Members of the committee that examines the state’s budget are about halfway through hearing from state departments. Tuesday legislators looking at next year’s state budget hear from the departments of Human Services and Health.
The Joint Appropriations Committee is scrutinizing the budgets of different departments statewide. State senators and representatives on appropriations spend the entire legislative session determining which programs and personnel get taxpayer dollars.
House Bill 1208 details the state’s budget from July 1, 2015 to June 30, 2016. Republican Representative Justin Cronin chairs the committee that approves or changes funding provided in that bill. Cronin says HB 1208 is unlike any other piece of legislation: it has little explanation or justification.
"And this is all just one big bill with numbers, and it’s very complicated to understand that bill as it sits, you know, when you look it up online. All it is is numbers," Cronin says.
Cronin says members of the joint appropriations committee juggle other bills while consistently considering the main budget measure.
"We’re kind of in our own little world on Appropriations. There are 18 members of that committee, and we don’t really get to see that many people during session," Cronin says. "But the last two weeks of session – probably more likely the last four days – every single person wants to be an appropriator. So it’s hard to sit there and go through all of these things and try to regurgitate all of the information that we have."
Cronin says that information comes from marathon four-hour hearings from state departments that the panel holds throughout the session. He says lawmakers don’t have the time or resources to create their own budgets.
"We don’t have the manpower, nor do we have the amount of time, to build our own budget. So what we do is we take the governor’s budget recommendation, and it’s just a plan. He always says that. ‘It’s just a plan, not the plan, but this is what I would like to see done.’ And so we take that and then work off of his budget," Cronin says.
The joint appropriations committee holds hearings throughout the legislative session to determine which tax dollars go where. The process is slow and painstaking. Cronin says the system can be frustrating for the public, and it challenges lawmakers, too.