Commentary Magazine


Topic: state legislature

Look Who’s Coming to the Tea Party

Andrew Cuomo announced his candidacy for governor of New York yesterday. According to the Daily News editorial, he says:

No to raising state taxes. No to borrowing to close historic budget deficits. Yes to capping state spending. Yes to capping local property-tax hikes. Yes to freezing the salaries of state workers. Yes to trimming “benefits and pensions that are out of line with economic reality.” Yes to charter schools. Yes to slashing by 20% a state government that has, by Cuomo’s count, 1,000 agencies. Yes to nonpartisan redistricting and full financial disclosure.

That’s the platform that Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey ran on as a Republican last November and beat the incumbent, deep-pocketed Jon Corzine, handily, despite the latter having President Obama campaigning for him. But Andrew Cuomo is, of course, a Democrat. He was married to a Kennedy. His father was governor from 1983 to 1995.

The father didn’t even try to reform Albany’s dysfunctional ways (although he gave nice speeches — in San Francisco and Terre Haute) but rather conducted business as usual with the state legislature and cooked the state books to hide the deepening fiscal crisis. Now his son has begun his campaign for his father’s old office by, effectively, declaring war on the legislature:

Cuomo is well aware that the Legislature – most especially [Assembly speaker Sheldon] Silver — has become expert in making stumblebums out of governors by acting as a defiantly obstructionist law unto itself. That’s why he plans to ask legislative candidates in this fall’s election to declare where they stand on his programs, with the intent of endorsing those who side with him.

I hope — for the sake of the state where I was born and have lived nearly all my life — that he means what he says. If I think he does, come November, I might even vote for him.

Andrew Cuomo announced his candidacy for governor of New York yesterday. According to the Daily News editorial, he says:

No to raising state taxes. No to borrowing to close historic budget deficits. Yes to capping state spending. Yes to capping local property-tax hikes. Yes to freezing the salaries of state workers. Yes to trimming “benefits and pensions that are out of line with economic reality.” Yes to charter schools. Yes to slashing by 20% a state government that has, by Cuomo’s count, 1,000 agencies. Yes to nonpartisan redistricting and full financial disclosure.

That’s the platform that Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey ran on as a Republican last November and beat the incumbent, deep-pocketed Jon Corzine, handily, despite the latter having President Obama campaigning for him. But Andrew Cuomo is, of course, a Democrat. He was married to a Kennedy. His father was governor from 1983 to 1995.

The father didn’t even try to reform Albany’s dysfunctional ways (although he gave nice speeches — in San Francisco and Terre Haute) but rather conducted business as usual with the state legislature and cooked the state books to hide the deepening fiscal crisis. Now his son has begun his campaign for his father’s old office by, effectively, declaring war on the legislature:

Cuomo is well aware that the Legislature – most especially [Assembly speaker Sheldon] Silver — has become expert in making stumblebums out of governors by acting as a defiantly obstructionist law unto itself. That’s why he plans to ask legislative candidates in this fall’s election to declare where they stand on his programs, with the intent of endorsing those who side with him.

I hope — for the sake of the state where I was born and have lived nearly all my life — that he means what he says. If I think he does, come November, I might even vote for him.

Read Less

The Spending-Limit Amendment

Last week, Representatives Mike Pence (R-Ind.), Jeb Henserling (R-Texas), and John Campbell (R-Calif.) introduced a joint resolution that would, if passed by two-thirds of each house and then by three-quarters of the states, amend the Constitution to limit federal spending to 20 percent of the Gross Domestic Product. Congress could waive the limit if a declaration of war was in effect (the last time Congress declared war was December 8, 1941, 68 years and two major and several minor wars ago). In peacetime it could override the limit by a two-thirds vote in each house.

As the congressmen explain at length here, 20 percent of GDP is the postwar historical average of federal spending. And, indeed, there is an inverse correlation between federal spending as a percentage of GDP and national economic prosperity. Michael Barone this morning has a good example of the relationship between government spending and prosperity. Current spending, enormously increased in the last year and a half, is currently about 24.7 percent of GDP. If ObamaCare etc. go through, federal spending will be at permanently higher levels.

