Reason.com wrote:Failed StatesAfter a long spending binge, governors go begging for a handout. It won't be their last.
Michael Flynn & Adam B. Summers from the May 2009 issue
Of the $787 billion in “stimulus” money Barack Obama authorized with his presidential pen on February 17, at least $144 billion was earmarked for a particularly unstimulating purpose: covering the budget deficits of state governments. The 12-digit sum, touted as “state and local fiscal relief” on the administration’s glass-half-full website recovery.gov, quickly exposed a fault line between the nation’s governors. On one side were a handful of fiscal conservatives, led by Republicans Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Mark Sanford of South Carolina, arguing that bailouts and federal mandates create moral hazards and unfunded liabilities requiring future tax hikes. The other, more powerful side was represented by moderate Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger of California.
“Gov. Sanford says that he does not want to take the money, the federal stimulus package money,” Schwarzenegger told ABC’s This Week on February 21. “And I want to say to him: I’ll take it. I take it because we in California…need it.”
But does California, or any other state, really “need” federal money during this economic downturn? Only if you accept the premise that state budgets should roughly double every decade.
When Gray Davis, a Democrat, became California’s governor in 1999, the state’s budget was $75 billion. Tempted by dot-com windfalls and beholden to public-sector unions, Davis bumped that number to $104 billion in four short years of boom and bust, after which he was bounced out of office for his fiscal irresponsibility and replaced by a Milton Friedman–quoting action hero who promised to bring “fiscal sanity” back to Sacramento. Five years later, after facing another boom, another bust, and a series of bruising political defeats at the hands of public-sector unions, Schwarzenegger had hiked the budget to an astonishing $145 billion. In 10 years, state spending in nominal terms increased 92 percent.
One good way to measure fiscal stewardship is to see whether state spending growth exceeds the rate of population growth plus inflation. Under Davis, budgets rose an average of 6.7 percent a year, as opposed to a population/California price index growth rate of 4.8 percent. Under Schwarzenegger, spending has increased 6.8 percent annually, compared to a population/inflation rate of just under 5 percent. A governor who was swept into office by damning Davis’ $38 billion budget deficit, vowing not to raise taxes, and mocking his predecessor’s vehicle license fee hikes announced on February 20 that he would address his own $42 billion budget deficit by raising taxes and doubling those same fees.
Asked to explain the contradictions on This Week, Schwarzenegger praised the federal stimulus (“a terrific package”), urged Republicans to be “team players” for Obama (who, he said, was doing a “great job”), and unleashed a spectacular metaphor in favor of abandoning a limited-government philosophy. “You’ve got to go beyond just the principles,” he said. “You’ve got to go and say, ‘What is right for the country right now?’ I mean, I see that as kind of like, you go to a doctor, the doctor’s office, and say, ‘Look, can you examine me?’ The doctor says, ‘You have cancer.’ What you want to do at that point is you want to see this team of doctors around you have their act together, be very clear, and say, ‘This is what we need to do,’ rather than see a bunch of doctors fighting in front of you and arguing about the treatment. I mean, that is the worst thing. It creates insecurity in the patient. The same is with the people in America.”
But if the people in America have fiscal cancer, it’s just the latest in a long series of relapses.