It’s a sure sign the legislative session is close when the appropriations committees begin hearing from state agencies about how they are spending their funding for the current fiscal year and what their funding requests are for the next year. The Senate began its hearings last week. These hearings mainly function as educational meetings for appropriations committee members to learn more about the agencies they are responsible for funding, how they are performing, and the direction they are headed. The hearings provide an opportunity for an agency to put its best foot forward and for legislators to probe areas of interest or concern.
Before the current governor, agencies had the ability to pretty much bring to the committees the funding requests they thought the legislature should consider for their agency in an ideal world, given the restraints of available funding. This gave legislators the opportunity to listen and decide funding priorities. Some priorities emanate later from the legislature and governor, so the agency requests are not the entire budget picture.
During the first year of Gov. Stitt’s term, in 2019, the legislature and governor had a difficult time getting together on a budget, which created some negative feelings between the two branches that carried over to the 2020 session. The governor essentially removed himself from the budget process in 2020 by vetoing the general appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2021 along with three other budget bills. The vetoes were overridden by both chambers within hours of being issued.
Leading up to the 2021 session, during the pre-session hearings, legislators expressed frustration they were not getting full and accurate budget numbers and complained the governor or his staff were limiting the requests agencies were allowed to make. This is a concern for the legislature because if agencies don’t come forward with requests they feel are important, legislators do not have a chance to respond “yes” or “no.” To some extent the perceived lack of accurate information is being addressed by the new Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency. In the end, after a legislative battle over tax cuts, legislators in 2021 wrote a budget that the governor approved.
It appears this year the Office of Management and Enterprise Services, which serves as the governor’s budget office, and the appropriations committees have agreed on a new format for submitting agency budget requests to the legislature. It remains to be seen how that will work. In the end, these early budget hearings could set a tone for how the appropriations process will go during the next session.