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Legislatures and the Budget Process: the myth of fiscal control

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Joachim Wehner
Palgrave Macmillan (23 June 2010)

The legislative 'power of the purse' is an important constitutional principle across contemporary democracies. Yet, national legislatures differ in their approach to fiscal control. What is the role of legislatures in the budget process? Why does this role vary across democratic countries? Are powerful assemblies a threat to the prudent management of public finances?

This unprecedented survey of legislative budgeting tackles these questions using quantitative data and case studies. The analysis reveals a striking variation in the budgetary role of national legislatures across contemporary democracies, which is influenced by colonial heritage as well as current political dynamics. It also finds consistent evidence that powerful legislatures are associated with higher public spending than those with limited authority. Based on in-depth accounts of fundamental reforms to the budget process in Sweden and South Africa, Legislatures and the Budget Process explores how the tension between legislative authority and fiscal discipline might be reconciled.

  • Joachim Wehner is Senior Lecturer in Public Policy in the Department of Government at LSE

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'Given the importance of the topic, it is a surprise that there is so little truly comparative work on the role of legislatures in budgeting. This book admirably fills this gap in the literature. It combines quantitative approaches with careful case studies that delve into the causal mechanisms at work. We learn that the legislature's ability to amend the budget does change budgetary outcomes. At the same time, the careful case study evidence indicates that quantitative scholars need to pay more attention to the institutional details of how processes like 'top-down budgeting' are introduced and implemented. Scholars and policymakers alike interested in executive–legislative relations, institutional design, and budgeting should pay close attention to this book.'
Mark Hallerberg, Professor of Public Management and Political Economy, Hertie School of Governance, Germany

'In this insightful book, Joachim Wehner combines systematic cross-national analysis and case studies to assess the budgetary role and predicament of modern legislatures. Armed with growing independence from government, national legislatures are more active in amending the budget, but must also be more disciplined in fiscal policy. This book offers practical guidance, based on the experiences of innovative legislatures, on how to balance these cross pressures.'
Allen Schick, Professor of Political Science, University of Maryland, USA

'This book makes an important addition to previous work, especially with regard to the relationship between the power of a legislature and public spending. It should be of real value to legislatures and governments alike as fiscal constraints gain more prominence in the years ahead.'
Barry Anderson, Former Head of the Budgeting and Public Expenditures Division, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, France

Legislatures and the Budget Process