Thursday, November 19, 2009

Beware unintended consequences

Delegate Lacey Putney (I-19th District) is chair of the House Appropriations Committee. He has a suggestion for the upcoming session of the General Assembly, an intermission of sorts:
The possibility of coming into session, maybe recessing, let the members go back, except the money committees working on the budget, in order to give us time to see what they're going to do in Washington.
Putney's idea was hatched as the Appropriations Committee considers a $77 billion budget amid uncertainties over healthcare reform in Washington, D.C. Depending on if and what kind of bill is passed could have direct impact on the Commonwealth's budget. So a pause for more up-to-date information makes sense from the perspective of Richmond.
But, beware of the unintended consequence of passing an interrupted timeline on the local governments and school boards. Typically, city councils, boards of supervisors, and school boards are deeply immersed in their own budget writing after the first of the year, a process that continues well into spring with required steps including public hearings. School boards are supposed to submit budgets to city councils and boards of supervisors by April 1. Since the General Assembly is developing the state budget during January and February, school boards always find themselves working with estimates of state funding rather than hard numbers that are available only after the House and Senate reconcile a budget at the very end of the session.
Putney's idea would indeed buy time for Richmond budget writers to factor in the ramifications of actions in D.C. But, if the General Assembly recesses for an extended period of time it will place greater uncertainty (above and beyond expected budget cuts) and and time constraints on local budget deliberations. Obviously, there are ways to work around these issues, if the General Assembly decides that a "Putney recess" is in order. Now is the time to think about dealing with possible unintended consequences that could get passed on to local officials. Like an unfunded mandate?

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