Tuesday, November 10, 2009
This is why I try to encourage elected officials to use the phrase �spending discipline� rather than �fiscal discipline.� Our long-term deficit problem is a spending problem.Welcome to Minnesota, where Governor Pawlenty has announced he wants a constitutional amendment to cap spending. The amendment reads: "Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to require that state government general fund expenditures be limited to the amount of actual general fund revenues received by the state in the previous two-year budget period?"
The reaction is predictable. You get DFL opponents saying things like "you can't cut your way to greatness." You get the Star
Hennessey argues that the following line of attack follows the Left's hold on government:
- Increase government spending, especially through rapidly growing entitlements. At the state level it�s Medicaid.
- Wait. While you�re waiting, define deficits as the problem, rather than spending.
- Try to label as radical and extreme those who argue for slowing spending growth and preventing tax increases. The goal is to discredit these solutions as legitimate.
- Once deficits get large enough, shrug and say we have no choice but to raise taxes. This is especially true for entitlement programs directed toward the elderly, who have less ability to adjust to changed government promises.
- Argue we must protect low and middle-income from higher taxes, so upper-income taxpayers must bear the entire burden increase.
- Raise taxes on upper-income taxpayers.
- Rinse and repeat.
Spending limits have a long history, as this National Conference of State Legislatures summary shows. Pawlenty's proposal is different from most in our history, which either set a limit tied to population growth or growth+inflation. (Cato argues that limits set by personal income growth have been ineffective.) Those that set a maximum percentage of personal income (share of a level, not a growth rate) would find us probably near the limit now. Unlike the Pawlenty logic, I actually do plan on spending more when I'm older if I think my income will rise over time. I would argue this plan would have had a more tested version than this. (How do I know in May when the Legislature adjourns what revenues were for June, the end of the biennium, for instance?) It's worth noting that Milton Friedman more preferred the pop-growth-plus-inflation formula.
I worry that this amendment will barely register a nod from the Twin Cities political establishment. But clearly Pawlenty has seen the light that Hennessey is shining. At my home when the checkbook looks empty, I don't usually say I have an income problem (and I sure don't ask my neighbor to cover it for me.) I say I have a spending problem, and I fix it by spending less.