Over the past years we have trekked through infested budgetary waters where our financial needs exceeded our grasp. Complying with the requirements for pen/ben contributions, infrastructure, school funding, and more has been like wading through murky waters that can only do us harm. And it’s not getting any easier. The budget process should begin with a more realistic revenue projection – one achieved through consensus.
It is time that Dr. Feel Good (a.k.a. Gov. Christie) work with Dr.Kevorkian (the unpleasant moniker Christie conferred on the legislature’s Budget Director David Rosen.) Dr. Feel Good’s revenue projections in the past several years may have made him and us feel good, but six or eight months into the budget year he has had to say “oops,” slash items he never particularly liked, and face credit agencies which lowered our rating and increased our cost of borrowing.
New Jersey Policy Perspective says “New Jersey is relying on a faulty process to estimate revenue. The key fix is for the governor and legislature to jointly produce the revenue estimate.” NJPP is basing its recommendation on a report by the Center on Budget and Policy Procedures (CBPP) which indicates that NJ is following only two out of five of the best revenue forecasting practices. For a better process there should be a consensus group which would include Christie’s representative (State Treasurer or economist) and David Rosen, and possibly a non-governmental economist and an academic expert.
Our governor has the last word on the matter as the N.J . Constitution (Article VIII, Section II) authorizes him/her to certify each year the revenue estimate which sets the basis for the budget. Nonetheless, such does not prohibit the governor from using a consensus panel. NJ Spotlight points out that the problem stretches back to former governors, but the legislature’s “budget directors have proved right more often than not.” Besides the budget is a product not just of the executive branch but also the legislative branch.
As anyone who has created a budget knows, it’s not easy – part science and part art – but it should be predicated on data not wish fulfillment. A better consensus approach according to the CBPP should offer some three meetings starting in November and include open meetings or notes made available to the public. Dr. Feel Good might not appreciate such transparency but this process provides the governor some cover, would benefit his successor (particularly one suddenly filling a vacancy) and increase the likelihood that the budget is realistic. I suspect the highly regarded Dr. Kevorkian would not object.