Several times in the past year, I made the observation that Republicans have made a clever shift. Whereas they used to describe themselves as 'fiscal conservatives', they now tend to describe themselves as 'fiscally responsible'.
What's the difference? A fiscal conservative wants to limit or cut spending. One who is fiscally responsible merely wishes to balance the budget. If tax increases are necessary, so be it. This is the difference between a Libertarian (the fiscal conservative) and a Republican (the fiscally responsible).
This comes to light thanks to the Editorial in this morning's Indy Star, which calls for balancing the budget on an increase in cigarette taxes.
Jeff Espich is nobody's idea of a tax-and-spend politician. But the fiscal conservative, who is chairman of the Indiana House Ways and Mean Committee, recently noted that the state is "going to have to have new revenue."
Legislators must find money to give a small -- many would argue insufficient -- funding increase to schools over the next two years. Money to keep pace, even minimally, with rising costs in Medicaid. Money to complete a truly balanced two-year budget, one that bridges the deficit and doesn't resort to gimmicks.
The best proposal for raising more revenue, or at least the one with the best chance of legislative approval, is a 19-cent per-pack increase in the cigarette tax. The state tax on cigarettes would increase to 74.5 cents a pack.
Actually, Jeff Espich is my idea of a tax-and-spend politician. Name for me one spending cut or tax cut he has proposed this session. It can't be done. But I can name for you two tax increases he has proposed: this on cigarettes, and another on food and beverages for a new Colts stadium- something that should never be done by government, only by the private sector.
The Star, like Espich, fail to consider that one primary way to balance any budget is to spend less. This is what you and I do with our personal budgets at home when money gets tight. We stop spending until we catch up with debt and begin to build a little cushion. The Legislature has one advantage we don't- they can will themselves more money any time they want to raise the money. To quote Bill Clinton: "Stroke of the pen, law of the land. Kinda cool."
Not much in the way of incentive there for Espich and his ilk to be anything but tax-and-spend legislators. It's a situation made worse by comments like these, in the Star's Editorial:
But they can't leave the Statehouse a week from today without recognizing a potentially unpopular but necessary truth: Indiana can neither cut nor grow its way out of the budget deficit in the next two years. The state in the recent past has slashed spending on some services, raided reserve funds and waited patiently for economic growth to alleviate the fiscal crunch. But the problems remain.
Can't cut? I've yet to see an actual cut. The only "cuts" proposed this year have been reduced increases in spending. Those aren't cuts. A 1% cut across the board is not too much to ask, especially if you are seeking, as the Star claims to be, a balanced budget that doesn't resort to gimmicks. A real fiscal conservative would propose this kind of modest cut. A Libertarian sure would.