Under the Dome

Art Pope's committee visit shows path zero-based budgeting will take

So, a House judiciary subcommittee was minding its own business Wednesday, working through a calendar of unremarkable bills, when Art Pope slipped into the room.

Pope, one of the most potent political figures in the state who also happens to be the budget director, quietly took an empty seat off to the side.

That prompted committee chairman Rep. John Blust, a Greensboro Republican, to move up his own bill from last on the agenda to accommodate Pope. Blust’s HB984 is the latest version of his longtime effort to move the state to zero-based budgeting, which requires department heads to justify everything in their budgets every year, rather than justify only deviations from the baseline budget year to year.

Pope told the committee he supports the concept, but suggested the executive branch take the first step toward that goal, with the legislature weighing in afterward. Pope said he’d like to see two state departments – Administration and Secretary of State – be the first to convert as sort of pilot projects.

Pope said he’d be open to other considerations if the Appropriations Committee has other ideas. The bill was approved and heads to that committee next.

Blust was amenable to Pope’s "suggestions" -- if we can call them that. “I want to work with the people who will make this happen,” Blust said.

It would require the governor to begin implementing zero-based budgeting beginning July 2015 and phase it in over four fiscal years. The entire state budget would be converted for the 2019-20 fiscal year.

Each department head would be required to present budget requests as if they were doing it for the first time every year, including facts and explanations for each item requested.

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