A Capital Budget: Taking the First Steps

Sun, 13 Dec 2009 12:53:01 +0000

The three prior posts on a capital budget get to the heart of the problem.  We underinvest in infrastructure for which the federal government bears some responsibility, but trying to rectify that problem through a greater budgetary emphasis in the Congress has smart budget analysts thinking it will be ineffective at best.  I'd like to suggest that just because the status quo of almost no capital budgeting is bad and the extreme of a fully developed capital budget may be no better does not mean that there are no intermediate arrangements that would be better.

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For example, as the current downturn was beginning two years ago, I wrote two op-eds proposing that a capital budget would have served us better during a period of economic weakness than appeals to "timely, targeted, and temporary" spending or "shovel-ready" projects.  A fully developed capital budget wouldn't be required for that objective, only a prioritized list of capital projects to be undertaken and a schedule for when they will be undertaken.  Similarly, we don't necessarily need a capital budget to give infrastructure projects more prominence in the budgeting process.  That can be done through the existing mechanisms, whether in the budget resolution or in the setup of the authorizing and appropriations processes.