Lawmakers Floating Stringent Budgeting Bill To Save Money

Nov 29, 2017

Several Republican state senators plan to introduce legislation that would require Pennsylvania to use zero-based budgeting—a standard specifically designed to save money.

The idea comes from lawmakers’ annual, unsuccessful struggles to balance the commonwealth’s books.

However, other states that have attempted to use the method have often opted not to stick with it.

Zero-based budgeting basically requires a rotating percentage of state agencies to re-justify all their operations and expenses every five years, and estimate the minimum amount of money they need to continue them.

The author of the new measure, York County Republican Scott Wagner, said he’s taking cues from the private sector.

“I’m more interested in, how’s a company like Exxon that’s $300 billion—how are they doing it?” he said.

Wagner, who is running for governor, said he hasn’t checked how zero-based budgeting has worked in other states.

But Erica MacKellar, a senior policy specialist with the National Conference of State Legislatures, said a number have tried it since the great recession, and have typically found it took up too many resources. 

“Florida and Oklahoma are some of the first states to look at doing periodic reviews,” he said. “It’s still certainly time-consuming for staff, and I don’t believe Florida or Oklahoma still does it.”

She added, “more states right now are using some form of performance-based budgeting, or results-based budgeting.”

Pennsylvania already passed a performance-based budgeting standard this year.

It created an independent board that will approve plans in collaboration with the Independent Fiscal Office.