January 9th is a highly anticipated day for state budget wonks and policy nerds. It’s the day Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter releases his budget proposal for the 2013 fiscal year. The governor recommended spending about $2.5 billion general fund dollars for basic services like education, health care and corrections during the current budget year, FY12. The legislature ended up spending more than $2.8 billion. (You can see the breakdown of expenditures here).
Gov. Otter didn’t want to discuss the specifics of his 2013 budget proposal in advance, but we asked him about the budgeting process and how he approaches it.Click play to watch the video segment:
The governor has said leaner state government should be the new normal. That was the title of a recent op-ed he distributed to media. He also tried to temper expectations when he distributed this letter to members of his cabinet, saying reported budget surpluses are unlikely, so don’t get your spending hopes up.
“The worst thing you can do in government, the worst thing you can do in a company, is tell an agency or a department, you’ve got a $1 million to spend for next year. And then have to go back half way through the year and say oops, you’ve only got $800,000,” Otter says. “So I’d rather be very cautious about over estimating the income or the budget they’re going to have so I don’t have to have a hold back.”
Q: So going into this session, it sounds like you’re trying to maintain, budget wise?
A: I feel comfortable telling them the budget I’m going to present them on Jan 9th is the budget they can count on for the year, and maybe if things work out, maybe a little more. But, as of Jan 9th, here is the money you can count on and hopefully you can take that to the bank.
Q: What are your budget priories?
A: Well, we had an agreement in the legislature, which is a reflection of what we did with the surplus this year. And that was the last money we took out of the budgets was from K-12, community colleges and higher education. And the first money we are going to replace as revenue allows us, are in those last places we took the money out. Hence, about two-thirds or three-quarters of the money from the surplus, went to back-fill those areas we had to cut in education.
Q: Education is your first priority, what about 2nd and 3rd priorities?
A: Higher education, obviously. We’re seeing some substantial growth in Medicaid and our cost of delivering health services to folks who need them. Looking at the revenues, I haven’t been able to look much past [priorities] one and a half instead of two, three or four. There are plenty of places to spend money. And I can tell you that when the thought was out there that everything was looking pretty good, unemployment was starting to drift downward finally, and there was a suggestion there we’d have $150-$200 million in surplus next year. We had probably a billion and a half chasing that in new requests. Not to say they aren’t legitimate, but we have to do what we can afford.