Two-Year Budget for Maryland

November 27, 1994

As Gov.-elect Parris N. Glendening begins his quest for ways to shrink government while making it more efficient, there's one step he could take to further these goals: adopt a two-year budget cycle.

That may not sound like much of an innovation, but such a move would dramatically transform the way government officials in Annapolis approach their jobs. And it could save a considerable amount of money.

The present system isn't working very well. Cabinet secretaries spend an inordinate number of hours worrying about obscure budget matters. That's because the cycle of budget requests, budget hearings and legislative discussions consumes most of the calendar year. And just after the budget is enacted, officials have to start all over by filing new money requests for the following year.

Note that there's precious little time for managers to focus on running their departments efficiently, little time to sit down and plot longer-range approaches to problems, little time to see if programs are really working well. A one-year budget cycle doesn't allow for such luxuries.

But in a two-year cycle, cabinet officials are liberated from the constant budget grind. They receive a two-year lump sum, subject to modest adjustments 12 months later. Efficiency and effectiveness become paramount. Programs can operate for 24 months before being re-evaluated. Officials can devote themselves to analyzing what's going right and what's going wrong.

It makes so much sense. Legislators, though, would have to give up their micro-management of state government so they have a chance to look at the bigger picture. For instance, instead of devoting budget hearings to such minutia as the amount of computer paper used at the Motor Vehicle Administration, legislators could focus most of their hearings on the more important questions of whether the agency is doing its job efficiently and whether the MVA is satisfying customer demands.

By giving the governor more time to actually manage the state, taxpayers could be the ultimate beneficiaries. With a two-year budget, agencies likely will find ways to do more with less. That's what voters were saying they wanted on election day. Mr. Glendening would be smart to recommend that Maryland adopt a biennial budget cycle, just as 21 other states -- including Virginia -- have already done.

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