Bingeing and Borrowing

Posted on February 28, 2008
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Having spent like a drunken sailor in years of plentiful revenues, the state of Arizona now finds itself with a large and growing budget deficit. ­ Like the mythical siren beckoning sailors to wreck their ships on dangerous shoals, Governor Janet Napolitano soothingly implores the legislature to bridge the fiscal gap by borrowing.

Whatever the fiscal implications of mortgaging Arizona's future, our state constitution is clear. The framers were intent on fiscal responsibility, and crafted two provisions; one aimed at the state, the other at local governments to limit public borrowing. In the states case, aggregate borrowing cannot exceed $350,000. The state has far surpassed that limit already.

Though the courts have not always vigorously enforced the limits, the Arizona Supreme Court has established two baseline rules. First, any spending that obligates the states General Fund triggers the debt limit. Second, difficult economic circumstances will not override the constitutional safeguard against improvidence and the integrity of the states economy. (The Institute will release a study by Benjamin Barr, a former Goldwater Institute constitutional policy analyst, on the Constitutions debt-limit clauses in the coming months.)

Some legislative leaders have called for fiscal austerity, rather than borrowing, to navigate the budget crisis. ­ Last Friday, we sent Governor Napolitano a letter advising that the Institute will carefully monitor the situation with an eye toward protecting the constitutional rights of Arizona taxpayers.

Earlier this week, Raul Castro inaugurated his presidency of Cuba with the admonition that we cannot spend more than we have. If Cuba recognizes the need for fiscal responsibility, it shouldn't be tough for our elected officials; particularly with our Constitutions debt limit--to see the light.

Clint Bolick is the director of the Goldwater Institute's Scharf-Norton Center for Constitutional Litigation

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