Past and Future Budget Classics: A Research Agenda

AuthorIrene Rubin
Published date01 January 2015
Date01 January 2015
75th Anniversary
Irene Rubin writes on public budgeting
and f‌i nance and qualitative research
methods. Recent publications include
the seventh edition of The Politics
of Public Budgeting: Getting and
Spending, Borrowing and Balancing
and “The Executive Budget in the Federal
Government: The First Century and
Beyond” with Roy Meyers in Public
Administration Review.
Past and Future Budget Classics: A Research Agenda 25
Public Administration Review,
Vol. 75, Iss. 1, pp. 25–35. © 2014 by
The American Society for Public Administration.
DOI: 10.1111/puar.12289.
Irene Rubin
Northern Illinois University
Editor’s Note: This essay, by budget expert and
past PAR Editor in Chief Irene Rubin, reviews
four budgeting classics that appeared in PAR
since 1940. The articles were among PAR’s
75 most influential articles (http://publicad- selected by the Editorial
Board in 2014. Rubin discusses why the four
articles were influential, what has changed since
they were published, and identifies a research
agenda for creating future budget classics.
Abstract: is article summarizes the content of four
classic articles on budgeting that have appeared in
Public Administration Review, outlines some of the
major changes in budgeting that have occurred since
those authors wrote, and, based on those changes, of‌f ers a
research agenda for the next set of budget classics.
Four budgeting articles in Public Administration
Review (PAR) have been designated among the
most inf‌l uential 75 articles appearing in PAR’s
history.1 e four are Verne B. Lewis’s article “Toward
a  eory of Budgeting” (1952), Aaron Wildavsky’s
“ e Political Implications of Budget Reform
(1961), Allen Schick’s “ e Road to PPB:  e Stages
of Budget Reform” (1966), and Charles H. Levine’s
“Organizational Decline and Cutback Management”
(1978).  ese essays have been passed from one
generation of public administrators, both scholars and
practitioners, to the next.
ese four essays framed much of the research for
decades. Budgeting scholars (def‌i ned here as those
whose primary research interest is public budgeting)
debated whether budgetary decision making is more
rational, along the lines of Lewis’s ideas, or more
political, as Wildavsky argued. Authors discussed
Wildavsky’s incrementalist theory, providing evidence
pro and con (Bozeman and Straussman 1982; LeLoup
1978; Schick 1983; White 1994).  e debate was not
limited to the United States (Boyne, Ashworth, and
Powell 2000). Researchers continued to examine the
intent and relative successes of budget reforms and
to look at predominant budget orientation, as Schick
had done ( urmaier and Gosling 1997), and there
were many articles on cutback management, an area
emphasized by Levine (Behn 1985; Bozeman 2010;
McManus 2008).
Public budgeting has changed enormously since these
classics were written—the most recent of the four was
published in 1978. Other than the path laid down
by the budget classics, budget scholars have not had
much of a proactive agenda. Lacking an overarching
theory to point toward important topics, budgeters
have followed public sector issues as they arose.  e
result has been kaleidoscopic, with little follow-up on
past topics. With all of the changes that have occurred
since the last set of budget classics published in PAR,
it is time for new classics to guide research, pose new
questions, and of‌f er alternative explanations.
is article describes the budget issues discussed in the
classic essays, summarizes some of the major changes
that have occurred in public budgeting since these
essays were published, and of‌f ers a research agenda
based on those changes.
Def‌i ning the Field: What Issues
Did the Classic Essays Address?
Verne Lewis addressed V. O. Key’s famous question,
“On what basis shall it be decided to allocate x dollars
to activity A instead of activity B?” (Key 1940, 1138).
His answer was normative: all the possibilities for
spending should be examined, and money should be
allocated where it can achieve the most of an agreed-
upon goal. Such a scheme requires extensive knowl-
edge of programs and the relationship between inputs,
outputs, and outcomes, as well as agreement on goals.
Aaron Wildavsky countered that reform along the lines
described by Lewis ignored politics. Society is not a
single entity with a single set of goals. Individuals and
groups want dif‌f erent things from the budget that have
Past and Future Budget Classics: A Research Agenda

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