‘Messy’ process is working, budget committee leaders say

By Mary Frances Schjonberg
Posted Jul 7, 2012

[Episcopal News Service – Indianapolis] The process of developing a budget for the Episcopal Church’s 2013-2015 triennium has been typically messy, but it is working, according to the chair and vice chair of the Joint Standing Committee on Program, Budget and Finance (PBF).

“I don’t think it has not been a failure; I just think it’s been messy,” said New York Deputy and PB&F Chair Diane Pollard, who added that “sometimes you have to go through mess to get to the other side.”

Diocese of Maine Bishop Steve Lane, who is PBF’s vice chair, agreed.

“Doing it this way as a matter of policy, which is what it is, means that every time [we do it] we have this mess,” he said. “I think people are looking for a more orderly, more on-going, more long-term process.”

That desire, Lane said, was the motivation behind a move July 6 on the part of some members of the House of Bishops to vote “no” on resolutions that they said bogged down convention or put the funding cart before the budget horse.

Convention considers resolutions that include requests for money from the future budget at the same time PBF is crafting the budget that has to include them. When a resolution with funding implications is approved by both bishops and deputies, it goes to the budget committee which must decide how and, in some cases, if to account for the request in the budget.

“I believe that the votes in the House of Bishops yesterday were a protest against the manner in which the Episcopal Church does budgeting,” Lane said. “The complaint is about the parallel process between the work of Program, Budget and Finance on the one hand, and the work of all the rest of the committees presenting resolutions to be funded. They go along side by side, and they only meet in the budget proposal, which leaves everyone dissatisfied.”

PBF has made some decisions already, including choosing to base the primary portion of the budget’s income on the current 19 percent asking from the church’s 109 dioceses and three regional mission areas.

Lane said the committee heard “strong support” during an income hearing (video here) on July 6 for leaving the asking at the 19 percent level. “And we heard two folks talking about their [diocesan] efforts to do more and do better [than that percentage] and urging the rest of the church to do likewise,” he said.

Each year’s annual giving in the three-year budget is currently based on a diocese’s income two years earlier, minus $120,000. General Convention’s 2010-2012 budget was based on a 21 percent asking in 2010, 20 percent in 2011 and 19 percent in 2012.

The committee is scheduled to present its proposed budget July 10 at 2:15 p.m. to a joint session of the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies in the deputies’ hall. Lane has said that because the budget document must be to the printer by 3 p.m. local time July 9 at the latest, the committee will have its 2013-2015 proposed budget finished by noon that day.

A vote in each house is set for July 12, the last day of convention. The budget takes effect Jan. 1, 2013.

Both Pollard and Lane said budgeting planning needs to start earlier than the current process allow. “Many of the conversations we’re having today should have happened 18 months ago,” Lane said, as Pollard nodded in agreement.

“One of the immense problems with our way of doing budgets is the limited time which people have to absorb the information and then make conscious and deliberate decisions about priorities,” he said. “Doing it in five days is impossible for everybody.”

A large portion of PB&F’s struggles could be helped by a “strong budget committee” which included members of the Executive Council that would operate throughout the triennium, Pollard said.

However, she cautioned, the process of developing a budget to fund the Episcopal Church’s mission and ministry “can’t be perfectly orderly, because if it’s perfectly orderly then people are not having the opportunity to talk.” Thus, she said, “you have to expect some mess in it, but it could have been a little more orderly.”

The traditional mess, they both said, was exacerbated this year the multiple errors in the proposed draft budget that the church’s Executive Council gave to PB&F in January (as is required by church canon (in Canon I.4.6) and the General Convention’s Joint Rules (in II.10 10 (a)).

Because council was not allowed to change anything in the budget once it had been given to PBF, the members issued a memo from it April meeting, saying that the version of the proposed draft budget released to the church “is not exactly” the one it passed.

Then on June 1 Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, Chief Operating Officer Bishop Stacy Sauls and Treasurer to General Convention Kurt Barnes released an annotated version of council’s budget.

And, three weeks later, Jefferts Schori proposed an alternative budget that she said was “more clearly based on missional strategy” than the council’s budget.

Add to that a plethora of criticism and suggestions in the blogosphere and on various listservs and both Pollard and Lane said PBF wound up with more information than is often the case.

The committee decided July 4 to use the template of the presiding bishop’s budget, which is based on the Anglican Communion’s Five Marks of Mission. It has “taken the best work of Executive Council,” in Lane’s words, into that template along with other information.

This evening (July 7) from 7:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. PBF will hold a hearing on expenses in the 2013-2015 budget in Indianapolis Marriott Downtown.

“The work of PBF is not complete,” Lane said. “We urge people to attend, we urge people to raise their concerns and hopes for our consideration.”

— The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is an editor/reporter for the Episcopal News Service.


Comments (1)

  1. Harry Stevens says:

    The problem as I see it is all these resolutions pass with no offset to show where the money will come from. If there is a specific amount of money expected to come in and the committee is trying to balance a budget they someone adds to the costs they are left to come up with where to cut. It should be that for all proposals not in the budget they have to come up with what will be cut or raised for passage. Money should be left at the local level to do what only the people there know are the most pressing needs. There are way too many struggling parishes to keep expecting them to up the amount passed up the ladder.

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