In recent years Americans watched with disgust as congressional leaders debated ad nauseam budget issues facing the national government. Each party blamed the other for the ever-mounting debt.
In these debates leaders of both major parties ultimately pandered to their respective core constituents. Bipartisan compromise was viewed as weakness, not leadership. The political environment rewarded creative one-liners expressed in press releases or on talk radio or television. Congressional leaders prolonged the debate and unfortunately got re-elected as the financial problem got worse.
Management of state budgets by our Legislature during its 2012 regular session raised the distinct aroma of these federal budgeting practices. Too often, a budget tactic in Washington has been to refuse to make sound and, at times, tough financial choices about programs and funding, and to just “kick the can down the road.”
The only option currently on the table is to borrow $147 million from the state’s savings account to balance the budget for fiscal 2013. Actually, the proposal authorizes borrowing money not just for one budget year, but for the next three budget years! Of course, this multi-year borrowing ($147 million each for three years) provides the new GOP Legislature with a dose of political insurance. It provides some form of continued bailout for the state’s General Fund budget until after the next legislative elections of 2014.
This form of budget management seems at odds with conservative Tea Party supporters who helped create the GOP majority in Montgomery. But this budgeting technique is an old, well-worn tactic in government budgeting. Solons in D.C. and Montgomery avoid tax and spend, but replace it with the more financially devastating practice of borrow and spend.
In September, will Alabama voters endorse this “bailout via borrowing” tactic at the ballot box or insist upon strict fiscal conservatism which forces state leaders to either cut the services or pay the bills?
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