Feeling the Pain: States, EAC likely to see cuts in federal budget debate
By Doug Chapin
The budget debate is in full swing in Washington, DC and around the country as the White House and a divided Congress spar over priorities for federal spending both right now and for the next fiscal year (which begins October 1, 2011).
Anyone following the debate is likely well-aware of the professed commitment to fiscal discipline at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue and both sides of the aisle on Capitol Hill. To date, this commitment to discipline has translated into a focus on identifying budget cuts wherever they might be found in the federal budget. As a result, policymakers and stakeholders across the nation are learning that the concept of “shared sacrifice” – at the least the version that involves reduced or eliminated funding – is less rhetoric than reality.
The election community is no exception. Less than ten years after the federal government made its first-ever investment in state and local administration via the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) of 2002, election officials are seeing the federal government take steps to reduce the flow of federal money for voting improvements across America.
One immediate casualty is the election reform grants established to help states meet the various mandates enacted as part of HAVA. The President’s fiscal year 2012 (FY12) budget formally zeroes out these funds, which have not been replenished for several budget cycles (beginning during President G.W. Bush’s second term) after about $3 billion went to states in the fiscal years following HAVA. These funds have been identified as consensus cuts and were included in both versions of the FY11 continuing budget resolution (“CR”) originating in the House of Representatives. The latest CR (H.J.Res.44) passed the House 335-91 on March 1, passed the Senate 91-9 March 2, and was signed by the President later the same day.
The President’s signature will leave the EAC with about $69 million in previously authorized funds for grants to the states – but no new funds. The CR also rescinds half of $10 million in grant funds for planned studies of pre-election logic and accuracy testing and accessible voting technology.
The other target for reduced funding is the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) itself. The President’s budget cuts the agency’s proposed budget $4 million from last year, authorizing $14 million - $3.25 million of which is to be transferred to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) for voting system testing and guidelines. Barring any other negotiated changes, the EAC will be left with approximately $12 million for FY12. At press time it was not yet clear what impact the cuts would have on EAC operations.
When HAVA was enacted in 2002, there was some uncertainty about whether or not the nearly $4 billion authorized represented a down payment on a new and longstanding federal role in election administration. As the FY11/12 budget debates continue, it seems pretty clear that while the federal role created by HAVA may be longstanding, the level of funding will not.