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Pennsylvania Starts to Fill Budget Office Positions

Pennsylvania's equivalent to the Congressional Budget Office is finally coming together after a long wait. The Independent Fiscal Office (IFO) was created in 2010 to provide apolitical economic and budgetary analysis. However, it only existed in theory, because it has never been staffed.

The IFO got its first slice of the state budget pie this year, and more than 5 months later, two key staffers have finally been appointed. The department is meant to serve lawmakers.

"They can call on us to provide an unbiased analysis of various situations, various receipt trends, expenditures. We also hope to undertake special studies as requested by the legislature," said IFO Director Matthew Knittel.

Knittel hopes to bring on as many as 12 staffers in the next six months. In the meantime, the department is gearing up for a revenue estimating conference required by law to be held in January.

A web page will soon be up and running, hosting a slew of data. Knittel said that when that happens, the public will be able to get their eyes on the same data that lawmakers are looking at as they make fiscal decisions.

"[We] then apply some analysis for the general public so they understand how the economics — both at the national and the state level — are affecting the budget of the state, and perhaps their personal circumstances," said Knittel.

Senate Republicans pushed hard in 2010 to create the IFO, with the goal of bringing independent fiscal information to bear on political budget negotiations. They were concerned that the executive branch was dominating the conversation on state revenue estimates and other budget information.