The wave of Priority Based Budgeting is coming

As a former local gov. staffer in NC and a degree holder in public administration, I can hardly contain my excitement at the prospect of priority based budgeting taking root here in Ohio.

That may sound like peak nerdery, but let me explain why.

Ever wonder where and why your county or city spent money in the department it did? Ever ask why so much of our budgets go to police and fire and so little goes to park maintenance? If you have ever had that discussion, your day in court may be coming.

Throughout our state (Toledo, Cincinnati, the Governor’s office) priority based principles are coming to the forefront in the budgeting process. Some may say, how is this any different than in years passed? Haven’t we always given budget dollars to the programs we wanted to see thrive? Yes and no. Have we ever given budget dollars from out of a pool and completely defunded or nuked a department that wasn’t identified by the citizens as being critical? I would say to that, no. In a PBB system the citizenry is highly active during the budget process and speaks via survey, public statements, etc. to inform the elected officials which programs should be built or expanded and which need to go the way of the dodo.

To better illustrate, consider these statements from the City of Toledo budget office

Prioritize Services: Evaluate the relative importance of individual programs and services rather than entire departments.

Do the Important Things Well: In a time of revenue decline, a traditional budget process often attempts to continue funding all the same programs it funded last year, although at a reduced level. The priority-driven budgeting process identifies the services that offer the highest value and continues to provide funding for them, while reducing or looking for efficiencies in lower value service areas.

Question Past Patterns of Spending: An incremental budget process does not seriously question the spending decisions made in years past. The priority-driven budget process puts all the money on the table to encourage more creative conversations about services.

Spend within the Organization’s Means: Priority Based Budgeting starts with the revenue available to the government, rather than last year’s expenditures, as the basis for decision making.

Know the True Cost of Doing Business: Focusing on the full costs of programs ensures that funding decisions are based on the true cost of providing a service.

Provide Transparency of Community Priorities: When budget decisions are based on a well-defined set of community priorities, the government’s aims are not left open to interpretation.

Provide Transparency of Service Impact: In traditional budgets, it is often not entirely clear how funded services make a real difference in the lives of citizens. Under priority-driven budgeting, the focus is on the results the service produces for achieving community priorities.

Demand Accountability for Results: Traditional budgets focus on accountability for staying within spending limits. Beyond this, priority-based budgeting demands accountability for results that were the basis for a service’s budget allocation.

For anyone in our community, the possibility of this type of process coming to our community should excite. If you like libraries and think our county spends too much on the jail system, you can encourage more library spending. If you are mildly upset with the number of purchases by our law enforcement agencies, and believe a parks program would better suit our community, you are free to do so. Transparency is music to the libertarian ears and our left leaning citizens are encouraged by an opportunity to truly appropriate funds to programs long ignored.

The Port Authority also relishes an opportunity to take part in a Priority Based Budgeting process. I speak regularly with citizens who would like to see more business growth and would like to see funds directed toward utility extension and land programming for business parks. SO WOULD WE.  PBB offers a chance to impart your hopes and desires into the story of our community.

We are hopeful the wave of Priority Based Budgeting methods arrives on our shores.