"Money makes the world go round..." Remember this refrain? Surely, it is the truth as we all recognize the need to consider our budget on a daily basis. We balance our checkbooks ... balance our budgets ... balance our expenditures with our income. This need is absolutely critical when we possess a limited amount of earnings to cover our expenditures.
During this past year and a half, Alaskans have heard daily about dwindling oil revenues causing shortfalls for many of our state programs. Cutting the budget is a popular refrain throughout Alaska and in legislative halls - and the cuts are felt everywhere, in our schools, on our roads and in our cities' municipal programs.
For the past year and half, I've been formulating legislation that would put before the voters at the ballot box this November the option of amending our constitution to allow for a two-year budget cycle. I recently introduced House Joint Resolution 2 which, if passed, would require the governor, beginning fiscal 2002-3, to present a budget that encompasses two years instead of one - saving the time, energy, resource and salary expenses incurred while formulating the budget annually.
Biennial budgeting makes good sense. Right now, 20 other states budget in this manner, while Alaska's annual budgeting process remains arduous. In every state department, beginning every June and ending the following May, hundreds of people from every agency spend countless hours preparing their respective department's budget to present in hearings, closets and debates before finance subcommittees.
Then Senate and House finance committees spend countless hours honing the budget to provide for citizen's needs in the most fiscally responsible manner.
A biennial budget process would allow all legislators to deliberate the budget during the first year of each legislative session, then focus on other legislation in the second year as the spending guidelines would already be in place.
This time frame would work hand-in-hand with our results-based budgeting concept. State agencies would have a chance to plan in advance, which is often difficult under the present annual system.
While it is difficult to forecast revenues on which to base a budget in a commodity-dependent economy like ours, many programs and line items remain status quo from year to year. With a biennial budget, the second year of every session could be shortened considerably because legislators would need only to focus on legislation.
Think of the revenue saved if we could shorten the session every other year by weeks or months. Just cutting the length of time for the Legislature to meet the second year could result in very considerable savings.
The biennial budget concept is a good way to achieve greater efficiencies in agencies and programs while saving money for the state at the same time. It's a win-win situation for all!