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Budget process is promising, except for the secrecy

 

Dozens of volunteers will help shape Oregon’s next budget, building a 10-year plan based on desired outcomes instead of cuts and furloughs. Sounds good.

Those volunteers, however, will work in secret. We won’t even know who they are. Not so good.

The new approach is called outcome-based or performance-based budgeting. It’s gaining a following, according to a report in the Salem Statesman Journal, as governments across the nation try to cope with limited tax dollars.

In Oregon, the volunteers are organized into six teams: education, economy and jobs, health, environment, safety and overall government.

The idea is to focus first on what the state wants to accomplish and then evaluate programs and resources to set priorities.

Those priorities are expected to influence the 2013-15 budget Gov. John Kitzhaber will present to the Legislature.

Michael Jordan — the governor’s chief operating officer — told the Journal there was “energetic argument” about how open to make the process, but they opted for secrecy because they were “trying to get them to do a pretty intense amount of work in a relatively short period of time.” He said the volunteers will meet with state agencies to determine what works best, but are not themselves part of state agencies or related nonprofits.

There’s lots to like in this new approach to budgeting.

Judging agencies and their programs against desired outcomes can help assure money is spent where it will be most effective. Using knowledgeable volunteers should allow much more detailed evaluations and therefore better choices.

The secrecy, however, is troubling. We should know the backgrounds and interests of the volunteers. We should know what outcomes they are using to judge programs. We should know the issues they consider as they reach their conclusions. Making that information public and opening the volunteer team meetings need not slow their progress.

Once again — as in the selection of his new education chief — Kitzhaber has decided to exclude the public from its own business. That does not inspire confidence in the end result.

— Wescom News Service (The Bnd Bulletin)

 

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