Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Bittersweet news - Budget bills succeeding in driving down caseload

There are two major drivers in crafting a budget – the revenues that come in, and the expenditures that go out. Legislators, when writing a budget, have to make assumptions about how much revenue they’ll have available as well as how many people will be enrolled in various government programs and services. The assumptions are especially important in programs where there isn’t much ability to limit how many people are served, such as K-12 education or incarceration in state prisons.

The Economic Revenue Forecast Council meets quarterly to provide the budget numbers. Every few months we see headlines about whether we’re on track to collect the forecasted levels of revenue used to write the budget. There’s another forecast council that doesn’t generate the same headlines but provides equally important information – the Caseload Forecast Council.

The Caseload Forecast Council, chaired by Rep. Jeannie Darneille, provides the people numbers, and updates legislators on whether more or fewer people are enrolled in government programs. The Caseload Forecast Council met this morning for an update on projected caseloads in a range of government programs and services ranging from K-12 education to long-term care.

The news from a budget numbers point of view was good – projected caseloads in nearly every area of government are down. For example, nursing home caseloads are projected to go down 0.8 percent in the next two years, the adult inmate population by 1.5 percent, and special education 0.2 percent. This means expenditures will go down, too.

The news from a people numbers point of view are different. In most cases, caseloads aren’t decreasing due to a decrease in demand. The decreases are largely a result of policy changes made in the recent session that tighten eligibility requirements and reduce funding for programs. The policy changes result from bills “necessary to implement the budget” that legislators often pass in the final days of session. More than 50 such bills were passed this year, a far higher number than usual.

The forecasters cited HB 1547 as one example. The bill will remove an estimated 200 adult inmates from our prisons by speeding up deportation of certain criminal aliens. And HB 2065 which reduces funding for alternative learning programs such as online distance learning and parent-district partnerships used by parents who home school their children. And the enormous 70.2 percent drop in people served by the Disability Lifeline program, due entirely to reduced funding and HB 2082 which terminates the program and transitions certain clients to more targeted housing, essential need and medical care programs.

You can see all the numbers here. The next Caseload Forecast Council meeting is November 16.