[r72] A Clere view of the Statehouse: Harmony will be needed for the budget (1/3/2011)

Monday, January 3, 2011

Start Date: 1/3/2011 All Day
End Date: 1/3/2011
The sounds of the season are everywhere, and some holiday songs make me think about Indiana's financial situation.

Baby, it's cold outside. A few years ago, the American economy was lean and lank, but lately, misfortune seemed its lot. It got into a drifted bank, and we, we got upsot. Consumers have been acting less like the singer of "Santa Baby" (seeking a sable, a convertible, decorations from Tiffany's, etc.) and more like grandma - after she got run over by a reindeer.

Now we're looking for some magic, but there is no old silk hat to be found. Instead, we'll have to rely on discipline and difficult decisions. The groundwork for those decisions is being laid now, as the state Budget Committee holds public hearings with state agencies. At the hearings, which started the week before Thanksgiving and continue through the middle of December, agencies present their budget requests and answer questions from the committee, which is making a list and checking it twice. Gonna find out who's naughty and nice. Do I smell chestnuts?

The Budget Committee is composed of four legislators - one Democrat and one Republican from both the House of Representatives and the Senate - and the State Budget Agency director, who is appointed by the governor. The Budget Committee meets when the legislature is out of session to provide legislative oversight of the budget process.

On Dec. 15, the Budget Committee will receive a revenue forecast. After that, the committee will propose a two-year budget. The legislature will meet starting Jan. 5. I took the following summary from the State Budget Agency website. The complete process is available at www.in.gov/sba.

The legislative budget process begins in the House, where the Ways and Means Committee considers the proposed budget and holds hearings. The hearings provide an opportunity for agency representatives and the public to be heard on various aspects of the proposed budget. The committee may amend the budget bill by majority vote. When deliberations are completed, the Ways and Means Committee reports the bill out for consideration by the entire House, usually in an amended form.

After the committee report is adopted, the bill is considered to be on second reading. The bill may be further amended at this point. Individual representatives may present second reading amendments for debate. When all the offered amendments to the bill are either adopted or fail, the bill moves to third reading for approval as amended. Once passed by a majority vote, the bill is sent to the Senate for consideration.

In the Senate, the Appropriations Committee has primary responsibility for budget bill deliberations. In a similar manner to the House Ways and Means Committee, the Senate Finance Committee conducts public hearings with selected agencies before issuing a committee report. Again, the bill may be amended in committee by a majority vote.

After the bill is passed out of the committee, it goes through the second and third reading process, just as in the House. Once passed, the budget bill goes to conference committee to resolve differences between the House and Senate versions, unless the Senate passes the exact House version of the budget bill (a rare occurrence).

The budget conference committee is composed of four legislators, called conferees. The bill must be approved unanimously by these legislative conferees before it can be reported back to either chamber. While the conferees generally represent both political parties in the House and Senate, the majority legislative parties ultimately have the authority to appoint conferees.

Conference committee negotiations represent the final stage of the budget deliberation, involving compromises by all parties prior to adoption and reporting of a revised recommended budget. When the conference committee reports out a revised recommended budget, each chamber adopts or rejects it. If rejected by either chamber, the conference committee must reconvene and renew negotiations.

The legislature has until April 30 to finish its work, which will include much more than just the budget bill. I have been appointed to serve on the Ways and Means Committee, so I will be deeply involved in the budget process. I am looking forward to the challenge.

We won't have a good idea of how things look until after the budget hearings are completed and the revenue forecast is available, but even in a best-case scenario, crafting a budget will be extremely difficult. We won't have a good idea of how things look until after the budget hearings are completed and the revenue forecast is available, but even in a best-case scenario, crafting a budget will be extremely difficult. It will require a lot of cooperation and understanding - harmony, if not unison.

As we work on the budget, we must deal with the frigid fiscal climate, but we must also prepare our state for warmer weather. If we manage well, spring could be right around the corner.

Later on, we'll conspire,
As we dream by the fire,
To face unafraid,
The plans that we've made,
Walking in a winter wonderland.

Editors Note: The word "upsot" in the second paragraph is correct.