Ensuring the Public Trust: a Summary of the Accountable Budget Process

June 10, 2022

Each year, more than 80 percent of Utah’s General and Education Fund (GF/EF) budget rolls-forward into the next budget year’s base. By legislative rule, in the 2023 General Session, as much as $9.3 billion of the $11.6 billion GF/EF total will carry forward from FY 2023 into FY 2024. While appropriators can change base budgets during the General Session, 45 days do not allow much time for detailed scrutiny; enter the Accountable Budget Process (ABP).

Joint Rule 3-2-501, as amended in H.J.R. 18 (2019 General Session), requires each appropriations subcommittee to “create an accountable process budget for approximately 20% of the budgets that fall within the subcommittee’s responsibilities”. In the definitions, “Accountable Process Budget” means a budget that is created by starting from zero and adding line items and programs recommended through an accountable budget process. This rule assures that each budget within a subcommittee’s purview is scrutinized from the ground up at least once every five years. It also empowers subcommittees to get a jump-start on budgeting during the Interim.

While similar to zero-based budgeting, an Accountable Process Budget considers more than just the dollars that make-up various line items and programs. This detailed review includes enabling legislation, agency organization, longer-term trends in sources of finance and categories of spending, and returns on investment. Legislative budget analysts pursue detailed questions about each program under review and distill the answers into recommendations for policymakers’ consideration. Results could be budget adjustments, further reviews or audits, updated reporting requirements, improved performance measures, reorganizations, and program eliminations, among other actions.

Legislators first implemented the ABP during the 2019 Interim. In 2020, the Legislature suspended J.R. 3-2-501 temporarily due to budget scrubbing that accompanied the initial onset of the pandemic. Subcommittees resumed the process in the 2021 Interim. Each appropriations subcommittee reported their plans for the 2022 ABP to the Executive Appropriations Committee in May.

June interim appropriations subcommittee meetings will provide the first of three rounds of reviewing agency budgets to comply with the ABP rule. The other two rounds will be in August and October. Accountable Process Budgets (that is, state agency budgets which have been subject to the Accountable Budget Process during the 2022 interim) will be voted upon during the October meetings. These polished budgets will then comprise Section 3 of each subcommittee’s base budget bill – separate from the more formulaic base budgets for other areas of government.