What it’s like to testify at the statehouse

By James D. Gottfried, CPA, Chair, The Ohio Society of CPAs

Last March, I represented OSCPA testifying on HB 368 before the Ohio House Finance and Appropriations Committee. It was a personally rewarding and eye-opening experience that I hope more members will get a chance to experience.

This proposed legislation would create a Long-Range Financial Outlook Council made up of an impartial group of government and private-sector experts. The council created by the proposed legislation would be charged with developing an annual report on Ohio’s financial outlook looking forward four years. This will be a formal, consistent and ongoing documented process that will produce a report available to government personnel and the public. Every year the outlook will be updated and rolled forward another year.

Would Ohio’s adoption of a long-range financial outlook put an end to all state financial issues? Of course not. It would, however, help ensure future issues are identified and analyzed. It would help government and business leaders better examine and prepare for future challenges and opportunities. All of which would be good for Ohio.

This proposed legislation is yet another example of OSCPA recommendations coming to fruition. Along with several other suggestions, such as performance audits, streamlining of government services and strategic planning, requiring a long-range financial outlook was a core provision in OSCPA’s Budget Advisory Task Force Report.

By formally testifying before the committee, we had the opportunity not only to state our continued support for the legislation, but to help move its passage forward by emphasizing the benefits and answering questions from the committee members. This was NOT just a perfunctory reading of prepared testimony to a small group of disinterested House members. OSCPA member Michaela R. McGinn, CPA, talks about testifying at the Ohio Statehouse: http://tinyurl.com/oscpamcginn. As best as I could tell, nearly all committee members were present. They were actively engaged and participating in the process. There were several follow-up questions from committee members in both parties. I take this as positive indication that they were prepared and interested in discussing the proposed legislation.

This was the first time I had the opportunity to testify before a legislative body. I felt comfortable with the written testimony and the summarized verbal presentation to the committee. It was more difficult preparing for the reaction of the committee members and the types of questions they might ask. I wanted to make sure I was prepared to respond calmly and rationally if someone became hostile or negative.

Fortunately, these concerns did not materialize. One line of questioning seemed to center on the proposed legislation failing because the planning process would be politicized. The committee member was concerned that whichever party happened to be in control would “stack the members” of the proposed council in its favor. Our answer to that concern is making sure the council is balanced and bipartisan, just as the proposed legislation is drafted.

It’s a personal honor to represent the OSCPA and you as members in any forum. I’m certainly not the first to testify before Ohio or federal legislative committees. Watch OSCPA member Michaela R. McGinn, CPA, talk about her experience testifying at the Ohio Statehouse at http://tinyurl.com/oscpamcginn. I would like to expressly thank all those in the past who have taken the time and effort to represent OSCPA before legislative committees. Your efforts are greatly appreciated!

I’m also not the last to be asked to testify. Please consider volunteering to testify on future testimony; we need you! There will always be a need for specific subject-matter experts to represent the OSCPA on important legislative matters impacting the profession. My experience was both interesting and rewarding. I hope as many of you as possible can have the same experience.

Know that you don’t have to go it alone. Barbara Benton, CAE, OSCPA’s vice president of governmental affairs, and Amy Mignogna, MPA, CAE, OSCPA’s director of tax policy, are invaluable resources and will work with you all the way through the development and presentation of the testimony. Our governmental affairs team has decades of experience with governmental relations and can offer guidance, perspective and input. To volunteer, contact OSCPA’s Governmental Affairs team at government@ohio-cpa.com or 800.686.2727.

I found the whole process interesting and enlightening. As formal and imposing as it might appear at first blush, it wasn’t that way at all. It was a great experience and I heartily recommend you make the effort to try it if the opportunity arises.

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