The Fiscal Budget Procedure
According to the Constitution, the Storting is to be the final authority in matters concerning the finances of the State - expenditures as well as revenues. The Storting thus allocates funds, that is, it places funds at the disposal of the executive power -the Government. The Storting does not just permit money to be spent for specific purposes; it also has the power to order such expenditures. The rules which prescribe the form of the Fiscal Budget are provided in the Appropriations Regulations, and the procedure for adopting the budget is set out in the Storting's Rules of Procedure.
When the Storting convenes in the autumn, the Fiscal Budget is always the first item of business for consideration, and the proceedings to adopt the budget take most of the autumn session.
The Government's proposition
The Fiscal Budget is probably the most important tool of government available to the Storting and the Government. Through the budget, the guidelines for the activities of the State for the coming year are drawn up. Proposition No. 1 (the "Yellow Book") is submitted by the sixth day of the session, at which time the Minister of Finance appears before the Storting to present the budget proposition in his Budget Statement. The Budget Statement forms part of the basis material for the subsequent budget debate.
Before the budget is submitted to the Storting, it has undergone an exhaustive procedure in which all government institutions and branches of the government administration have been involved.
The Ministry of Finance sets up a complete fiscal budget proposal, which includes the National Insurance scheme, after deliberations between the ministries and the Government have been concluded. The Budget receives the official approval of the King in Council, whereupon it is submitted to the Storting as Proposition No. 1 to the Storting.
In the Storting, the Presidium is responsible for assigning the various chapters of the budget to the appropriate committees. The recommendation concerning these assignments is dealt with and passed by the Storting in plenary session. The Presidium also sets deadlines for completion and return of the budget recommendations by the committees.
How the parliamentary party groups consider the Budget
The party groups in opposition draft their own alternative budgets. These budgets are based on the Government’s budget proposal. The alternative budgets form the basis of the respective party groups’ budget proposals. The opposition parties’ alternative budgets are not published as separate documents, but are added as remarks to the standing committees’ budget recommendations.
One of the ways in which the parties can prepare for the budget negotiations is to send questions about the budget proposal to the ministries. This means that each of the parties has clarified its primary views and priorities before the negotiations in the Finance Committee start. In the time leading up to the negotiations, the party groups present their own budget proposals by contacting the media and holding press conferences. After that, the tug-of-war in the Finance Committee can begin.
The Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs
The fiscal budget proceedings are coordinated by the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs, which, by the 20 November at the latest, presents a recommendation on the National and Fiscal Budgets, with a proposed resolution on budget ceilings for appropriations in accordance with the expenditure areas laid down by the Storting. The committee submits at the same time a recommendation concerning taxes and duties, revenue items and block grants to municipalities and counties. The Storting must deal with these recommendations within one week. This is then followed by the annual budget debate. The Storting’s resolution on budget ceilings is binding for the subsequent consideration of the budget during the same year.
During the budget debate, the most important arguments for and against the Government’s general economic policy are presented, and indications are given of the support that can be anticipated by the Government. The debate is concluded by a vote on the proposals submitted in the recommendations. The amounts for all the separate expenditure areas are fixed collectively in a single resolution.
The Standing Committees
In the following period, the standing committees submit recommendations concerning appropriations within the expenditure areas allocated to them. Recommendations must include all chapters and items within each separate expenditure area.
Each standing committee may only make reallocations within the limits that have been decided. This means that increases in expenditure must be matched by decreases in expenditure or by increases in revenue. The budget recommendations of the standing committees shall be considered by the Storting by 15th December at the latest, culminating in the Storting’s final budget resolution. The amounts for all the separate items within an expenditure area are fixed collectively in a single resolution.
The recommendations of the individual committees are dealt with in plenary session. In debates on the individual budget recommendations, strict time limits are observed in order to ensure that the entire budget will go through in time. The length of these debates varies from four to five hours for the shortest, to nine to ten hours for the longest.
Budget proceedings are subject to a strict time limit - no more than 2½ months may be used to adopt a budget. In extraordinary cases, such as a change in government (as in 1997), the time available may be even shorter.
The period during the budget process is often extremely hectic. However, in practice, the Storting accepts the Government's proposals, usually with only minor changes. The Government’s proposal and the Storting’s resolution normally differ financially by less than one per cent. The signals given by the Storting via its comments and priorities are perhaps of greater political significance, since they may influence subsequent budgets.
The Storting makes many of its appropriations in the form of block grants or "umbrella appropriations", so that it is up to the Government to make the final decisions about how the funds are to be applied.
Any Royal Proposition concerning amendments to all the separate budgets of the individual ministries must be submitted by 15th May during the fiscal year concerned, in the submission of the Report to the Storting concerning the Revised National Budget. The Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs submits recommendations concerning such amendments by the second Friday in June, at the latest.