“What courage really is is, in the face of having a surplus, when you have an opportunity to spend spend spend other people’s money, that you still choose to rein in government,” said Sarah Palin in 2012 in comments directed that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.
Those words came to mind as I read this report from the Associated Press about Republicans who campaigned on a limited-government platform being tempted to spend as state revenues come in above forecasts.
Revenues this year are meeting or exceeding expectations in most states. A growing number now have surpluses.
That’s created tension in some state capitols, where Republican won majorities on a platform of smaller government and less spending. Some of those lawmakers want to use surplus revenues to fortify rainy day funds while others want to spend extra money on neglected buildings, roads or schools.
It’s a sorry state of affairs when the only thing that can truly inspire austerity and efficiency in government is running out of money.
North Dakota has this problem. The roots of the state’s current Republican supermajority are in the state’s fiscal problems of the early 1990’s when falling revenues prompted leaders to slash spending. During those times, the state’s voters chose Republicans to be stewards of their tax dollars and have ever since.
But now, with state revenues surging, Republicans have been lulled into going along with aggressive government growth. The just-concluded legislative session gave a 62% boost to state spending for the coming biennium, and not only is Republican leadership not apprehensive about that spending growth they’re actually bragging about it.
Of course, when confronted with criticism over spending, North Dakota Republicans like to make sounds about “one time spending.” But when biennium-after-biennium we see major posts in total appropriations, the “one time spending” stuff starts to sound a little hollow:
It just goes to show that, regardless of party, if our politicians have money they’ll spend money. Former ND House Majority Leader John Dorso was right in a recent column: The best way to fix the spending problem is to cut taxes.
They can’t spend it if they don’t have it.
Update: More from the Associated Press, including Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner saying North Dakota’s surging revenues is causing “tension.”
But in North Dakota, an oil-development bonanza has pumped so much tax revenue into government coffers that the state of about 700,000 residents now boasts a nearly $2 billion surplus — even after doubling the size of its budget over the past decade.
The newfound wealth has placed unprecedented demands on lawmakers for spending on roads, schools, law enforcement and emergency medical services. The Legislature recently agreed to provide more than $1.1 billion to help western North Dakota communities affected by the oil boom. But some lawmakers said the record appropriation still was not adequate to meet the swelling demands while others complained that the spending was not benefitting their parts of the state.
Wardner, a Republican from Dickinson who has spent 22 years in the Legislature, said the influx of money has created “more tension in the chambers” and made it harder to craft budgets.
“In the past, we just said ‘no,’ because we didn’t have the money, and we were done with it,” Wardner said. “Now if we say ‘no,’ they say ‘we have the money.’”