State Budgeting Challenges Aired at Antigua Forum in Guatemala

Friday, February 10, 2017

The Volcker Alliance’s Truth and Integrity in Government Finance was one of the featured attractions this winter at the Antigua Forum, a university-sponsored retreat that brings global investors, academics, foundation executives, and thought leaders annually to Guatemala’s former Spanish colonial capital to discuss market-based solutions to policy challenges in the Americas and worldwide.

As one of nine project directors to address the four-day event, sponsored by Universidad Francisco Marroquín based in Guatemala City, I reported on the progress of Truth and Integrity in Government Finance, the Alliance’s fifty-state examination of budget processes, transparency, and accountability. I was also able to work closely with one of the university’s economics professors, Olav Dirkmaat, as well as other attendees to refine plans for an awareness campaign to spread the Alliance’s findings and recommendations among citizens, civic groups, media, governors, and legislative officials.

“Citizens are unaware that states balance their budgets with tricks and gimmicks that shift current costs to future generations,” I told the group during one of my several presentations at Casa Popenoe, a wealthy 18th Century merchant’s compound that now serves as the Forum’s home. “How do we build networks for meaningful policy reforms?”

Truth and Integrity in Government Finance builds on the work of the State Budget Crisis Task Force, co-chaired by Alliance founder Paul A. Volcker and Director Richard Ravitch, and will also expand the findings and recommendations in the Alliance’s initial 2015 report on California, New Jersey, and Virginia to all US states. Research for the fifty-state project is being conducted by public finance professors and graduate students at 13 universities and policy institutes and has been funded by grants from the John and Laura Arnold Foundation and the Peter G. Peterson Foundation. A report on budgets for fiscal 2015, 2016, and 2017 is planned for coming months, followed by updates for fiscal 2018 and 2019. 

Through research and advocacy for change, the project is already challenging states to improve their ability to consistently deliver essential services by adopting more transparent and sustainable budget processes. The Antigua Forum helped bring the message to an international audience. One of the participants, Michael Walker, chairman of Canada’s Fraser Institute, cheered the Alliance’s work via an email after the event.

“Good luck in your efforts to expose the reality of government finances,” he wrote.

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