Can We Get Some Transparency in the Budget?

The delay to include the proposed Independent Fiscal Office (IFO) is just legislators’ latest attempt to resist the transparency and accountability legislation Pennsylvanians deserve. According to John Micek at Capitol Ideas, the IFO will likely overcome opposition to be included in the fiscal code and voted on by Oct. 1.

Recently, the Senate Government Management & Cost Saving Commission released a report which highlighted transparency as a top priority for cost savings. Yet House Bill 1880, which passed the House unanimously in December, is still waiting for a vote in the Senate State Government committee. The bill would establish the “Pennsylvania Government Accountability Portal”-an online, searchable database of state spending.

Pennsylvania needs to join the other 30 states that have passed legislation to create online spending databases, which allow citizens to see how their tax dollars are being spent. Such databases are very cheap to build and deter corruption.

Here’s the e-mail we sent to legislators explaining why they should support an IFO:

An IFO might get revenue and spending numbers correct:

  • The official revenue estimates were off by $1.2 billion this year.
  • The official revenue estimates were off by $3.2 billion this year.
  • The budget you passed this week is at least $121 million higher than reported, due to hidden budget tricks.
  • The official spend number is usually wrong because they hide Medicaid spending until the end of the year.

An IFO might be realistic:

  • The Office of the Budget concluded that using MCare funds to balance last year’s budget was permissible. The Commonwealth Court disagreed and ordered paying back $800 million.
  • The current budget is predicated on $850 million in federal funds everyone knows won’t come. An IFO would have addressed this issue, instead of proceeding anyway.
  • Gov. Rendell’s advisors said I-80 tolling would get approved. An IFO might not be so na├»ve.

Despite Mr. Evan’s claims that he has not had time to think about an IFO, you have:

Most importantly, an IFO would do evaluations not currently being done:

  • The administration fails to do dynamic scoring of tax proposals – i.e., what would be the effect of tax changes. An IFO would do this.
  • The administration fails to adequately measure the success of programs. An IFO would do this.

An IFO would provide honest numbers not simply reflecting the governor’s priorities, and an IFO should lead to better policy outcomes because the legislature would have a better idea of the effects of tax or spending increases. Pennsylvania remains only a handful of states to lack a non-partisan fiscal office. We encourage you to support the IFO in the upcoming vote on the fiscal code bill SB 1042.

For more info on an Independent Fiscal Office, see this testimony from Maurice McTigue of the Mercatus Center and our policy points on Spending Transparency and Accountability.