State Rep. Joe Dorman, D-Rush Springs, wants to make the most of his final year in the Legislature by bringing some clarity to the way state agency budgets are crafted. This is a pursuit that Republicans who control the Capitol should embrace.
Dorman has requested that interim studies be conducted into the budget process and the use of agency carry-over funds. The latter was a hot topic during the recent legislative session as it pertained to the Department of Corrections, which requested a supplemental appropriation despite having millions in carry-over accounts.
Dorman says lawmakers have long discussed improving the budget process, particularly through ideas such as zero-based budgeting, but there's been little follow-through. He's correct. As governor, David Boren was a proponent of the idea in the late 1970s. A law passed in 2003 required state agencies to justify every proposed expenditure.
Its passage was followed by a number of hearings by the committee charged with overseeing the law. In short order, the hearings went away. The Capitol returned to business as usual.
Indeed, following the 2004 session, one Senate Republican leader labeled the budgeting process “an embarrassment” because instead of waiting for recommendations from the zero-based budgeting committee, Democratic lawmakers produced a bill “written behind closed doors without input from the governor or GOP legislators.” Little has changed since.
Dorman has a potential ally in Preston Doerflinger, state finance secretary, who has said he would gladly be part of an interim study. The current budgeting process is cumbersome and arbitrary, Doerflinger said. Budget writers “should be less like farmhands sloppily filling a trough and more like dietitians prescribing the best regiment for success.”
How much would be saved through zero-based budgeting is difficult to predict. But any trimming of the fat would be welcomed by taxpayers. Revisiting this idea has the potential to be time well spent.