Typically, legislators are not given sufficient budget information timely enough to comply with the suggested change. In order for legislators to comply in a responsible way, they should be given, well ahead of debate, complete budget information, including:
- the proposed appropriation for each agency, by line item
- the percent change from the prior year for each line item (so that legislators can determine which line items have been increased, which have been cut, and by how much)
- the amount by which the proposed appropriation is in violation of state law (MAEP, NBCT, Chickasaw Cession, etc.)
- the balances of all contingency and reserve funds and the extent to which those are used in the proposed budget
Equally critical is that the rules change would mean that the reserve and contingency funds (such as the “Rainy Day Fund”) would be off the table – untouchable – during the appropriations debate. Though the chambers typically agree on the amount of reserves that will be used in the budget ahead of time, the amount of revenue that is available to appropriate is often in flux up until the last minute of the budget debate. Every year, the numbers change, often significantly.
It appears that use of reserve funds could be debated in committee, but this is problematic in that two-thirds of us have no representation on the House Appropriations Committee. That committee is made up of 33 representatives (of 122). Half of the Senate serves on its Appropriations Committee. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that there is no accountability for a committee vote. Committee votes are typically voice votes and are not recorded.
Changing the rules that govern the way we are represented is very serious, particularly when the proposed change limits the ways in which the legislators we elect can represent our concerns and priorities.
Legislators should be serious and responsible about proposed increases in state spending, and, consistent with that, any change in the way our Legislature debates budget bills should also require that legislators be equipped with the information they need. Further, no legislator should be excluded from the debate about how any of our tax dollars, including those placed in reserve funds, are spent at any point in the process.