Lawmakers flunk 'smart' budget

By Ashley Conroy

Jackson, MS -- A bipartisan effort to change the way state agencies handle their budgets died in the Legislature this year.

It was created by the Commission for a New Mississippi, and called the "Smart Budget Act." It outlines a performance-based budgeting model for state agencies.

The way the current system works is that agencies present their budgets to the House and Senate Budget Committee every year where they often ask for additional funds in areas they say are needed.

Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant says that agencies often lack a reason as to why. "It would be as if you got on an airplane and the pilot took off, and the pilot took off and said, 'well I'm not sure where we're going, but we're making pretty good time.'"

This initiative would ask that agencies come up with a strategic plan to outline their future needs. In addition, it would ask for more accountability from agencies as to where their dollars are being spent.

Commission member Andy Taggart works in the private sector and says this model would also mirror the way parts of the private industry works.

"Private business has to work more efficiently and sometimes that means removing itself from certain lines of business and sometimes it means closing in office in some particular area."

House Budget Committee member Rep. Cecil Brown says the committee decided not to address the effort this year because of the current budget crisis.

"The feeling was that because there was so much going on with the budget, so many moving parts and so many unknowns that in terms of how this would impact state agencies and state government going forward." Brown added, "And because we had this big budget crisis right now this was not the time to be making major changes in the system."

Lt. Gov. Bryant disagrees and says this initiative could be a chance for Mississippi to change the way it handles business.

"We have to make sure we know what we're trying to achieve and we're just not out there wondering through a budget system that is political in nature and not outcome based."