TABOR or Zero?

Garren Shipley of the Northern Virginia Daily has an (as always) superb write up on Delegate Gilbert’s efforts to revive the Taxpayer Bill of Rights in Virginia:

Slowing economic growth combined with an overly optimistic revenue estimate led legislators to spend billions more than the state will collect in tax revenue this year.

The problem is deeper than that, according to Gilbert.

“The problem with the state budget crisis that we find ourselves right now is that the growth of the budget has grown far in excess of the needs of the citizens of the commonwealth of Virginia,” he said.

Both Democrats and Republicans have been part of the problem, Gilbert said.

Republicans have “prided ourselves in being able to stop tax increases, but that’s only half the equation,” he said.

“In years where we’ve had booming tax revenues, we’ve done what politicians collectively try to do — be all things to all people,” he said.

As drawn, the proposal would put a hard cap on tax revenue and budget growth at the rate of inflation and the rate of population growth combined.

“Those two markers are the most accurate measures of the true needs of how the budget should grow,” he said.

Taxes collected in excess of the growth limit would go two places — 75 percent would be refunded to individual taxpayers, with the balance deposited in the state’s “rainy-day” reserve fund.

Using Gilbert’s formula, Virginia’s budget would have been capped at about 28 percent growth from 2000 to 2006.

Real appropriations grew some 49 percent over the same period, according to data compiled by the Legislative Audit and Review Commission, the legislature’s investigative arm.

Certainly I think the proposal has a great deal of merit and puts government in the position it should be in: only spending the money it has and being, first and foremost, responsible to the people who are giving them that money in the first place. However, I have some concerns with the practical outcomes of the bill. In Colorado, which has had TABOR in place since 1992, we have seen a steady progression from red to blue, with many observers blaming TABOR, the thought being that it puts too great of a strain on essential services when people were looking for more, more, more. Certainly, though, I’d like to hear more about the proposal. 

There is another budgetary bill that I DEFINITELY gung-ho about, though, and it’s also from Delegate Gilbert. That is HB2356, which would require that all future budget processes begin with zero-based principles. Simply put, that would mean that rather than just throwing another percent onto the budget each year, government departments would start at zero and fill in the blanks, meaning that departments would be required to justify each and every expenditure.

For those of you who aren’t familiar, “oversight” is not a word that most Richmond bureaucrats are not familiar with. Budget sessions don’t focus around the efficacy of individual programs but rather a department should get a 4% or a 5% increase, regardless of the performance of each and every program. This allows some absolutely ineffective and duplicative offices to continue their work unabated, as they are able to ride on the “essential” nature of other offices. Again, there are some questions here: Would legislators be able to effectively conduct the sort of oversight needed in the context of being part-time? I think that needs to be addressed; as it stands, though, I’m all in favor of anything that requires government officials to justify their existence. People have to do it in the private sector all the time–why not them?

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