by Sarah Curry
Director of Fiscal Policy Studies
Policy changes are frequently included in the budget, and this year was no different. One of the more important items was a modification to the way the state budget is created. Historically the state’s budget development began with a continuation budget, which is a series of estimates of the amounts necessary to continue the same level of services in the next biennium as provided in the current fiscal year.1 This figure has caused confusion during the budget process, because some commentators and analysts characterize it as a baseline to show increased or decreased spending for an agency. The continuation budget figure was never an actual spending figure but only a calculation used for the budgeting process. Beginning in the 2015-17 biennium, the starting point for budgets will be the base budget,2 a more realistic starting point for budget writers because it represents actual spending figures from the prior year rather than arbitrary calculations and agency wish lists.
This change to the budgeting process should make comparisons from year to year easier and less confusing for budget writers, analysts, and citizens alike. It will also make political manipulation of the budget process more difficult.