By Tony Hutchison, Senior Staff Associate, Fiscal Affairs Program, 1987
The National Association of Legislative Fiscal Offices was formed to serve as the professional organization for the staff directors of Legislative Budget and Finance Offices in the fifty states. Its purposes are to foster and improve the general quality of legislative fiscal staff assistance to state legislatures. The association provides training programs to fiscal staff and promotes the professional image of the association's membership. Additionally, the association aids the interaction and information exchange among association members on a national and regional basis.
NALFO was an outgrowth of another organization, the Western States Legislative Fiscal Officers Association (WSLFOA), according to long time NALFO member and former NCSL Staff Chairman, Dale Cattanach of Wisconsin. WSLFOA was formed in 1967 in Phoenix, Arizona to provide a forum for the exchange of ideas between Western Fiscal Officers.
Fiscal Officers from several western states participated in the creation of WSLFOA. These included Maralyn Budke of New Mexico, Joe Kyle of Colorado, Tom Keel of Texas, and Leo Memmott of Utah. This organization was run informally with each president of the organization providing the staff and secretarial support during his or her term of office.
Over the next few years the annual meeting of the WSLFOA association were attended by fiscal officers from the Midwest region and these fiscal officers decided to create a Midwestern Legislative Fiscal Officers Association. These members included Eugene Farnum of Michigan and Dale Cattanach of Wisconsin.
During this same period a group of fiscal officers from the northeastern part of the country began to meet to discuss problems common to their profession. This group was known as the Association of New England Fiscal Officers. Al Roberts, then director of the New York State Assembly Ways & Means Committee staff and an early NALFO participant, was active in this group.
Development of a regional organization of legislative fiscal officers in the southern states grew along different lines. Traditionally, the southern fiscal officers have met as a group with the Fiscal Affairs and Government Operations group of the Southern Legislative Conference. This group differs significantly from the other regional organizations in that it is a group that consists of both staff members and legislators.
Creation of a National Organization
By 1975 each of these groups was becoming aware of the others' existence and there was a move to create a national organization for legislative fiscal officers with regional sub-units. The Western Association was instrumental in this merger and many of NALFO's organizational characteristics were drawn from WSLFOA.
On September 21, 1976, at NCSL's Annual Meeting in Kansas City , Missouri, formal discussions about the creation of a national legislative fiscal officer's organization took place. Dale Cattanach, fiscal officer from Wisconsin, presided over that meeting.
Discussions centered around several issues. Should a national organization be created? Should such an organization be formally affiliated with the National Conference of State Legislatures as a staff section? What relationship would the regional organizations have to the new national organization? And should the national organization be involved in taking positions on public policy?
Most participants were in agreement on the first issue of whether a national organization should be formed. Some participants such as Jim Oliver of Texas, however, felt that formal creation of a national organization was unnecessary. Mr. Oliver stated that he and the director of the Legislative Budget Board in Texas, Tom Keel, felt that the fiscal officer's relationship with NCSL was sufficient to insure adequate training and information exchange.
Although this opinion was in the minority it was indicative of the feeling of several participants that the regional organizations remain strong and autonomous. So while the majority favored the creation of a national organization, the nature of such an organization was still an issue.
Some participants, such as Ralph Caruso of Connecticut, supported the concept of a national organization only if it was affiliated with NCSL. There was significant support for this idea at the meeting. Among the arguments for affiliating with NCSL were:
- Members of the regional organizations had found information exchanges valuable and they began to see the value of a national organization to facilitate such exchanges.
- Many members of NALFO saw that NCSL would grow and that NALFO would become an important cog in the NCSL staff sections.
- Members also recognized there was strength in numbers in dealing with federal government. A national legislative fiscal officer association would have more impact in getting information from federal sources.
Leo Memmott, fiscal officer from Utah, spoke for the creation of an organization which would give fiscal officers a role in NCSL but preserve the regional organizations. Several other fiscal officers concurred with this statement. Mr. Memmott also stated that by affiliating with NCSL, fiscal officers would have a voice strengthening programs on tax and budget issues at the Annual Meeting and in designing training programs for fiscal staff.
