As part of an effort to close a projected $930 million hole in the fiscal year 2017 budget (which starts July 1)–a hole that represents approximately 5% of the state’s $19.9 billion annual budget–state Democrats yesterday proposed a budget that would cut the Freedom of Information Commission’s budget by nearly 20%.
All state agencies, and the constituents they serve, will necessarily feel the pain of our state’s fiscal crisis. But a 20% cut to the FOIC’s budget is grossly disproportionate. The FOIC is a 15 person agency. It has a statutory mandate to resolve all Freedom of Information Act complaints within one year after they are filed. It struggles to meet that mandate now. A 20% cut in its budget will require it to lay off nearly a third of its staff. Again, the FOIC is not immune from the budget axe, but a 20% cut in a 15 person agency is far out of proportion to a 5% overall state budget deficit.
Here are the numbers:
The budget the General Assembly passed last June allocated $1,735,450 to the FOIC. (See PA 15-244, p. 4 of 348). Yesterday’s budget proposal (p. 12 of 18) allocates $1,395,928 to the agency, a cut of $339,552 or 19.6%. The proposal specifically calls for the elimination of the agency’s Public Education Officer, but an additional 2-3 staff positions would need to be eliminated to achieve the $339,552 cut.
The FOIC serves a critical watchdog function for state government. While it should not be insulated from the state’s budget crisis, a 20% cut suggests that legislators may be trying to do more than just close a 5% deficit in the 2017 fiscal year budget. Castrating the watchdog agencies is the antithesis of good government, even if difficult budget times.