New Legislation Would Add Greater Transparency to Mid-Year Budget Changes

January 13th, 2010 | by Jenny Reed

A lot of people might think that once the DC Council passes the budget in the spring, it doesn’t change all that much during the year.  The budget, after all, is the result of months of hearings, debates, and advocacy around what the Districts priorities should be.

How wrong they are.  In 2009 alone, almost $700 million in changes were made during the year to the approved budgets of numerous agencies.  Changes to the budget aren’t unheard of, or necessarily bad, but in DC they have been pretty un-transparent.  As a result of this, the DC Council has introduced a bill to make the process clearer.  DCFPI testified at the bill’s hearing yesterday on the importance of improving the transparency of these budget changes. 

The Mayor can make changes to the budget through “reprogrammings” — changes that move money from one purpose to another — and through “intra-district transfers” — changes that move funding from one agency to another but that are intended to serve the same purpose.  It is important to allow the Mayor the flexibility to make changes. After all, emergencies arise and costs can change.  Nevertheless, all changes should be made visible to the public and substantial changes should have a review process before the Council.

The Council’s bill would address this by lowering the threshold for reprogrammings that need to come to the Council for review — from $1 million to $500,000 — and by adding Council review of intra-district transfers over $500,000.  The bill would also require the CFO’s office to issue a quarterly report summarizing any changes made to the budget over $50,000.  These are important steps that can help make the budget more transparent throughout the year. 

DCFPI’s testimony also included suggestions for making this information more transparent and accessible to the public such as adding a summary of the purpose of the funds being moved and placing all of the detailed requests online.  These changes can help the public locate and understand when changes to the budget are being made and allows them the opportunity to weigh in on the use of taxpayer dollars.

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