From the quiet hallways of the most beautiful state Capitol in our nation, this is Senator Keith Ingram.
The legislature has begun budget hearings, in preparation for the regular session that begins in January.
Budgeting for state government agencies is the most time-consuming duty of the legislature, although it doesn’t generate many headlines.
We’ll consider almost 300 separate appropriations for state agencies, boards and commissions. We’ll also budget for schools, pre-schools and institutions of higher education.
State revenue supports the judicial system at every level, from the State Police and the courts to prisons, half-way houses, parole supervision and rehabilitation for drug offenders.
State agencies operate residential care facilities for people with disabilities. They pay for a long list of social services, such as in-home care so that senior citizens can live in their own homes independently.
A state agency enforces laws protecting clean air and water. State aid is vital for rural fire departments.
State aid helps pay for street repairs in cities and counties. It funds medical schools that train doctors, nurses, pharmacists and therapists.
Legislators are supported by a team of accountants who conduct audits year round to make sure state dollars are spent properly.
When we bring up a budget for a state agency or an educational institution, one of the first items on our agenda is to go over a thorough audit.
It goes without saying, any questions about an agency’s past spending practices must be resolved, before that agency’s budget is approved for next year.
The legislature also has to always keep in mind that we operate under a balanced budget law. We review dozens of new spending proposals every year, and almost all of them are for a good cause.
However, state government cannot afford to pay for every good idea that comes along. At the end of the day, we have to adopt a balanced budget, and that means we have to make some tough decisions. We can’t approve everyone’s spending request.
That is the essence of our democratic system. As elected representatives, we balance the needs of competing interests, in order to promote the common good.
It is complicated and it is often controversial, but it’s the greatest system of government ever established.
From the Capitol, it is always my greatest honor and most sincere privilege to serve you as your state Senator. This is Keith Ingram.