The firm plumbing the depths of state government for savings is also looking at the budget process itself, the Houseís top budget lawmaker said ó though few, apparently, have noticed.
Alvarez & Marsal, the group tasked by the Legislature with performing an efficiency study of the government, will examine the method Kansas uses to spend money in the first place, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Ron Ryckman Jr., R-Olathe, indicated.
ďOne of the least publicized parts of the studyís scope directs A&M to find strategies to improve the budget process and make it work better for state officials, the legislature, and most importantly, Kansas taxpayers,Ē Ryckman said in a post on the Kansas House GOP website.
ďA&M will examine the intricacies at each stage of the current budget process with the help of state employees, identify areas for improvement, and make specific recommendations based upon private and public sector best-practices.Ē
But if that part of A&Mís mission hasnít received much public attention, it may be because it hasnít received much attention at all ó public or otherwise.
Sen. Laura Kelly, D-Topeka, sits on the Legislative Budget Committee, which approved A&Mís contract. She remembers only a brief discussion about the budget process.
ďI thought we spent a whole lot more time on K-12 and agency efficiencies and things like that. I donít recall any in-depth discussion about the budget process itself,Ē Kelly said.
This past spring, as lawmakers raised taxes to close a $400 million budget shortfall, they also approved up to $3 million for an efficiency study of state government. The Legislative Budget Committee selected A&M, and the contract was locked in at $2.6 million.
A&M has previously worked to improve the Medicaid system in North Carolina. In early October, House Speaker Ray Merrickís office drew attention to A&Mís work in that state, saying the stateís Medicaid program as a result of the A&M contract had recovered from a $487 million shortfall to a $63 million surplus.
The Raleigh News & Observer reported in September a federal grand jury is investigating A&Mís no-bid contract in North Carolina, which grew from $3.2 million to more than $9 million.
On Thursday, A&M provided few additional details about what its examination of budget processes will entail.
ďItís too soon to be able to provide any specifics,Ē A&M spokesman Steven Alschuler said in a statement, ďbut we are taking a detailed look at the budget process and hope to be able to offer some guidance on best practices used in other states and in the corporate world that might be helpful if adapted for use in Kansas.Ē
State budget director Shawn Sullivan said he hadnít yet had an in-depth discussion with A&M about the budget process but expected to within the next few weeks.
Sullivan said that, from his understanding, A&M and its subcontractor, the Government Finance Officers Association, will review existing processes against what the association has identified as best practices.
In an interview, Ryckman said the study may affect how lawmakers interpret the consensus revenue estimate. The estimate, issued twice a year, has been reduced the past few cycles. The estimate issued in November 2014 prompted budget cutting.
The next estimate will be issued within the next few weeks.
ďAnd I think itís going to bleed over a little bit to the way we interpret the consensus revenue numbers, because we want some more certainty and stability there. Again, itís too early to know exactly what those will look like. But I know (from) some of the discussions that weíre trying to find ways to improve the ways we can plan and budget,Ē Ryckman said.
A&M is due to report the results of its study to the Legislature in early 2016. Lawmakers will face the task of balancing the budget when they return in January. The results of the study are likely to fuel debate on government spending and the stateís overall fiscal health.
Whether lawmakers, during an election year, will turn any of the studyís proposals into reality is unknown.