The Next Half Measure
Now that Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon has delivered his State of the State address, legislators in Jefferson City are prepared to tackle spending in their own way. The Missouri Legislature is considering a constitutional amendment that would cap state spending increases to the annual rise in the Consumer Price Index plus population growth. Any excess money would first go to paying down public debt, then a special reserve fund (not a bad idea considering some of the potential natural disasters this state faces), and then any remaining money would go towards temporarily reducing income taxes.
Along with the Hancock Amendment, this amendment would restrict the power of the legislature. Therefore, the legislature should be commended for proposing this amendment. Constitutional amendments like this, along with a balanced budget requirement (which Missouri has), give legislators an easy way to say “no” to special interests.
Now, this is not a full-throated endorsement of the proposed amendment. There are a couple of things that bother me. First, there was an amendment that passed setting the cap at fiscal year 2008, the so-called “high water mark” of state revenues. Considering that the general revenue is expected to increase 3.9 percent from $7.3 billion this year and that net general revenue for fiscal year 2008 was slightly more than $8 billion ($8,004,309, to be exact), the cap probably will not matter for . . . a while. Second, the spending limits will expire in five years unless lawmakers extend the time limit. So even if the voters approve the amendment, there is a distinct possibility that the cap can expire before it ever has the chance to restrict spending. Finally, the cap only applies to general revenue, which is where lawmakers have the most leeway in regards to spending, but it is not hard to imagine lawmakers putting down in statute specific spending items they want preserved and directing specific monies to funding them.
Despite my issues with the proposed amendment, the legislature should be commended for trying to push spending restrictions. However, it is unfortunate that such restrictions would have to be so watered down before it can pass.