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.