Visit the Fiscal Policy Resource Center
The latest figures for state budget shortfalls in 2012 reach as high as $125 billion. Not surprisingly, as budgets continue to dissolve, juvenile justice reformers are watching hard-won battles for better programming fall prey to short-sighted budget cuts. NJJN has heard from our members that in the current climate, policy changes become “all about the money."
Yet, at the same time, it is a great moment of opportunity for states to rethink their juvenile justice policies and evaluate whether they are getting a good return on the dollar for their investments. Now, perhaps more than at any other time, reformers are positioned to bring the evidence forward – and have it heard – for the most cost-beneficial ways to hold youth accountable and help them get back on the right track.
In order to take advantage of this perhaps unique window for reform, state-based advocacy groups must have a baseline understanding of state budget structures, as well as in-depth knowledge of their individual state budgets, including proposed and historical expenditures, revenue streams and budgeting processes and timelines so they can make sound fiscal arguments at the right moments and in turn help arm their legislative or administrative champions or disarm their detractors. Change agents also need to know how to translate this knowledge about budgets and budget shortfalls into nuanced messages that convince state legislators and administrators to make healthy policy decisions for youth.
The Work of the Fiscal Policy Center
The Network’s Fiscal Policy Center provides juvenile justice change agents and their allies with simple, concrete tools to leverage fiscally-minded reforms. The Center includes two major components, Budget Mastery and Communications Tools, that together provide general and in-depth technical assistance to juvenile justice advocates in the areas of budget structure and analysis, as well as messaging and framing strategies.
Budget Mastery: The Budget Mastery component of the Fiscal Policy Center provides Network members and allies with general training in budget structure, content and process, with a focus on those elements that are common to most states. Additionally, the Network’s Senior Budget Analyst provides in-depth technical assistance to NJJN members, enabling a detailed understanding of budget content and processes, particularly as they relate to expenditures on youth in conflict with the law, related expenditures on youth and family services, and revenue streams that can be accessed through the general fund, or through trust funds or other off-budget funding streams.
The Network is also building a Fiscal Tools Resource Center, which includes “budget basics” materials to help advocates become more comfortable speaking the budget “language” and navigating their state fiscal architectures. These resources draw on the knowledge gained by individual member states in order to have a broader impact on the field.
Lastly, the Fiscal Policy Working Group concentrates on sharing strategies advocates have successfully used to maintain programming despite budget cuts; brainstorming ideas for how NJJN can support advocates facing roadblocks due to fiscal constraints; consideration of how to make cost savings arguments without losing the ability to steer savings to good programs and while maintaining a focus on cost-effectiveness; tackling state budget crises; and other topics of interest to members.
Communications Tools: The Communications Tools component of the Fiscal Policy Center includes general messaging training for Network members and allies with a focus on creating effective, fiscally-minded messages. The Network’s Communications Director provides in-depth messaging assistance to NJJN members to either retain positive reforms or push forward new reform initiatives that are in jeopardy due to budgetary concerns. The Fiscal Messaging Resource Center provides Network members with adaptable communications tools that focus on fiscal messaging, such as framing fact sheets and talking points, fiscally-focused template op-eds and press releases, and state-specific graphic communications materials.