I Like Parks

I like parks

The Legislature makes the law, the Executive implements law, and the Judicial interprets the law. This is simplistic, but important.  The President can’t make law and while the office can (and does) issue executive orders, these should not encompass the promulgation of new law, or expand current law [the fact that executive order has been successful in creating law shows the lack of diligence and integrity by all three branches of government]. The Legislature is also the branch of government which sets appropriations. They control the money.  The President has no appropriation control. The Legislature has 535 members, 435 house members and 100 senate members.

Four hundred people can change the direction of this country.

When the Legislature appropriates money, it can do so in a variety of fashions.  It can appropriate a lump sum of money for a whole program.  This program may involve thousands of employees and billions of dollars.  In this case, the Executive Branch has maximum flexibility to “manage” this program within the parameters of established law.  The Executive Branch makes the management decisions surrounding a program.  In other situations, the Legislature can appropriate money through a “line item” appropriation thereby controlling where money is spent and for what purpose. Why does it matter?

Years ago, in a not so mythical land not so far away, General Fund revenues were coming in below estimates forcing mid year budget reductions. A recommendation was made to reduce the Parks and Recreation Budget.  The Parks management was unhappy with the proposed cuts and offered a solution which included closing one of the most visited urban parks.  By closing this park, it would involve fewer disruptions to the overall Park system. At least, this was its argument.  Its unspoken hope was it would cause their constituency to be outraged and contact their local Legislator and complain.  It worked like magic and calls flooded in.

Discussion went back and forth and various solutions tendered but no resolution was mutually palatable. The Parks strategy had worked. The Legislature wanted all the parks kept open, so the recommendation was to take the Parks budget from a lump sum appropriation to a line item appropriation.  A line item appropriation for EACH park AND each spending category would be put into place, thereby ensuring all parks would stay open to the public. The Parks people were not happy as this would significantly restrict budget flexibility. However, it did guarantee the Legislature the heavily visited urban park would stay open and cuts would be achieved through other mechanisms.  In the end, magically, the Parks department found a way to achieve the original proposed reductions and avoid a line item budget. It is significantly more work for all involved and certainly less efficient, but the Legislature can ensure money is spent where they want it. The legislature establishes law, provides appropriations and can set Draconian (or Laissez-faire) direction as to how it will be allocated and/or spent. Don’t let people tell you any different. It may require a law change or other action, but they can reign in bureaucracy if they choose.

Categorized as Policy

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