The new budgetary process announced last week includes an oversight committee within the Oireachtas and a series of stepping stone documents en route to the formal Budget Day announcement speech in October.
These processes are the Spring Statement, to set the tax and spend parameters for the coming 12 months, the National Economic Dialogue, to bring what used to be called the ‘social partners’ together to discuss spending priorities en bloc with Ministers, an expenditure report in early July and the tax strategy papers being circulated by late July.
First thought: A lot of this is happening already, and has been happening for years if not decades.
Think about the process. About half way through the year, a rough spending envelope is envisaged. Lobby groups try to convince Ministers to spend more on their thing, whatever that is, and within the walls of Merrion St., the boffins figure out various tax and spend combinations, which then gets presented to the Minister for her or his sign off on budget day. The same people performing the same processes will be working on the new budgetary processes.
The big difference in today’s formulation is how open and transparent it could be. It may not be. The simple way to make it less transparent is to under-fund the budget oversight committee’s secretariat, plunge them into a sea of unsearchable .pdfs, ignore any requests for raw data by saying something like ‘commercial sensitivity’ or something else, and go to the pub.
Second thought: Assuming everyone engages with an open heart, the big wins may still not be transparent. This is because really stupid ideas like Decentralisation won’t even make it to the floor of the Committee.
The process will have a hard time establishing its importance without additional reports on the distributional impacts or gender impacts of new policies, new models, or an open data framework. Unpopular but necessary fiscal elements (say increasing the local property tax at some point) may well get stymied by a committee afraid to make an voter-unfriendly decision.
Third thought: None of this will avoid last minute dot com political flyers. We may still see weird little subsidies for greyhounds or taxidermists or endangered snails or whatever still creeping in at the last minute, because that’s the way our politics works.
Fourth thought: This is the start of a longer conversation about fiscal oversight and control, vote by vote, within the Oireachtas and within the Government. It is going to be fascinating.