The House of Deputies passed a far-reaching reform of its budget process that puts all the work in the hands of Executive Council, the governing body of the Church between General Conventions, and essentially gets rid of the other committee that’s involved now.
The measure, which had to be passed in three portions because of its canonical and procedural implications, would replace what the resolution’s proponents described as a clunky and broken process. It must also be approved by the House of Bishops.
“They say ‘If something’s not broke don’t fix it.’ But the current process is broken,” said Deputy Nancy Koonce of Idaho, who has been closely involved in budget making at various levels. She urged support for the resolution.
The reform is important because how the church wields its roughly $50 million annual budget reflects its priorities in such areas as evangelism, racial reconciliation, creation care and mission. “We recognize budgets to be a means by which we ‘do the work God has given us to do,’” the Joint Standing Committee on Program, Budget and Finance (PB&F) said in its introduction to the proposed 2023-2024 budget, which General Convention received the budget on Sunday afternoon.
The reforms approved Sunday sprang from a task force set up at the 79th General Convention in Austin in 2018. It was charged with enhancing transparency, increasing participation by the wider church, clarifying which entity does what in developing the budget and promoting more effective budgeting.
Under the current process, Executive Council creates a draft three-year budget with input from the church, then hands it off to PB&F, whose members in turn have to get up to speed on the process, the issues and the choices that were made.
Likewise, the Executive Council must expend additional time and effort, beyond the creation of the first draft budget, to adequately provide sufficient detail and education to PB&F members so that they can effectively meet their mandate. The Task Force said that much of this work is duplicative.
PB&F then solicits feedback from the wider church. Once at General Convention, PB&F is further charged with presenting the budget to a Joint Meeting of the General Convention. The current Joint Rules of Order stipulate that “a final proposed budget be presented to a joint session no later than the third day prior to adjournment” which is then put to vote by the Convention.
This mandated timeline presents the first, and perhaps most obvious, disadvantage of the current process. Any resolutions considered after the third day prior to adjournment containing budget implications that have not already been included in the new budget will, by definition, remain unfunded. This puts at a disadvantage resolutions and priorities that may have developed or shifted during the course of debate and deliberation, both in legislative committees and in the respective houses.
The resolution, instead, charged Executive Council, “through a standing budget committee, with responsibility for the entire creation of the Church’s triennial budget and its presentation to General Convention.” By consolidating the process under the authority of the Executive Council through a standing budget committee, the proposed changes would dissolve the Joint Standing Committee on Program, Budget and Finance completely.
The new standing budget committee of the Executive Council would be comprised of “two or three members of the Executive Council’s finance committee, a representative from each of Executive Council‘s Joint Standing Committees, the Treasurer of General Convention, the Chief Financial Officer, and others, whether or not members of Executive Council, as may be needed to ensure balanced representation and to include needed expertise” as determined by the Presiding Officers.
Under the proposed process, the budget committee would be responsible for developing a draft budget to be shared no less than once with the wider Church in order to solicit feedback prior to approval. Once crafted, the Executive Council would be charged with reviewing, approving, and disseminating to Bishops and Deputies the “final” proposed budget no later than three months prior to the General Convention at which it will be considered.
Once at General Convention, the timeline for the presentation and approval of the budget would also be updated to better reflect the priorities of Convention. Near the beginning of the convention (suggested for the second or third legislative day), the Executive Council, through its standing committee on the budget, would present to a Joint Session the proposed budget that had been previously published.
Following this presentation, the Executive Council would hold no less than one open hearing during Convention to solicit feedback and input on the proposed budget. Toward the end of the General Convention, the two Houses would take up the budget and diocesan asking formula for vote in each House.
Following Convention, the Executive Council would be charged with responsibility for amending the approved budget based on three criteria: legislative action taken by Convention, changes in the Church’s financial position after adjournment and the exercise of Executive Council’s canonical authority over the budget and fiduciary responsibilities to the Church. The hope is that this will reduce number of unfunded but approved resolutions.
Some deputies expressed concern that Executive Council, which is elected by a combination of General Convention and each of the Provincial Synods, would be less diverse and representative than PB&F. Its 27 members are, by mandate, selected from across the breadth and depth of the Church.
“I appreciate the intention to solve a real problem, “including “clunkiness and messiness,” said Deputy Kate Bond of Oklahoma. The concern, she said, was that “it is essential to have enough seats at the budget table” to represent the whole Church. Limits on those who participate “makes our table narrower, not wider.”