Spending Limits: Not Special Exemptions

Yesterday, Republican state Rep. Sam Rohrer of Berks County introduced legislation to help local governments cope with declining revenues, ever-increasing amounts of regulation and new programs from the state. The Emergency Mandate Suspension Act would allow municipalities, school districts, and counties to temporarily ignore unfunded mandates from the state — including programs where the state has missed two consecutive payments to the local entity.

“Essentially, if there is no money, there will be no mandate,” Rohrer said. “Local authorities would be given the option to opt out of expensive unfunded mandates. This is the fastest and most direct way that we can help school districts, local governments and the taxpayers who must fund them.” HT: Capitolwire (Subscription)

While the proposal may prevent local tax hikes, it fails to address the underlying issue: out-of-control state spending and mandates. The Taxpayers Protection Act (TPA) would create a strong disincentive for the General Assembly to reduce funding for existing municipal mandates, and to enact new ones. The TPA proposes to cap annual spending growth from the state’s General Fund at the lesser of: 1) the average rate of personal income growth for the preceding three years; or 2) the combined rates of inflation and population growth for the three preceding years.  Also, under TPA, any cuts in funding for municipal mandates would result in commensurate reductions to the state spending limit.

Spending limits are highly correlated with strong economies; in fact, taxpayers in Maine and Washington State will vote on their own versions of spending limits next week.