From an editorial Friday in the (Greensboro) News & Record:
It might be true that some politicians just cant help themselves. They always want to spend more money. Should they be barred from doing so?
Thats the approach state Rep. John Blust, R-Guilford, takes in his Taxpayer Bill of Rights thats waiting for action in the legislature. It proposes a constitutional amendment putting a tight limit on annual budget increases. From an established baseline, expenditures could rise each year only according to a fiscal growth factor the average sum over the previous three years of inflation and population change. The concept is so complicated that the yes-or-no proposition put on the ballot would require 109 words.
The flaws are easier to understand. First, this would steal from each legislature the responsibility to adopt a budget without prior constraint. Why shouldnt lawmakers increase spending by 3 percent one year if they think its important, even if the fiscal growth factor is 2 percent?
The proposed amendment says they can, but only with two-thirds votes in both the House and Senate contradicting the principle of majority rule.
Furthermore, this formula doesnt accurately portray the states needs. For example, if the population holds steady but children make up a greater share of it, more spending for schools will be required.
And what happens if a rush of prosperity lifts the tide of tax revenue? Should the legislature not be able to raise spending a bit to make up for lean times? This proposal says such a windfall would trigger an automatic refund to taxpayers. Poor schools would have to stay poor, even if the state were growing wealthier.
The problem isnt that legislatures should not spend taxpayers money carefully and set tax rates at fair levels. Its that they are elected every two years to make those decisions. They should not be bound by artificial formulas and forced to tell constituents theyre simply unable to address current needs or adapt to changing circumstances. Good governing, like leadership in any endeavor, demands constant reassessment and flexibility. This measure would mire tomorrows legislatures in budgetary quicksand.
The bill hasnt yet advanced in the legislature because of uncertainty about tax reform and next years budget. It should not go anywhere. If it does gain legislative favor, it then would have to be approved by voters in a statewide referendum.
But this really isnt a Bill of Rights for taxpayers. Its a dodge by legislators.
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