The problem with a pure zero-based budgeting philosophy is that it focuses on the wrong end of the budget process – the beginning. I can tell you after eight years of developing budgets, five of which have been smaller than the year before, that the starting point is not nearly as important as the finish line.
My administration has taken an approach that is similar to zero-based budgeting that I believe is even more in-depth. The state budget used to be almost like an Easter egg hunt. An agency would receive appropriations for administration, travel, technology and other broad spending categories. Looking at a budget like that, you could not see the programs an agency is providing, and how much each program receives. We have instead taken a programmatic approach to the budget. My first year in office, I asked each agency to list every program they provided in order of importance. Maybe it’s my small business background, but that seems like the first thing any business, government or family should do before even trying to put a budget together, asking themselves what kind of value they are receiving from the dollars they spend.
With that task accomplished, we spent literally hundreds of hours in budget meetings requiring agencies to justify each and every program and cost. Every year my budget team and I go through the exact same process and ask a couple of basic, core questions: Is this something government should be doing? Can someone else do this better and more efficiently than state government?
This is the process we have used to cut the budget by more than $3.5 billion. We have the same number of state employees as we did in 2000, even though there are 1.7 million more Georgians to serve. Our budget this year is comparable to what our budget was back in 2005. In fact, I invite you to follow this link — http://newgeorgia.org/newsletters/GPP%20Summary.pdf – where on page 4 you will see our per capita spending is ranked 49th in the nation.
While Senate Bill 1 would have implemented a process somewhat similar to true zero-based budgeting, it did not eliminate our current budget process. The result of this would have been the development of two budgets, taking double the time and using double the staff, actually increasing the size of government rather than decreasing it.