Why is it empty?
In 1973, the lege created the Legislative Fiscal Office (“LFO”) to provide independent analysis and advice to the lege on state fiscal matters. Prior to 1974, the only source of such information came from the governor’s budget office. Lacking necessary budgetary information, the lege was completely dominated by the governor’s budget staff.
In 1975, the office was staffed. Immediately, it began leveling the playing field between the governor and the lege. The state budget officer viewed the LFO as the “enemy.” No longer could he get away with shooting from the lip. He had to be prepared because the LFO staff went toe-to-toe, dollar for dollar, on every agency budget.
As the lege became more knowledgeable about state fiscal matters, they became more independent. For decades the leges stood strong behind the LFO.
Current leges say they want to be independent, but thats lip-service. Thats impossible without information on the budget. Governors don’t like independent leges and have worked to undermine the LFO.
Beginning with Governor Mike Foster the office was significantly weakened by replacing a knowledgeable, no-nonsense, individual with one willing to do the governor’s bidding.
On July 16, 2012, it was announced that on August 9, 2012, Gordon Monk, the then-Lege Fiscal Officer (LFO) was retiring. That was the nail in the coffin for the LFO and for lege independence.
Members of the Senate Finance and House Appropriations Committees held interviews to fill the post. Almost three years later the leges have failed to elect someone as the LFO.
A former lege staffer remains as the “temporary LFO.”
However, two lege sessions (and almost a third) have come and gone with the leges failing to elect or even conduct more interviews for a LFO as required by law.
State law requires there to be a Legislative Fiscal Officer elected by a majority of the elected members of both the House and Senate. They can also only be removed by a majority of both. That provided some level of independence and thus objectivity for the office. See law here.
Why neuter the LFO?
The only conclusion one can draw by the leges failure to act is to intentionally neuter the LFO. The temporary appointee was selected by a majority of Joint Legislative Budget Committee. A permanent LFO must be approved by a majority of the elected members of both the House and Senate and can only be removed by a majority of both.
The temporary LFO is under the domination of a small handful of leges who can remove him at any time by a majority of them. That means the governor via his lege floor leaders control all the fiscal information available to the leges to make budgetary decisions.
Evidence of the neutering of the LFO is clearly seen in the fiscal chaos we have had for the last 6 years. The leges have finally admitted they have no plan to deal with the $1.8 Billion deficit and have called in the “punt team” to kick the matter down the road to the next governor and lege.
Most current leges don’t know the purpose of the LFO. The few veterans that do are part of the effort to limit it because they know how influential it could be.
It’s time to either return the LFO as it was intended or eliminate it. Currently, it is toothless, redundant (with lege committee staffs) and a waste of taxpayer dollars.
“King of Subversive Bloggers” – James Gill