Some lawmakers responsible for crafting the state budget have set out to remove the letter E from as much of it as possible, but the effort has nothing to do with spelling.
These Es are a budgeting tool that is not defined anywhere in statute. As House Budget Committee Chairman Ryan Silvey (R-Kansas City) explains, “For lack of a better definition, it’s been a gentlemen’s agreement between the legislature and the governor on how to appropriate certain line items. If a line item had an E, physically the letter ‘E’ at the end of the appropriation, it stood for “estimated,” and it meant that you could spend more through than line than what was actually reflected in the number.”
There were 695 of those estimates before Silvey’s Committee eliminated 444 of them in its proposal, totaling nearly $957 million. That raised the total of the budget to $24 billion dollars, which Silvey says is more accurate as well as more accountable and transparent.
Silvey told the Committee in some instances, far more was being spent than what was reflected in the budget. “I think it was to allow flexibility so that (some agencies) wouldn’t have to come back and ask the legislature for more authority … This may not be accurate but my impression is in some instances it was probably to keep numbers artificially low.”
Asked why any agencies would want to keep numbers artificially low, Silvey says, “I think some people in this state like to pretend they’re fiscal conservatives when they might not actually be.”
Among supporters of the idea is Representative Chris Kelly (D-Columbia), a member and one time chairman of the budget committee. He says Es have been used for a long time. “The downside of Es is it allows the government to overspend in that area without much control. Over time they’ve gotten out of control … I’m a huge supporter of doing this. The government ought to tell you, and when we make decisions we ought to know how much we’re actually appropriating.”
Kelly says he doesn’t believe anyone is arguing against the change, including the Governor’s office.
Silvey also believes the use of Es has gotten out of control over time. “I doubt the very first time we put an E in the budget we put 800 of them in.” As their use became more frequent, he says, “I believe that the administrations, and not this administration in particular, but just the administration in general, have used it to usurp more and more power from the legislature and I think it’s really eroded the separation of powers in the budgeting process.”
Kelly says it is important for taxpayers to understand that if an E is replaced with a dollar amount, that does not mean the effected agency’s or program’s budget increased by that amount. “It’s often more reflective of what we’re actually spending.”
Silvey offers the example of Community Development Block Grants. “Every appropriation for the last several years has been $28 million with an E … I believe that’s correct. If you look at the actual expenditures in those lines for the last three years, we haven’t been anywhere near $28 million. Last year it was almost $60 million, the year before that was about $54 million and the year before that was slightly under that. So by removing the E and putting in an accurate number it shows the taxpayer exactly what their government is spending.”
He told his Committee if taken to the extreme, “We could have $1E in each of the bills and we could have a $13 budget. But, nobody buys that.”
The full house is anticipated to take up the proposal when it returns from spring break next week.