
The lack of enthusiasm among legislative leaders for zero-based budgeting comes despite a recent report that puts the state's budget gap for next fiscal year at $2.1 billion.
When speaking to capitol reporters at the start of the session, House Speaker Joe Hackney said that every item in the budget will be reviewed this year. But that's not zero-based budgeting.
As John Blust, a Greensboro Republican, says, "We only look at our proposed changes to the governor's proposed changes in the budget." The legislature goes on "auto pilot" when it looks at the budget, Blust told the Journal, "and we need to start flying on manual." ...
The continuation budget covers spending needed to maintain current government services but adjusted for inflation and population growth.
True zero-based budgeting would look not just at whether a program's cost needs to grow at the level the governor projects but also at whether the program is needed any longer. ...
There's no doubt that legislators will balance the budget. They always do. What is not certain, however, is how, without zero-based budgeting, North Carolinians can be sure legislators cut the most appropriate programs.