The Senate Finance Committee discussed a bill Monday that aims to help states decide, based on objective data, which state programs deliver the best bang for the buck, but it delayed action until the author gathers more information from experts involved.
Senate Bill 187 by Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Chalmette, provides an evidence-based budgeting process that is intended to allow agencies to measure financial results and compare them to similar programs around the country through a database run by the PEW Charitable Trust.
Until lawmakers find a proper way to evaluate agencies, “we’ll just continue to give 5 percent haircuts to everybody,” Hewitt said.
Her proposal starts with agencies that get state funding and have programs in three areas: substance abuse, mental health and child welfare.
Sen. Bodi White, R-Baton Rouge, noted those types of agencies are important and expensive for the state, and wondered, for instance, how juvenile incarceration could benefit from the program.
The PEW program, which is already used in Mississippi, includes a social media tool where participating states can share results with one another.
Sen. Eric LaFleur, D-Ville Platte, was skeptical. The committee chairman noted that agencies already do analyses looking for return on investment.
LaFleur also said similar methods had been used in the past, and programs ran into obstacles when program politics got in the way of effectiveness or fair public interest.
“We’re not naive enough to think we can remove politics from the process,” said PEW’s Lauren Schumer, but they do make an effort to provide more thorough, factual evidence.
LaFleur jokingly compared their methods to shaming agencies into ethically reporting their financial results.
Sen. Conrad Appel, R-Metairie, supported the idea. He called it “sad” there is no way to objectively judge the actual, quantified value of a program when they all present themselves as equally important and equally deserving of funding.