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Elizabeth McNichol Every state estimates how much revenue it will collect in the upcoming fiscal year. A reliable estimate is essential to building a fiscally responsible budget and sets a benchmark for how much funding the state will be able to provide to schools and other public services.
Yet some states forecast revenues using faulty processes that leave out key players and lack transparency. While there is no one right way to forecast revenues, research and experience suggest that states benefit from including both the legislature, the governor, and independent experts in the process from the start, giving the public, media, and advocates access to the deliberations and the data that go into the estimates, and regularly revisiting estimates during the budget session.
These components together create a strong, reliable revenue estimate. For example, a professional and open revenue estimating process makes revenue forecasts more transparent and accessible to the public and a broader group of legislators, which can lead to a healthier and more democratic debate and greater fiscal discipline.
States wishing to improve their revenue estimating practices have a number of models, since many states have adopted practices that result in a more trusted forecast.
In particular, states should implement five common-sense best practices: The governor and legislature should jointly produce the revenue estimate. The forecasting body should include outside experts. Including experts from academia or business, along with economic and budgeting experts from within the government, widens the economic knowledge available to the forecasting body and can improve how well a forecast is trusted.
While more than two-thirds of the states draw on outside experts, 15 states do not. The forecast and its assumptions should be published and made easily accessible on the Internet. Most states follow this practice, but six do not, leaving their estimates less transparent to the public and others not involved in the forecasting process.
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Meetings of the forecasting body should be open to the public. In 20 states and the District of Columbia, forecasting meetings are closed to the public, unnecessarily diminishing the trust with which the forecasts might otherwise be received.
Estimates should be revised during the year. Reviewing earlier estimates to adjust them for changing economic circumstances can improve their accuracy. Eleven states do not regularly review their estimates during the course of the budget session.
Fifteen states employ all five of the best practices identified by our research and can serve as models for the rest of the country. See the Appendix for how each state performs.
Eleven states employ only one or two of the five best practices. These states, in particular, could benefit from adopting the better revenue estimating practices that many other states use. Best Practices in State Revenue Forecasting Every state estimates how much revenue it will collect in the upcoming fiscal year.
This estimate sets a benchmark for how much funding the state will be able to provide to schools and other public services. Much of the state revenue forecasting literature evaluates the relative accuracy of various methods that states use.
A professional revenue forecasting process is technical in nature, based on the best possible economic forecasts. Expert fiscal staff within government prepare it, ideally with input from academic and private economists. A transparent and inclusive revenue forecasting process is prepared jointly by the executive and legislative branches.
In addition, the public and others — including legislators not directly involved in the estimation process — are kept informed through open meetings, and the publication of the forecast and the assumptions behind it.
Based on a review of the revenue forecasting process in place in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia, and a review of relevant academic studies, here are the basic features of a well-designed revenue estimating process.
The Governor and Legislature Jointly Produce the Revenue Estimate If the governor and legislature each develop their own revenue projection as happens in a number of statesthe process sometimes bogs down in debate over which forecast is more accurate.
Our survey of current practices found that 28 states currently use a consensus process, an increase from the 23 states that used the process in After studying different methods of projecting revenues, Indiana University professors John Mikesell and Justin Ross note that a joint process results in reliable and trusted revenue predictions that provide the foundation for fiscal discipline and for the adoption of an executable budget.
A consensus-type process creates a sense of ownership, consensus, and acceptance among competing actors who find political power in the budgeting process.
They may struggle to come together without that sense of ownership, Mikesell and other researchers suggest, which then could prompt them to ignore the revenue estimate as a constraint on spending. It can also avoid situations where a governor or a legislature deliberately underestimates revenues in order to force program cuts.
Researchers have also found that a critical benefit of ensuring that both the executive and legislative branches agree on the official revenue estimate used in the proposed budget limits unnecessary debate on forecast accuracy.
This allows policymakers more time to focus on the important tax and spending policy changes in the budget.Recommend three benchmarking techniques and identify those that might improve budget accuracy in future forecasts. Justify your choices. Home; Recommend three benchmarking techniques and identify those that might improve budget accuracy in future forecasts.
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