Looking at RIPEC’s state budget projections, Ted Nesi explains how a “budget on autopilot” is untenable no matter what the entity–towns, cities, states, the country. You can also read “autopilot” to mean “assumptions.” Yet, the assumptions built into these budgets–3% raises, increase in program costs, etc.–aren’t even enough to cover the rate of growth, which far outpace the ability to tax (or “generate revenue”).
Nesi provides a nice pie chart showing that 52% of the growth in the budget since FY2002 is from social services and 17.7% of the growth comes from increasing personnel costs (while the growth in personnel costs–particularly in a good economy–are probably about what we’d expect to see, keep in mind that the state workforce has shrunk). Meanwhile, as we well know, aid to cities in towns–ie, money that towns send to cities, some of which filters back to them–has been reduced by nearly 3%, which isn’t a lot in the big picture, but hurts each community acutely.
Given our current straits, perhaps it’s time to implement zero-based budgeting instead of the current practice of “last year + (at least) 3%”. Start fresh. Look at what we spend our tax dollars on and (re)prioritize: infrastructure, economic development, providing important services at reasonable cost, etc. Now, it takes a lot of work, so perhaps we could do a zero-based budget in the first year of each new governor term and then baseline from there. It’s an interesting concept, but the chance of it getting implemented is, well, zero.