As we’ve watched in recent days during the Broward county budget workshops, and over the past few years, our elected officials at both the national and local level have had a significant, three-fold problem, namely, passing a budget, staying within their budget, and effectively reducing spending. While these problems are becoming more and more publicized through the blame and fingerpointing at the national level, they are also of concern here in our own county of Broward.
Though budgeting takes place on a yearly basis, calling it “budgeting” is a extraordinary misnomer. The “budgeting” currently done consists of increases or decreases by percentages from the preceding year’s fiscal allotment (the money given out by the government). Unfortunately, at both the national and local level, a decrease in budgeted funds only occurs in the most extraordinary of circumstances. Most often, with each passing year, the budget grows, whether by the request of the various governmental agencies, or by the additional programs and pet projects of elected officials. For example, at the national level, a pet project would be federal grants for land use to a particular elected official’s major campaign contributor. On the local level, a pet project would be something like a financial distribution to a particular cultural organization or a newer trinket for some sports arena or another. This results in an ever increasing amount of governmental spending requiring greater taxes, greater financial strain on the constituency, and even less accountability in governmental programs.
There is a solution, though. In fact, there are two of them: Zero-Based Budgeting for the annual budget and Sunset Provisions written in to each and every program and project.
So, here’s how these solutions work: Zero-Based Budgeting – unlike historical budgeting, which adjusts a previous budget while still demanding some measure of funding – requires that each year, every agency, department, and program present a new budget that outlines exactly what funds they need and why. Every single one. Up until that presentation is made, ZERO funds are set aside from the budget for that program, project, or department. More importantly, the asking for a budget amount does NOT guarantee of receipt of that amount. It must be approved, line by line, in each and every program. The end result is that every agency, department, and program is held rigidly accountable for its actions and spending. Most importantly, they have to show positive results, or they will not be funded again.
The second solution is called a Sunset Provision, and it’s a terrific way to cut down on wasteful governmental spending without the often gridlocked problem of partisan debate and wrangling. When a sunset provision is written in to programs and legislation, it defines clearly that without proof of progress, reauthorization by the legislature or elected officials will not occur, and the law, benefit, or program will cease on a particular date.
To you and me, these might seem like common-sense (perhaps even simple) ideas, but these solutions ensure the precise level of checks and balances politicians abhor. These solutions force and enforce a level of accountability and responsibility on our elected officials to JUSTIFY their actions and decisions, while sharply decreasing the possibility for cronyism and sweetheart deals so often present in the political arena. It is specifically for this reason that constituents both in Broward and across the nation must push for both of these solutions.
Here in Broward, agencies such as the Supervisor of Elections, Broward Sheriff’s Office, Broward County Property Appraisers Office, as well as the pet projects and programs of both the Broward County and City Commissioners would be required to show measureable results, and with the addition of a Sunset Provision, would be defunded if those results were not achieved. There would be less chance for corruption if strict measurements of success and positive results were required from every agency, department, program, and project.
While there are stipulations placed in both the State and Federal Constitutions that require SOME measure of funding for offices, those same requirements give no set minimum amount. Moreover, those documents leave such a decision in the hands of the constituents, through their representatives and elected officials, to determine what the funding levels should be.
The old adage is “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it…” Using solutions such as Zero-Based Budgeting and Sunset Provisions, constituents at both the national level and here in Broward are given a clear view of which precise government expenditures yield positive results, as well as which elected officials misuse funds or fail to use common sense when making decisions. Moreover, they show us how to fix the problem, returning both our nation and Broward county to its highest level of profitability, and making it possible for every constituent’s wallet to get a whole lot thicker.