Ohio law required that Governor Kasich submit to the General Assembly his budget by March 15th, 2011. Technically, Kasich complied with the law in the narrowest sense of the term. But Kasich’s budget is still largely a mystery to most seasoned budget watchers for one simple reason.
Last Tuesday, Kasich introduced four volumes of his “Blue Book” called:
- The Executive Budget
- The Tax Expenditure Report
- The Budget Summary
- The “Savings” Book
The first three is what is actually required by State law. The “Savings” Book is nothing but Administration propaganda to highlight certain cuts in spending. For over a week, the Administration has been promising a fifth book titled The Reforms Book would be “coming soon.” It, too, is not required by law but is just a self-promotional tool for Kasich to highlight an area of his budget he wishes to promote.
However, a legislature cannot vote up or down a book. Legislatures pass bills, not books created by the Executive Branch with an eye towards political marketing. At some point the Blue Books that make up Kasich’s budget must be made into legislative language. The House even has a placeholder bill ready for it, HB 153. One week later, and we still only have a placeholder bill, and no legislative language. This is highly unusual if not out right unprecedented. Although the legislative language for Strickland’s first budget was delayed, it was not delayed this long. Furthermore, Kasich’s budget director has held the post before. He, unlike Strickland, has no excuse for this delay.
And this isn’t just a technicality. It’s a substantive problem. Think of the Blue Books as being the “concept car” of a budget. It’s where design and marketing take precedence over practicality and engineering. The legislative drafting is when the budget really exists as a functioning document and where its claims can be tested objectively.
You know how they say the “devil is in the details?” Well, we’ve only been able to examine Kasich’s budget based on the promotional materials he’s put out. Many of these issues and others we may not yet have realized can be determined by looking at the statutory language. For example, Kasich’s budget doesn’t identify any revenues for leasing the turnpike. Therefore, many observers concluded that Kasich must have abandoned the idea. But as today’s Dispatch indicates, Kasich apparently believes his budget will give him the authority to lease the Turnpike.
Since you can’t really find it in his Blue Books, Kasich must be assuming that it’ll be in the statutory language. Ordinarily by now, we’d know what that language is, what conditions, if any, the budget places on Kasich’s authority to enter the State into a lease that exceeds his term, but creates one-time money during his budget, and what process must Kasich use to attempt to lease it out. None of these questions are answered because we don’t have the statutory language.
Take Kasich’s cuts in K-12 education. By now, we should have from the Administration a document that gives a school district by school district projection of the fiscal impact of the budget. We don’t.
We don’t even have the errata sheet for the budget documents Kasich has released. It, too, is “Coming Soon!”
We’ve had a week of House Finance Committee hearings on a budget in which the Committee has yet to get any statutory language to examine. It’s left budget watchers like the Ohio School Boards Association scrambling to explain to school districts what Kasich’s budget does, but only in tentative, broad strokes because, again, the information usually available by now still isn’t, as our own Budget Watch site recently reported.
Maybe it’s paranoia, but what concerns me about this is that the Kasich Administration seems focused on doing two things: 1) delaying the release of the statutory language of the budget and their own school district by district projections; and 2) working the Ohio media to create a conventional wisdom that Kasich’s budget is reasonable and a good thing for Ohio. It has all the marking of a shady car dealer who doesn’t want you to know what he’s really selling you.
Sadly, while all of Ohio’s newspapers have written very qualified, mixed praise for Kasich’s budget, it’s still been premature. And it is evidence that there are some people who will advocate others to buy an untested concept car without ever checking under the hood to see if it even has an engine.