Issue Position: State Government Reform - Bev Perdue's "BRAC-Budget Reform"
Using the BRAC Military Model to Jump-Start Budget Reform
It is clear that North Carolina faces numerous and growing fiscal challenges as our state progresses into the 21st century.
In order to address these challenges, Bev Perdue believes that North Carolina must develop new and more activist budget policy tools. Without such policy innovations, the state's leaders will find it increasingly more difficult to take such critical steps as making affordable health care available to all North Carolinians, keeping pace with our state's school construction needs, and repairing as well as revitalizing our transportation infrastructure.
That is why Bev has proposed a major change to our state's budget process that she has dubbed "BRAC Budget Reform."
Bev had the challenging experience of leading North Carolina's effort in the most recent round of the military's BRAC (Base Realignment and Closure) process. Due to the competitive economic times, every state with a military presence fought hard to prevent or minimize its losses. Bev's effort went beyond making a persuasive case on the merits that our bases should not lose personnel. We actually won big with the addition of Army Forces Command to Ft. Bragg - which is like adding a Fortune 500 headquarters.
In the glare of public attention, Congress has yet to block a BRAC package since the beginning of the process in the late 1980s. As numerous observers have pointed out, its comprehensive up-or-down mechanism has allowed the BRAC process to bypass barriers of special political influence in the legislative process that too often stymie policy change.*
Bev believes North Carolina should take this page out of the BRAC playbook and adapt it as a tool in our North Carolina's commitment to developing better fiscal discipline for state government. Over the last few decades, several blue-ribbon efforts have strived to institute greater efficiency in state government. As in most other states, such efforts have mainly gathered dust on the shelf. But their past efforts have lacked the hammer of a BRAC-like enforcement mechanism that requires the legislature to cast a yes or no vote on these proposals.
Bev will appoint an independent and bipartisan body of 15 citizens from the business and civic sector to serve on the BRAC Budget Reform Board. A substantial number of the appointees will possess prior governmental experience in order to help the BRAC Budget Board hit the ground running.
In the first year of each budget biennium, the BRAC Budget Board will present a maximum of ten separate governmental efficiency proposals. Through the committee process and direct communication with the Board, legislators and the public will have the opportunity to point out where they think that specific proposals may have weaknesses or flaws. The Board will then revise, add, or omit proposals or leave all ten of them unchanged. The Board's enabling legislation will obligate both legislative chambers to vote separately on each of the Board's final list of proposals before passing their versions of the budget. Each vote would be subject to only a Yes or No vote with no amendments permitted.
Bev's years of experience in state government have taught her that no single reform can serve as a panacea that solves all major challenges. But BRAC creates the permanent institutional momentum that North Carolina needs in favor of generating, debating, and implementing proposals that yield greater governmental efficiency - and that our state will desperately need in the 21st century.
BRAC Budget reform and the debates that it will generate also will help to distinguish wise investments. It will thereby strengthen public support for the state's core commitments in education, economic development, health care, other social services, and the environment.
At the federal level, a number of recent bipartisan legislative measures have proposed using BRAC-like hammers in the service of budgetary reform. According to estimates from the Progressive Policy Institute in Washington, BRAC-like budget reform is projected to yield budget savings of at least $250 billion over ten years or an average of $25 billion per year. Bev's goal for her BRAC budget reform will be at minimum $250 million per legislative session.
The first budgetary change that this BRAC Budget reform will help accomplish is the end of the long-standing legislative "transfer" of $170 million or so from the Highway Trust Fund. The first $170 million in budget savings will enable this transfer to end without damage to vital services and allow all highway-related revenue to stay in the Highway Trust Fund.
By targeting transportation reform as its first purpose, Governor Perdue will be able to build widespread support from the business and civic community for BRAC Budget reform. Legislators from both parties will also see the link and understand the importance of achieving BRAC Budget Reform in order to achieve our first big step in 21st century transportation reform.
Moreover, during the next decade and thereafter, BRAC Budget Reform will continue to be a significant savings reform vehicle that will allow North Carolina to make new crucial investments in enhancing education, health care, environment, and the general quality of life in 21st century North Carolina.