By Erica Mackeller
Lawmakers consider hundreds of bills each session on a wide variety of policy topics. However, there is only one task the legislature must complete each year or biennium—pass a state budget.
Legislative fiscal staff are instrumental in making the difficult task of drafting a state budget possible.
Budgets are long and complicated, and members can’t know every line-item, program or nuance. Legislative fiscal analysts are usually assigned to certain agencies and policy areas, and they analyze budget requests and develop in-depth knowledge of their program areas in order to assist policymakers.
As they allocate billions in funds for state programs, the insight of legislative fiscal staff can help legislators have confidence that their decisions are using a state’s limited resources wisely.
“As legislators, we have an obligation to our citizens to make smart budgeting decisions, and I always appreciate the tremendous work of our legislative fiscal staff in assisting with that responsibility. The knowledge and expertise they provide is invaluable in helping us make informed decisions," said Representative Cameron Henry (R), chair of the House Appropriations Committee in Louisiana.
Time is of the essence when it comes to passing a budget. A majority of states begin their fiscal year on July 1 each year. New York begins its fiscal year on April 1, Texas’ fiscal year begins on Sept. 1, and Alabama and Michigan begin theirs on Oct. 1. States must have a budget in place by these deadlines, or they could face government shutdown.
Many states, however, have an even shorter period of time to enact their budgets if they want to avoid a special session.
New Mexico, for example, meets for just one month each year, and four legislatures only meet every other year. Legislative fiscal staff work hard behind the scenes months before legislators return to the capitol so budget decisions can be made in a timely and efficiently.
As of May 14, 33 states have enacted their fiscal year 2019 budgets. Sixteen of those states enacted a biennial budget during their 2017 legislative session. The rest of the states and Washington, D.C., are still working to craft a spending plan—with the help of many dedicated legislative staff.
Erica MacKeller is a senior policy specialist in NCSL's Fiscal program.