by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
As Congress and the Biden White House push for an unprecedented increase in federal spending, Republicans in opposition grapple with the fact that the GOP significantly ratcheted up federal spending during President Donald Trump’s time in office. While most members of Congress show no interest in reining in the growth of federal spending, legislators and governors in state capitals around the U.S., however, are demonstrating that government spending restraint is both achievable as a policy goal and is also politically popular. The states where officials are keeping spending in check are leading by example and sending a message to Washington that public finances can be put in order, so long as the political courage is there to do so. …
… While Tennessee lawmakers gave conservatives much to celebrate in 2021, lawmakers in neighboring North Carolina recently unveiled a constitutional amendment that would require Tar Heel State lawmakers to exercise the same degree of spending restraint currently on display in Texas, Montana, and Tennessee. On April 15, North Carolina Senators Bill Rabon (R), Warren Daniel, and Paul Newton (R) introduced Senate Bill 717, a constitutional amendment referred to as the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR). SB 717, if enacted, would prohibit state spending in North Carolina from increasing more rapidly than the combined rate of inflation and population growth. SB 717 would also subject all proposed state tax hikes to a vote of the people moving forward.
Under TABOR, state revenue collections in North Carolina that exceed the spending limit would be refunded to taxpayers. A similarly designed spending cap in Colorado triggered $428 million worth of refunds for taxpayers there in 2020, which was awarded through a temporary state income tax rate reduction from 4.63% to 4.5%. Projections show Colorado taxpayers are on track to receive more than $1 billion in TABOR-triggered refunds over the next three years.