MPA Program at CCNY
R. Mark Musell, former director of the MPA program, has spent decades studying, teaching, and writing about budgeting and the budgetary consequences of various government programs.
His new book, Understanding Government Budgets: A Guide to Practices in the Public Service, is an effort to untangle budgets so that students and citizens can better engage government.
“Budgets are chockablock with information on all aspects of governance, but it isn’t always easy to get at or interpret,” he stated. “That’s unfortunate, because budgets offer one of the more dependable sources of information on government.”
“The true priorities of politicians,” said Musell, “are better revealed by how they put money to work than by the tales they spin for media.”
How are budgets prepared, revised, and approved? How do they differ at the federal, state, and local levels? What is a “tax expenditure”? Using annotated diagrams, real-life examples, and straightforward prose, the book offers a clear, practical guide to these and other fundamental questions.
Musell emphasized that budget literacy is critical regardless of career path. “Whether you are a government program manager, lobbyist, or advocate,” he said, “achieving goals often involves influencing budgets, and budgets affect results – even the format matters.”
Compared to the highly technical tomes available on the subject, Understanding Government Budgets is a relatively slim, accessible volume. Just over 150 pages, it is authoritative and complete but avoids becoming cumbersome or overextended. Musell skillfully zeroes in on the essentials of budgeting, as Strunk and White’s classic book The Elements of Style does for writers.
The book’s release during an election year is especially opportune. “We have heard little talk about the budget from either party during this election cycle,” Musell said, “yet many of the policy proposals outlined on both sides would impact budgets for generations.”
Musell encouraged readers to use the array of useful references the book provides to organizations that offer readable, nonpartisan information on many of the issues raised in this election season, including the Tax Policy Center and Musell’s former employer, the Congressional Budget Office.
“It’s all there, and it’s free,” said Musell, “and it is indispensable if we are to have an engaged, informed electorate.”