Glenn McConnell and other who say stuff like this completely mystify me:
“Today, I again introduced a joint resolution that would limit the growth of government. My desire was to give the people of South Carolina the opportunity to decide at the ballot box if government should grow faster than their wallets. I have introduced this bill every session since 2007, and hope that it will pass this year. The need for this legislation has been made clear by the current crisis we are in. I believe that we should have manageable growth that allows for providing core services of government. We do not need a feast or famine approach to budgeting for our core government functions. I also believe that what the government does not need should be returned to those who paid the bill in the first place. Sadly, I have seen that government, when faced with a buffet of tax dollars, could not control its appetite. Therefore, I felt compelled to introduce a legislative way to staple its stomach.”
That’s from an e-mail release I got today from Senate Republicans. Set aside the overuse of weary cliches. My point is this: Where, oh where in the state of South Carolina is Glenn McConnell seeing government “grow,” or indeed do anything other than retrench, shrivel, stumble and limp along? Where is the “problem” that his is allegedly addressing? I see it nowhere in this state, and haven’t in the 23 years I’ve been closely watching.
If this were anyone but McConnell, I would say it was just mindless GOP rhetoric. Since the Republicans have decided to nationalize all politics, since we’ve seen expansions of such programs as Medicare and Homeland Security under Bush, and other medical programs and the stimulus under Obama, a state senator of GOP persuasion might spout such nonsense reflexively.
But we know that McConnell is particularly a South Carolina creature, and he knows this state inside and out. He thinks SC thoughts, in SC symbols. There’s nothing generic about him.
So in his case, it really makes no rational sense at all.
Of course, he’s not alone. I hear Tom Davis has done the same. I like Tom, and he’s certainly right about some things, but he definitely loses me when he puts forward such Sanfordesque legislation as trying to create a formula limiting future spending to an arbitrary formula:
Tomorrow, I will pre-file a bill that caps general fund appropriations to a “population growth plus inflation” increase over the amount spent the prior year, with revenues above this cap returned to taxpayers, pro-rata in accordance with their payments. Time to draw the line.
The problems with such proposals should be obvious. To name four of my favorites:
- There is no solid reason to believe (except that it sounds like it might apply) that such a formula will bear any accurate relationship to the future requirements of government. There’s no way you can know that a formula based on population growth and inflation will be more relevant than one based on a function of the ERAs of left-handed pitchers in the American League.
- The Framers who handed down our system of republican government (of which our SC system is a sort of Bizarro World parody, but hey, it’s what we’ve got) intentionally placed such decisions as taxing and spending in the hands of regularly elected representatives who are delegated to decide how best to address the needs of the moment. They most assuredly did NOT set up a system that would make future Congresses’ (or in our system, Legislatures’) decisions for them, much less try to substitute present or future representatives’ deliberation with a mathematical formula. It’s hard to imagine any decision that lawmakers make that is more central to their responsibility as stewards, or more sensitive to the particular factors of the given year, than the annual budget.
- No one who believes in any sort of democracy, representative or otherwise, should support anything like this. Basically, a proposal like this arises from a desire to use a momentary political advantage to bind all future elected representatives to follow the proposer’s philosophy. The idea is, get a momentary majority, and then you don’t have to win elections in the future — even if your philosophy is completely rejected in future elections, you have prevented those elections from having consequences. And that is unconscionable if one believes at all in the American way of democratic republicanism.
- Finally, we return to the objection I raised initially above: This is South Carolina, gentlemen. At no time has there been any indication that there is a problem for which this proposal might be even an imperfect solution. “Time to draw the line?” Really? On what, Tom, on what?