Paul L. Caron

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Sarin Presents Broken Budgeting Today At Georgetown

Natasha Sarin (Yale; Google Scholar) presents Broken Budgeting (with Safia Sayed (J.D. 2025, Yale)) at Georgetown today as part of its Tax Law and Public Finance Workshop hosted by Emily Satterthwaite and Dayanand Manoli: 

Natasha-sarinAs peacetime deficits rose over the course of the last half century, policymakers searched for tools to assess how close—or far off—new budget, tax, and spending proposals would bring them to fiscal sustainability. This search led to the birth of modern scorekeeping, a complex and highly technical exercise undertaken by neutral government analysts known as scorekeepers. Because its origins are tied to rising deficits, scorekeepers are governed by rules that focus their attention on myopic cost/benefit analysis, rather than long-term policy evaluation. Over the years, many have criticized the process and questioned the accuracy of scores in particular arenas.

This Article offers a more provocative and fulsome take. While ostensibly neutral, the primacy of scorekeeping and scorekeepers has created impediments to legislating a progressive vision of government. Progressive policymaking has at its core government interventions that give society the ability to reap benefits down the line—like investments in children, or in combatting climate change—benefits that accrue in the long-term and are difficult to quantify. Presently, scorekeepers register these types of interventions as costs to the fisc rather than profitable investments, and that hinders their adoption. This is not the fault of scorekeepers, who have limited scope to act outside their mandate. But it is a critique of that mandate, which creates a process that is far from neutral: instead, one that skews policy outcomes against progressive reforms that invest in future generations and in redressing inequality.

In this piece we lay out the ways in which deficit-centrality has shaped the federal budgeting and scorekeeping process, synthesize the deficiencies of this approach, and offer a way forward. Our piece is a call-to-arms, as academics have an important role to play in helping policymakers arrive at a more holistic approach to policy analysis, as opposed to the narrow focus on cost estimates that guides policy discussions today.

Colloquia, Scholarship, Tax, Tax Daily, Tax Scholarship, Tax Workshops | Permalink