| August 14, 2012

An idea for controlling Oklahoma government spending

With government spending already at an all-time high, Oklahoma’s political leaders decided this year to spend even more money. Regrettably, they’re now spending more than $500 per second.

Why does this matter? It matters because, as OCPA economists Scott Moody and Wendy Warcholik point out in the current issue of Perspective, “the massive growth in Oklahoma government spending is crowding out Oklahoma’s private sector—costing Oklahomans up to $13,176 per household in lost personal income.”

How can we bring government spending under control? John Hood, president of the John Locke Foundation, a free-market think tank in North Carolina, has an idea that Oklahoma policymakers might wish to consider: a constitutional spending limit. “There’s already a lot of talk in Raleigh political circles about the possibility of major tax reform in 2013,” Hood writes.

If any tax reform passes in 2013, it should be accompanied by a Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) that caps spending growth, discourages tax hikes, and rebuilds the government's balance sheet through prudent savings and debt-retirement strategies. I discuss these ideas at length in my new book, Our Best Foot Forward.

Critics often respond to such proposals by arguing that there should be no institutional constraints on the ability of elected representatives to craft and enact budgets. But political representation, while necessary, is not a sufficient protection for taxpayers. The framers of North Carolina's [and Oklahoma’s] constitution agreed. Our state budget is already subject to constitutional constraints, such as the requirement that our operating budget must be balanced with current revenue.

Unfortunately, existing constraints have proven to be insufficient to the task of aligning the short-term decisions of politicians with the long-term interest of taxpayers. Instead, lawmakers have taken North Carolinians on a rollercoaster ride of surging budgets, falling budgets, ever-changing tax laws, and escalating levels of debt and other financial liabilities that have never been submitted to voter approval. …

A TABOR for North Carolina should cap annual spending growth to a combination of inflation and population growth. It should require a legislative supermajority to raise tax rates. It should abolish loopholes that have allowed the state to issue hundreds of millions of dollars worth of bonded debt without a vote of the people.

Given that Oklahoma’s political leaders (despite the best efforts of some lawmakers) continue to exceed the TABOR limit, this makes sense for Oklahoma, too.

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