Alabama’s state government operates on a four-year cycle known as a “quadrennium.” Each quadrennium begins with the election of the governor and 140 members of the Legislature, all of whom serve four-year terms.
Their main job under Alabama law is to “plan and finance the services which they determine the state will provide for citizens.”
In the recent election Republicans won the governorship and 70 percent of the seats in the Legislature. They will be in control for the next four years. What do they plan to accomplish during that time?
Since 1995 state law has obligated the governor, with the advice of the Legislature’s Joint Fiscal Committee, to spell out a “four-year strategic plan.” This plan is supposed to include goals for the improvement of state services, strategies for accomplishing them and measures to track progress along the way. It is intended to focus the state budget on investing in results.
Unfortunately the Budget Management Act, as it is known, has not received the attention it deserves. A process called SMART Budgeting was tried for a few years but allowed to lapse. Accountability has suffered as a result.
The best example of what strategic planning might do for all of Alabama government has been provided by the State Board of Education, which adopted Plan 2020 in 2012. Its main goals are to raise the state’s high school graduation rate to 90 percent by 2020 and to ensure those graduates are ready for college and career. The plan contains a number of improvement strategies designed to enable the state to reach these goals. And it tracks a variety of measures to determine how our schools and our students are performing along the way.
Plan 2020 focuses the attention of the state’s public schools on achieving improved results. It is an important accountability tool. Already we’ve seen progress in the graduation rate, which has climbed from 72 percent in 2011 to 80 percent in 2013.
This sort of goal-oriented, strategic thinking should be applied across state government as the Budget Management Act requires, and the strategic plan developed by the governor and Legislature should be shared with the public.