Pennsylvania’s annual budget is over $31 billion. These tax dollars are allocated to vital public services, such as human services, education, public safety, environmental protection, and many others. But many of those allocation decisions are made for subjective reasons, or to favor special interests, or to impact the power and influence of political allies and enemies. Evidence for the effectiveness or necessity of a program or project is often not a factor when lawmakers decide how to spend tax dollars. This is also the case when policymakers are considering all legislation outside of the annual budget.
The Current Process
The only formal process in place right now for integrating evidence into policymaking is cost-assessment. When the General Assembly considers legislation outside of the annual budget the Office of the Budget will prepare fiscal notes. “Fiscal notes are bill analyses, prepared  to explain the fiscal impact of bills being considered…” This is a helpful step, but it only identifies the cost of the proposal at-hand, it does not consider research that might be available about which programs and policies yield the greatest benefits in the most cost-effective way.
The states budget process incorporates feedback from another agency called the Independent Fiscal Office (IFO). The IFO “provides revenue projections for use in the state budget process along with impartial and timely analysis of fiscal, economic and budgetary issues to assist Commonwealth residents and the General Assembly in their evaluation of policy decisions. In that capacity, the IFO does not support or oppose any policy it analyzes, and will disclose the methodologies, data sources and assumptions used in published reports and estimates.” This process includes more in-depth research and could be a model for how the state considers other bills.
The Pew Charitable Trusts and John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation have jointly sponsored a project called Results First, specifically dedicated to working with state legislatures “to implement an innovative cost-benefit analysis approach that helps them invest in policies and programs that are proven to work.”
We believe that the state can strengthen the IFO by supporting a partnership with the Results First project.