Republicans in Washington may not have much credibility in criticizing the profligacy of congressional Democrats and the Biden administration, given how much the federal debt increased when the GOP was in power.
Yet, in a moment that calls for responsible budgeting at every level of government, Republicans who hold power in many state capitals across the country do.
That’s because Republican governors and lawmakers in a number of red states, including Tennessee, are reining in excessive spending by passing conservative budgets that grow less than the combined rate of population growth plus inflation.
In Tennessee, Gov. Bill Lee and state lawmakers needed their budget, enacted earlier this spring, to stay below $42.8 billion to pass a conservative budget (based on population growth plus inflation).
Fortunately, Governor Lee was able to sign into law a state budget of $42.6 billion. By holding the budget’s growth to 2.08%, Tennessee lawmakers, like their counterparts in many other states, have ensured that state spending does not exceed the average taxpayer’s ability to pay for it.
Tennessee boasts one of the lowest average tax burdens in the country. By passing a conservative Tennessee budget, Governor Lee, Speaker Cameron Sexton, Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, and their colleagues in the General Assembly are paving the way to even lower tax burdens, while mitigating the threat of future tax increases or budget adjustments.
Tennessee and Texas are in the same league
Tennessee isn’t the only no-income-tax state where lawmakers are doing of good job of keeping government spending in check. Texas is also leading by example.
In addition to enacting the fourth straight conservative budget that increases appropriations by just 3.0% over two years, Sen. Kelly Hancock and Rep. Greg Bonnen led the way in approving Senate Bill 1336, a reform that strengthens the state’s spending cap. Gov. Greg Abbott signed it into law to ensure fiscal responsibility for years to come.
Here’s what North Carolina lawmakers did
While the new spending plans approved in Texas and Tennessee are among the most prominent examples of successful conservative budgeting this year, they are not the only instances.
To Tennessee’s east, Republicans took control of the North Carolina General Assembly a decade ago for the first time in a century.
Since then, North Carolina lawmakers have kept growth in state spending within a conservative budget limit. North Carolina state spending has grown by an average of 2.24% annually since 2013, which is below the population growth plus inflation rate of 2.58%.
By achieving this feat for so long, North Carolina lawmakers have been able to return billions of dollars to taxpayers over the past decade. This tax relief was achieved through income tax rate reduction, which continues to pay dividends for taxpayers, that took place at the same time the state was realizing repeated budget surpluses.
In fact, North Carolina lawmakers — led by Senators Paul Newton, Bill Rabon, and Warren Daniel — proposed new legislation in April, which was approved with bipartisan support in the North Carolina Senate on June 9, that would enact the next income tax rate reduction.
State legislators are showing Congress how it’s done
Based on federal spending trends and the new proposals coming out of Congress, it can seem like no one in Washington is interested in getting their fiscal insanity under control.
There needs to be more lawmakers willing to do in Washington what state legislators are accomplishing in Nashville, Austin, Raleigh, and elsewhere.
Aside from these states, other states where lawmakers are also passing conservative budgets this year include Florida, Montana, and Iowa. By passing a conservative budget, Tennessee lawmakers, like their counterparts in these other states, have made the Volunteer State one that is leading by example.
This demonstrates for federal lawmakers that government spending restraint is both achievable and politically advantageous. Tennesseans are fortunate to have leadership in the General Assembly and Governor’s mansion with such political courage and will, who are showing the nation what conservative and sustainable budgeting looks like. In doing so, state lawmakers are benefitting Tennessee taxpayers while providing a model for lawmakers in other states and in Washington to emulate.