Here’s a not-so-secret but still shocking fact. Many elected officials do not possess even a basic, high-level comprehension of the budget over which they have been assigned stewardship.
I have often spoken in favor of term limits. It’s a healthy process for new and energetic elected officials to replace those who have become acclimated to the status quo.
Last year I observed one of these new officials make a difference simply because he asked very basic but important questions which challenged a key pillar of the very inefficient status quo.
As the newly elected official met with his constituency, he faced questions about Oklahoma’s education budget. He wanted to honestly answer these questions but determined that the education budget documents routinely shown to most legislators aren’t in fact reflective of the actual budget. Instead the legislative documents simply detail the amount of money appropriated each year by the Legislature. This reflects only a fraction of actual state government spend.
The new legislator wasn’t content to just see the appropriated dollars. In order to answer the constituents’ questions he needed to see the entire budget. That’s when he exposed what has for many years been an unfortunate status quo: the entire budget for state agencies isn’t readily accessible to the public and is rarely requested by most legislators.
The new legislator subsequently sponsored one of our most important modernization initiatives of this year. He proposed that each budget document should be placed online through one of our most successful transparency projects: the state’s omnibus government documents transparency portal located at documents.ok.gov.
Our modernization committee approved the proposal; however, it became unnecessary to advance the legislation beyond this point as our transparency allies within the state’s Office of Management and Enterprise Services – OMES – had taken note of the idea and proactively posted the budgets of the largest state agencies at documents.ok.gov. This avoided the need for writing a new law while still accomplishing the goal of transparency.
Better still, this is just the tip of the iceberg. At this moment, OMES is implementing a new statewide budgeting system – known as Project Encore – which should allow for real time public access and purview to all state agency budgets as just one of numerous other advantages which I look forward to describing in a future article.
You may view the budgets of Oklahoma’s largest agencies by navigating to hd31.org/643.
Additionally, I strongly advocate the complete reshaping of the process by which the Legislature appropriates funds. The Legislature must transition to a system by which all state spending is examined. It’s an absolute indictment of the current system that it takes a freshman representative to expose the lack of budget purview exercised by Oklahoma lawmakers. The advancement of technology will provide the tools by which legislators can finally attempt to exercise proper budget oversight.