Study: Budget Reforms Jeopardized by Lack of Transparency, Public Input

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Government needs to include public, nonprofits and foundations to succeed


CHICAGO, IL – The lack of transparency and public input into the state budget could derail efforts to revamp Illinois’ budget and improve government efficiency, a new study says.  Researchers at American University in Washington D.C. compared Illinois’ new budget reforms to similar laws enacted around the country, and their research warns that new laws often fail to meet high expectations without a rigorous system of public input and transparency in place.  Donors Forum, a statewide association of nonprofits and grantmakers, says the report echoes growing concerns they hear from nonprofits across Illinois.

“Engaging the public and nonprofits and providing transparency isn’t just critical to getting the budget right, it is critical for building the legitimate public support that our governor and legislators will need to make big policy changes,” says Valerie S. Lies, President and CEO of Donors Forum.  “Many of the solutions being discussed in Illinois today aren’t new, but they’ve fallen short in Illinois and in other states in the past because policymakers failed to engage the public from the beginning.”

“Getting Budgeting for Results right is critical to making Illinois a better place for all of us,” says Consuella Brown, Donors Forum Policy Committee member and foundation executive at Woods Fund of Chicago.  “Philanthropy believes in a vision of a better world. Those values aren’t possible without healthy, strong community organizations addressing needs directly and advocating for the vulnerable.”

“We have to stop funding programs that don’t work so we can protect services that are making a difference in the lives of Illinoisans while still living within our means,” added State Senator Dan Kotowski (D-Park Ridge), Chair of the Budgeting for Results Commission.

The report recommends involving nonprofits and grantmakers in developing long-term strategic goals and the plans to implement them, as well as performance measures.  According to Donors Forum, the 500,000 nonprofit professionals working throughout Illinois today have tremendous expertise that the state lacks in strategic-planning, innovative programming, and measuring results.


 “Working together to align the goals, programs and outcomes measures of state government, nonprofits, and grantmakers ensures we don’t waste valuable resources on program administration that would be better spent serving the people of Illinois,” Lies added.  “If state agencies focus on the wrong outcomes while ignoring important ones, we will waste billions achieving meaningless measures.  We don’t want state government ‘Teaching to the Test.’”

Highlights from Other States

Researchers from American University’s Center for Public Finance Research compared Illinois to ten other states that have implemented similar budget changes.  While concluding that no one state offers a perfect model for Illinois, Donors Forum says they did find specific examples of reforms that will help Illinois enact major budget changes:

Broad Public Input: Washington Governor Chris Gregoire (R) created a 35-member Committee on Transforming Washington’s Budget to develop ideas for restructuring, costsaving, outsourcing and addressing service needs.  The committee included leaders from nonprofits, business, health care, local government, organized labor, education and environmental groups.  Governor Gregoire held public hearings around the state to identify the public’s priorities, and an online townhall meeting drew thousands of participants who submitted, debated and voted for their favorite ideas. 

Public Transparency: Maryland’s StateStat website provides a one-stop portal to relevant performance data, strategic plans and action plans for each of Governor O’Malley’s 15 priority areas as well as detailed reports of agency outcomes, outputs, caseloads, overtime costs and other relevant management data.  The reports are accompanied by the minutes of biweekly meetings with the Governor’s Delivery Unit that highlight emerging problems and plans of action.

Nonprofit Engagement:  Iowa relies on the input of nonprofit organizations to develop performance measures.  Those measures help agencies prioritize, make their operations more efficient, and guide resource decisions to expand or contract programs.  Although Iowa began using performance measures more than a decade ago, they are still struggling to develop valid and reliable measures of education and human services.

Recommendations for Illinois


Donors Forum developed a Report Card for state government based on the research.  Lies, Donors Forum’s President and CEO, said that while they recognize that Illinois is just beginning multi-year implementation of the reforms – and is ahead of other states in some ways – Illinoisans should set high standards for the budget process  if we want a high-quality budget.

“We applaud the leadership of Senator Dan Kotowski in enacting ‘Budgeting for Results’ and his leadership of the Budgeting for Results Commission, as well as Governor Quinn’s commitment to pursuing the common good transparently and with public input.  We know that there is a long road ahead that will require a renewed spirit of cooperation and trust between all leaders in government, business, philanthropy and the nonprofit sector,” Lies said. 

Donors Forum hopes to meet with Governor Quinn soon to discuss their recommendations, and they are meeting with other leaders from the nonprofit sector, lawmakers, business leaders, and civic groups to build support for improving public input and transparency in the coming weeks.

“We all have a shared interest and responsibility to ensure that our state is pursuing the common good efficiently and sustainably,” Lies said.  “Working together, we can not only overcome the state’s current challenges, but set a new and lasting course for prosperity for all Illinoisans and generations to come.”

The full report may be viewed online at

About Donors Forum in Illinois:

Donors Forum ( is a membership association through which Illinois grantmakers, nonprofits, and their advisors enjoy a range of resources for making their work even more effective. These include educational programs, networking events, public policy leadership, research, library services, publications, and more. Through Donors Forum, grantmakers, nonprofits, and philanthropy advisors connect, learn, and act together to strengthen their work and the people they serve.

About American University’s Center for Public Finance Research

Created in 2008, the Center for Public Finance Research (CPFR) offers research and education in public budgeting and finance, public financial management, public economics, and benefit-cost analysis at the local, regional, national, and international levels. To accomplish its work CPFR engages faculty from the School of Public Affairs and across American University, as well as scholars from the Washington, DC, policy community.


Budgeting for Results

Illinois State Government Report Card

Long-Term Institutional Commitment to Change


Illinois is only state to enact legislation. The Budgeting forResults Commission is a good start, but must be made permanent. The Governor should consider a cabinet levelChief Performance Officer overseeing an independent unitto assist agencies in strategic planning, and agency-levelperformance officers.

Public Input


The Commission needs deeper and more meaningful public input, and it should expand its membership to include more expertise from academia, nonprofits and foundations as well as geographically.



Update Open Meetings Act and FOIA to ensure they reflecta commitment to a transparent and independently verifiedExecutive budget process.

Setting Strategic Goals


State started the process without a plan. As they move forwardstate agencies should involve third-party experts in developingmore specific objectives to avoid tendency to retrofit goals; alllevels of strategic planning should be transparent to the mediaand public.

Developing Agency Operating Plans


The state should include non-governmental experts from academia, foundations and nonprofits in agency planning to: promote efficiency and innovation; validate operating plans over the objections of entrenched interests; provide transparency.

Create Valid and Meaningful Performance Measures


Follow the Commission’s recommendation to include nonprofit expertise in developing measures to prevent agency low-balling and ensure transparency; Drop plans for relying on ROI/CBA, which is unsuitable for most “public goods.”

Align Resource Allocations with Goals


Commission should follow through on reviewing mandated expenditures; cuts in state spending should be strategic – focused on the lowest priorities and greatest inefficiencies – not focused on the biggest programs “because that’s where the money is” or cutting across-the-board.

Independent Collection and Verification of Outcomes


Program performance measures should be collected and reported by an independent third party, such as a foundation, not the agencies themselves; self-reporting agencies must be audited routinely by the Inspector General for performance.

Measures Impact Operations, Inform Allocations, Objectives and Goals


Follow Maryland’s two-track approach: report both the detailed,meaningful information that program managers rely on to improve operations throughout the year as well periodic reporting of broader outcomes, all in a centralized website that is transparent to the public, media and third parties.
For more information, contact                             Last updated 2/21/                                                                           Prepared by Donors Forum

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