This section of the book is from the "Introduction To Public Finance" book, by Carl Copping Plehn.
It has been claimed that the English system served as a model for the other European countries. However that may be, and it is true only in part, the English system will serve as a good illustration of the European methods. The fiscal year begins April 1 and ends March 31. Each department of the administration prepares a careful statement, known as the "Estimates," for the coming year. These " Estimates," each of which comprises a good-sized quarto volume, are tediously exact and minute in the statement of what it is expected will be needed for the forthcoming year. They are called the " Army Estimates," the u Navy Estimates," the " Civil Service Estimates," etc. TheChancellor of the Exchequer, in turn, mates." bases his estimate of all that will be needed upon these statements, and calculates the receipts from each source on the basis of the revenues of the previous year. He then presents all the documents to Parliament with a brief, clear statement of what the expenditure will be, what it is expected the revenues will be, what new taxes, if any, are needed, or what taxes may be remitted or changed, in order to make the revenues equal the expenditure. This statement is called the budget. " Usually, but by no means always, the proposals of the Chancellor of the Exchequer are accepted by the Commons, and even when they are not in detail it is seldom that the items of expenditure are objected to. The House is supposed to go through the 'estimates ' in detail ; it forms itself into a 'Committee ofSupply,' and sanctions every item in the three bulky volumes, but its members have not, as a rule, knowledge enough of the details to offer effective criticism, and the utmost the committee can be said to do, on the average, is to render flagrant abuses impossible. On the average, perhaps that is enough."1 Parliament cannot directly or indirectly increase the appropriations asked by the ministry in the name of the Crown, nor add new appropriations. 1 Wilson, The National Budget, p. 147.
The estimates both of revenues and expenditure are made with such great care that there is seldom either a surplus or a deficit of any large amount at the end of the year. According to Bastable the estimates of expenditure in England for the three years April 1, 1889, to March 31, 1892, as compared with the results, show an error of only £137,000 in a total of £264,000,000, or a little over 1s. per £100, or $1 in $2000. All credits of disbursing officers expire, and their accounts close, March 31. All appropriations lapse at that time, except those appropriated for the consolidated fund. It requires a special act of Parliament to spend any more money on last year's account even though the original appropriation may not have been exhausted.
In the United States there is no connection between the executive and legislative departments of the government that would allow of any such arrangement as that of the budget in England. The reports of the administrative officers, the President, and the Secretary of the Treasury, are made to Congress and are often accompanied by suggestions of various sorts. But the executive officers have no real access to the ear of the House. Therefore, no formal budget is presented to Congress. Two separate committees in the House (where finance bills originate, although they may be amended by the Senate) deal regularly with finances; one with taxation, the other with appropriations.
These committees are the " Committee on Ways and Means" and the " Committee on Appropriations." Bills involving expenditure or taxation are regularly referred to these committees. The control of these committees rests solely on convention, there being no constitutional provision for such reference. Even after the committee has presented an appropriation or revenue bill, there is the greatest freedom of amendment, and theoretically any member of the House could, if so inclined, present an entire new set of such bills forming a budget. Appropriations may be increased or decreased, or new ones introduced, without reference to the committees. Practically the control of these committees is very great, especially in the matter of suppressing appropriation bills that may be referred to them for consideration. Certain lines of expenditure may be suggested by other committees, and theoretically may be voted on without reference to these controlling committees. For example, the Navy and War departments may receive appropriations suggested by the committees in charge of them. Many other committees, as, for example, the ones on claims, on invalid pensions, pensions, etc., regularly bring in bills involving expenditure.
Ever since the protective policy was fully established the government has been in the possession of large revenues, which are not determined in any way by the expenditures. So that the consideration of revenue bills has always been complicated by other than fiscal considerations, except during the Civil War. This sundering of the functions of spending and of obtaining revenues, and the general scattering of appropriations, would apparently cause the utmost confusion. But the result is not so bad as might be expected, (1) because of the influence of the committees, (2) because, of course, some attempt is made by the House itself to ascertain whether funds are or will be available for the purposes suggested, (3) because the tax system has not been a variable one, and has yielded, until recently, a pretty regular and gradually increasing revenue, to spend which has often taxed to the utmost the ingenuity of Congress. But the system absolutely prevents any systematic oversight of the finances as a whole, and allows of no measurement of the relative weight of each appropriation. Credits to spending officers do not expire at the end of the fiscal year, July 1, as in England, but generally continue in force until the entire sum is consumed or the object is accomplished. Congress thus loses one advantage for the control of expenditure that Parliament enjoys. The American system, however, has one great advantage over the English in that it allows of a more critical investigation by the legislature of the specific items of each appropriation.
The date at which the fiscal year expires is generally set with reference to the convenience of officials in rendering their reports and to the meetings of the legislatures. The accounts presented are generally for gross income and expenditure, so that the details of the cost of collecting revenues and chance savings of expenditures can be controlled.
There is theoretically no sanction for expenditure of any kind beyond the amount appropriated by the legislature. If any expenditure not so sanctioned is of pressing necessity, theadministrative officers may sometimes assume the responsibility and make the appropriation, subject to the ratification of the legislature when it next meets. This discretionary power is exercised to a very limited extent in most countries. In the United States, however, the disorder attendant upon the appropriations involves the annual presentation of a "deficiency bill." When any action involving expenditure has been sanctioned by the legislature, and insufficient funds have been appropriated, there is a moral obligation resting on the legislature to make the requisite appropriation afterward.