Those in favor of affiliating with NCSL were able to persuade the other members that the resources and status of NCSL would be a benefit to NALFO. A year later in 1977 when the NALFO by laws were drafted, NCSL was named as the secretariat to NALFO. NCSL has continued to provide secretarial and staff support to NALFO since that time.
Another issue was the relationships of the regional organizations to the national organization and the missions of each. Albert Roberts of New York made the argument that if NALFO was created, it should remain a loose confederation and not a highly structured group. He also made the point that it should not speak as a group on policy issues.
Several other participants at the meeting such as Joe Kyle, who by this time had moved from the Colorado Joint Budget Committee to the Florida House and Maralyn Budke of New Mexico agreed that there was a need for a national organization, but concerned with previous speakers that NALFO should be structured to keep the regional organizations as strong and integral parts of the organization and that the new organization should not function as a policy group.
Following this discussion there was general consensus that NALFO should not be a policy group and that the regional organizations should be preserved and remain an integral part of the national organization.
After this discussion meeting participants took a vote on creating a national organization of legislative fiscal officers which conformed to three criteria:
- The association would not be a policy group;
- It would operate with NCSL;
- There would no dues paid.
By a show of hands, the creation of NALFO was approved by a vote of 18 to 1.
Participants elected Maralyn Budke of New Mexico chair of the new organization. Al Roberts of New York was elected vice-chair and Gerry Rankin of Iowa was elected secretary. The consensus of the group was that the presidents of the four regional associations along with the three officers would act as an executive committee.
NALFO Program and Activities
Training was another issue of NALFO in its early years. Albert Roberts of New York, Eugene Schlatter of Washington, and Richard Sheridan of Ohio were instrumental in early training efforts. Over the years NALFO established training programs for both junior and senior staff members of legislative fiscal offices. In the mid- to late seventies, training topics ranged from corrections finance to K-12 education finance.
As NALFO has grown so has the scope of its programs and activities. While many NALFO meetings retain a social and collegial atmosphere, the formal structure and contents of its programs have been improved. The NALFO staff section programs at the NCSL annual meetings have been strengthened in terms of speakers, program material, and participants.
In the 1980s NALFO training has included the establishment of a skills development component for new fiscal office personnel. This training component has focused on using a case study method to teach analytic skills and budget techniques to fiscal office staff who have 1-2 years experience in the legislative environment. A separate training seminar for more veteran fiscal analysts has been strengthened in recent years. This program, which has traditionally been held in a resort setting, has had a dramatically increased attendance in the mid-1980s. Prominent outside speakers in the fields of investment banking, prison, school and transportation finance, as well as experts in the areas of state economic development and tax issues have contributed to the Senior Fiscal Analysts Seminar. But the real strength of this seminar is the roundtable discussion among the analysts from various states who get a chance to exchange ideas and compare techniques.
Other programs for NALFO members and their staffs also have grown. The NCSL Annual Meeting and the Assembly on State Issues meetings provide forums for both substantive policy discussions, business meetings, and meetings of various other NALFO Committees.
In recent years the NALFO committee system also has been strengthened as well as the role of the NALFO Executive Committee. Additionally, NALFO has been included as an advisor to NCSL's Assembly on Federal Issues on federal budget matters.
NALFO still has many organizational challenges ahead but its brief history indicates that is also has a great deal of potential.
Note: The National Association of Legislative Fiscal Offices was formerly known as the National Association of Legislative Fiscal Officers. The association changed its name in 1998.
Several people were instrumental in helping to complete this project. Dennis Prouty of Iowa coordinated the effort, Ron Crisman of Vermont, (then) President of NALFO, helped push it along, and numerous fiscal officers, past and present, provided information including:
- Dale Cattanach, Wisconsin
- Marylyn Budke, New Mexico
- Tom Keel, Texas
- Jim Oliver, Texas
- Leo Memmott, Utah
- Eugene Schlatter, Washington
- Charles Connor, New Hampshire
Special thanks to John Andreason of Idaho, who not only provided information for this project, but who has also provided enormous support for NALFO activities throughout his tenure as NCSL staff chair.