Public Policy Scenario

The annual budgeting process occurs over six months with pre-set deadlines or milestones. In January, the governor proposes a budget for the coming year that represents the administration’s priorities and politics.

The legislative committees respond in March (for the House) and in May (for the Senate) with recommen- dations based on their priorities and politics.

Effectively, three budget proposals — the governor’s, the House' and the Senate’s — must resolve into a single adopted budget by July 1, the mandated start of the state’s new fiscal year.

In early January, a state governor holds a press conference to announce the release of his proposed budget for the coming year. Immediately after the governor’s press conference, the chairs of the state’s House of Representatives and Senate budget committee chairmen comment publicly on the governor’s proposed budget in other press conferences, newspaper interviews, and radio and television talk show appearances. The communications director for the Senate budget chair, tracks public response to the governor’s budget and to the Senate chair’s comments on it.

At the same time, work begins on the Senate and House budget recommendations. In the Senate, the current chair of the Ways and Means Committee brings his staff (an administrative assistant and Steve, the communications director) to a meeting with staff for the permanent committee. Present are the Ways and Means chief of staff, chief legal counsel, and chief budget analyst. The chair has authority, as a member of the majority political party, to set the Senate’s current budget policy. The permanent committee staff has responsibility for developing, with the help of the chair’s staff, the Senate’s recommendations for budgeting according to current priorities.

In the first meeting in January, the chairman and the combined staffs review budget history (what’s carried over from last year, what’s new this year); the state of the economy (current and projected conditions); the politics of individual budget items (nice to have but willing to sacrifice if necessary, non-negotiable, expect a fight on, go to the mat with). They compile a rough list of potential priorities for the coming year’s budget. Because he will draft text for the Senate recommendations, the communications director starts taking notes.

After the first meeting, the committee staff fans out in January and February to consult with federal and state fiscal experts, as well as with experts on specific issues in state agencies, government watchdog groups, and advocacy groups. They get more projections for the economy, and they seek external corroboration for their rough list of budget priorities. The communications director goes along to all these consultations.

Next, the committee staff solicits budget requests internally from Senate members, state departments, and state agencies. Staffers meet with the members, departments, and agencies about their requests. They begin an initial breakdown of line items to include in the Senate recommendations. The communications director stays in touch with the staff. In parallel, he maintains daily or weekly contact with editors and reporters of major news media. He develops relationships and educates the press. They, in turn, keep him up to date on budget-relevant news. He maintains good contact both internally and externally because he has dual responsibilities to anticipate debate about the Senate’s recommendations and to present them in a way that will promote their acceptance by government and the public.

A second working meeting is held. The chair and combined staffs intensely debate priorities, and preliminarily decide on key priorities. Later in March, when the House budget proposal is released, the combined staffs analyze it, compare it to the governor’s proposal, and compare it to their own developing proposal. The communications director participates in the meetings and continues to track press and public response to the governor’s proposal and to the House recommendations. Most important, he translates the key priorities (decided at the second working meeting) into key messages, or simple statements that identify a key issue and the Senate’s proposed way of using tax dollars to address the issue. He gets the chair’s and committee senior staff’s commitment to emphasize the key messages at every communication opportunity. Whenever they speak or write, they agree, the key messages will be appropriately included.

Throughout March and April, the Senate budget committee staff finalizes its recommendations and interacts with the governor’s and House committee’s staffs. The communications director attention increasingly turns to his primary responsibility for drafting the document that will present Senate recommendations, publicizing them, and preparing for debate in the legislature and negotiation with the governor’s office during budget approval.

In March, he writes preliminary drafts of the chairman’s introduction and the executive summary for the document. (He knows that, when the lengthy and detailed document is released, many people including the press will read only the chair’s introduction and the executive summary.) He emphasizes the key messages in both. He writes (or edits senior staff’s) descriptions of major budget categories (health care, education, housing, and so forth). From his notes taken in budget working meetings, he develops arguments to support proposed dollar figures for existing line items and new initiatives in each category.

Also in March, he plans a comprehensive internal and external presentation strategy to be carried out in June. Along with internal distribution to the governor, the legislature, and government departments and agencies, the Senate’s recommendations will be publicized through an external news media and public events campaign conducted before, during, and after formal release of the recommendations document.

In April and early May, he revises the document based on committee staffers’ review of his preliminary drafts and edits of their drafts. He coordinates with news media and advocacy groups regarding a public relations campaign to accompany release of the Senate recommendations. By mid-May, the finished 600-page document presenting the recommendations is delivered to the printer. He fields inquiries by the press and the public about the soon-to-be-released recommendations, and focuses on writing, editing, and revising press releases, other public announcements, and the chairman’s comments for the Senate budget release press conference.

In late May, the Senate recommendations are released, distributed, and announced. Simultaneously, the planned public relations campaign is conducted. Throughout June, while the Senate and House debate the budget and the governor responds to their debates, events all around the state (pre-planned jointly by the communications director and advocacy groups) direct public attention to Senate priorities and funding proposals during ‘health care week’ or ‘education week’ or ‘citizenship assistance week.’ Meanwhile, back in the Senate, the communications director puts out daily press releases, follows up phone contacts by the press or the public, and prepares comments for the chair’s use in responding to unexpected developments, politically significant news, or budget controversies.

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