Is this a way to go? Similar amendments have been around for at least 25 years and have never gone anywhere. Certainly the present Congress would pass a joint resolution against motherhood and apple pie before it passed this one. And even if it did, it is hard to imagine the legislatures of three-quarters of the states ratifying it. States have become ever more dependent on federal money over the past few decades and are especially so now, with state budgets bleeding red ink.

Even in prosperous times, it is not likely that state legislatures would vote to put limits on the federal gravy train. (Memo to the congressmen: the Constitution calls for amendments passed by Congress to be ratified either by state legislatures or by conventions called in each state for that purpose, at the option of Congress. The latter method has only been used once, to repeal Prohibition, when Congress knew that many state legislatures were under the thumb of “the preachers and the bootleggers.” If you’re serious about passing this amendment, conventions of citizens elected to address the matter are the answer. The Tea Partiers would have a field day.)

The proposed amendment also states that the “Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.” By not specifying how to define GDP, that’s an open invitation to cook the books, something at which Congress is very expert.

Personally, I think this amendment is misguided and might seriously hamstring the federal government under certain circumstances and lead to even worse book-cooking. California’s requirement that taxes be raised only with a two-thirds vote in each house of the state legislature hasn’t restrained state spending and only caused a grand proliferation of accounting smoke and mirrors. California is facing fiscal ruin.

I’d prefer an amendment requiring the federal government to keep honest books and have those books audited by a genuinely independent authority, which would also “score” proposed legislation as the CBO does now. But an independent authority would have the power to ask the questions, not just answer the ones Congress asks. Congress wouldn’t like that idea any better than linking spending to GDP. But it is very hard to come up with an argument as to why the federal government should be allowed to use phony accounting.

Last week, Representatives Mike Pence (R-Ind.), Jeb Henserling (R-Texas), and John Campbell (R-Calif.) introduced a joint resolution that would, if passed by two-thirds of each house and then by three-quarters of the states, amend the Constitution to limit federal spending to 20 percent of the Gross Domestic Product. Congress could waive the limit if a declaration of war was in effect (the last time Congress declared war was December 8, 1941, 68 years and two major and several minor wars ago). In peacetime it could override the limit by a two-thirds vote in each house.

As the congressmen explain at length here, 20 percent of GDP is the postwar historical average of federal spending. And, indeed, there is an inverse correlation between federal spending as a percentage of GDP and national economic prosperity. Michael Barone this morning has a good example of the relationship between government spending and prosperity. Current spending, enormously increased in the last year and a half, is currently about 24.7 percent of GDP. If ObamaCare etc. go through, federal spending will be at permanently higher levels.

Is this a way to go? Similar amendments have been around for at least 25 years and have never gone anywhere. Certainly the present Congress would pass a joint resolution against motherhood and apple pie before it passed this one. And even if it did, it is hard to imagine the legislatures of three-quarters of the states ratifying it. States have become ever more dependent on federal money over the past few decades and are especially so now, with state budgets bleeding red ink.

Even in prosperous times, it is not likely that state legislatures would vote to put limits on the federal gravy train. (Memo to the congressmen: the Constitution calls for amendments passed by Congress to be ratified either by state legislatures or by conventions called in each state for that purpose, at the option of Congress. The latter method has only been used once, to repeal Prohibition, when Congress knew that many state legislatures were under the thumb of “the preachers and the bootleggers.” If you’re serious about passing this amendment, conventions of citizens elected to address the matter are the answer. The Tea Partiers would have a field day.)

The proposed amendment also states that the “Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.” By not specifying how to define GDP, that’s an open invitation to cook the books, something at which Congress is very expert.

Personally, I think this amendment is misguided and might seriously hamstring the federal government under certain circumstances and lead to even worse book-cooking. California’s requirement that taxes be raised only with a two-thirds vote in each house of the state legislature hasn’t restrained state spending and only caused a grand proliferation of accounting smoke and mirrors. California is facing fiscal ruin.

I’d prefer an amendment requiring the federal government to keep honest books and have those books audited by a genuinely independent authority, which would also “score” proposed legislation as the CBO does now. But an independent authority would have the power to ask the questions, not just answer the ones Congress asks. Congress wouldn’t like that idea any better than linking spending to GDP. But it is very hard to come up with an argument as to why the federal government should be allowed to use phony accounting.

Read Less




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