Congress hasn’t passed a budget since the spring of 2009. The Feds regularly spend a trillion dollars more than they take in every year. The nation’s debt is enormous (standing at $16.4 trillion, this is a ratio of gross debt to GDP of 105 percent). Talk of “cuts” is farcical, as they rarely mean less spending, but rather reference reductions in the growth of future spending (i.e. getting a smaller raise).
The absurdity of it all is overwhelming. But there’s also a broader lesson here: Without strong systemic protections in place, governments have a tendency to grow and consume everything in their path, like a fire, until the situation becomes untenable.
Texas is nowhere near this state of affairs; but that doesn’t mean that it can’t or won’t happen in the future. That’s why it is critical that incoming state lawmakers push hard this session to make structural changes that restrain the growth of government in a responsible way, like:
- A tightened spending limit. Strengthen the state’s constitutional spending limit by limiting spending increases to the lesser of population and inflation increases, the growth of personal income, or the growth of Gross State Product;
- A more transparent budget. Change the budget layout to a program-based budgeting model. Because if you can’t understand something, it’s hard to know whether it’s working properly or not;
- A supermajority tax increase requirement. Require any tax increase to be approved by a two-thirds majority of both Houses of the legislature;
- A clean sweep of unnecessary bureaucracies. Consolidate or eliminate every agency, program, committee, and board that does not perform a core function of government. Here is a list of 100+ agencies and programs to start; and
- A new and improved Sunset Commission. Restructure the commission to return it to its original intended purpose: rightsizing state government by either abolishing or eliminating agencies, committees, boards, and statutes.
Again, nobody would ever conflate Texas’ public policy approach with D.C.’s. But the future is uncertain and the opportunity to make these important changes won’t last forever.