State politicians work nationwide to pull the rug out from voters

Geoffrey Lawrence

Steve Malanga has a great article in City Journal decrying the “taxonomy of fiscal gimmicks, evasions, and ploys” that state lawmakers have used nationwide in order to avoid a legitimate reconciliation of state budgets.

Malanga points out that state lawmakers who are sweeping capital improvement funds, borrowing against future revenue streams, papering over debt, and engaging in other fiscal chicanery are, consequentialy, defrauding the voters who have given a clear mandate to reduce state spending. In many states, lawmakers are pursuing these dubious strategies in order to explicitly circumvent spending constraints put in place directly by voters – short-circuiting the clear intent of the electorate.

As Malanga puts it:

Facing scary revenue drops that left their budgets dangerously unbalanced after years of runaway spending, states have employed an unprecedented number of fiscal gimmicks over the last two years to try to make up the difference. They have swiped revenues dedicated to maintaining roads or enhancing emergency medical systems; sold future lottery proceeds for cash today; grabbed unclaimed money in personal bank accounts; and redefined taxes as fees to get around constitutional limits on tax hikes. And they’ve justified these moves by claiming that voters are in no mood for the spending cuts or explicit tax hikes necessary to shrink deficits legitimately-even though the tricks often circumvent budget restrictions that the voters themselves enacted.

It’s clear that most of these strategies are currently being used, or likely will be used, by policymakers Carson City. Yet, policymakers in the Silver State need to remember the reason they were put into office and stop using gimmicks to prop up unsustainable spending. It should have been clear at the outset that the 30-plus percent increase in real, per-capita General Fund spending that lawmakers embarked on between 2003 and 2009 was unsustainable. Now, voters have given lawmakers a clear mandate to reverse that increase.

This is not the time to play games – particularly when a detailed roadmap for reducing spending is readily available.

Geoffrey Lawrence

Geoffrey Lawrence

Director of Research

Geoffrey Lawrence is director of research at Nevada Policy.

Lawrence has broad experience as a financial executive in the public and private sectors and as a think tank analyst. Lawrence has been Chief Financial Officer of several growth-stage and publicly traded manufacturing companies and managed all financial reporting, internal control, and external compliance efforts with regulatory agencies including the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.  Lawrence has also served as the senior appointee to the Nevada State Controller’s Office, where he oversaw the state’s external financial reporting, covering nearly $10 billion in annual transactions. During each year of Lawrence’s tenure, the state received the Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting Award from the Government Finance Officers’ Association.

From 2008 to 2014, Lawrence was director of research and legislative affairs at Nevada Policy and helped the institute develop its platform of ideas to advance and defend a free society.  Lawrence has also written for the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation, with particular expertise in state budgets and labor economics.  He was delighted at the opportunity to return to Nevada Policy in 2022 while concurrently serving as research director at the Reason Foundation.

Lawrence holds an M.A. in international economics from American University in Washington, D.C., an M.S. and a B.S. in accounting from Western Governors University, and a B.A. in international relations from the University of North Carolina at Pembroke.  He lives in Las Vegas with his beautiful wife, Jenna, and their two kids, Carson Hayek and Sage Aynne.