Those who have followed the state budget debate over the last several years can be forgiven for having an authentic LOL moment when reading about Representative Dickey Lee Hullinghorst's pay-as-you-go legislation.
Because we did too.
Hullinghorst and House Minority Leader Sal “The Fist” Pace have been thrashing about over the pay-go measure in the press the last couple weeks, trying to posture themselves as budget hawks, while whining that they can't find any Republican support for their phony-budget austerity plan.
In short, the bill purports to require bills to have an identified funding source before they can move through the committee process.
We could spend 1500 words and 3 screen scrolls telling you why Hullinghorst is wrong and Pace is a hypocrite. But we'll leave it to this brief 3 point description.
First, Pace, Hullinghorst and every other Democrat legislator in the building over the last 4 years supported a policy of balancing the budget on the back of a Weld County-sized stampede of accounting gimmicks. Among the most favored gimmicks was using “one time” dollars to fund an expansion of permanent programs, or relying on rosy revenue forecasts to prop up new spending proposals.
We ask: is relying on bogus budget estimates to expand government programs pay-as-you-go? Is creating permanent government obligations on the full faith and credit of one-time cash fiscal austerity?
In the immortal words of Dr. Dre, Hellllll no it's not.
It is this fiscal malfeasance on the part of Democrats over the last several years that has relegated the state budget to its own state of perpetual structural imbalance. This is why Hullinghorst's and Pace's hand wringing about budget discipline makes us laugh out loud. If these legislators had lived on a true pay-as-you-go approach during the 4 years their party ruled the legislative roost, this year's budget would be far less the mess.
And so forgive us for snickering audibly when these fiscal ditch diggers parade around like mavens of fiscal discipline. They are nothing of the sort.
Second, as Nancy Pelosi taught all of us over the last few years, pay-go is a budgetary wolf in sheep's clothing, a political “shiny object” that big spending politicians use to distract from unsustainable spending and taxes. Pay-go sounds real nice, and it probably polls well too. But all that nice sounding sound-bitery didn't stop Pelosi and her posse from running up trillions of dollars in debt at precisely the same time they were singing the praises of pay-go. And it wouldn't stop Pace from finding a way to spend more either. The Pace-Pelosi pay-go plan is not worth the paper it is written on, whether in Washington or Denver.
The third reason that pay-go amounts to nothing more than political fiction is because its entire impetus is to block the reinstatement of business tax credits, not to slow government spending. Consider: new spending proposals could pass pay-go muster by relying on revenue from rosy budget projections. But legislation that would grow the economy (and state revenues) by reducing tax penalties on certain types of business investment would be dead in the water under the pay-go rules.
Let's call a spade a spade: the true purpose of pay-go is to create structural pressure to raise taxes. Pace will predictably deny this, but on this topic he has zero credibility. Messr. Pace is, after all, the same legislator who provided a decisive vote on behalf of higher energy taxes on steel mills last year, even though the steel mill operators in his district begged and pleaded with him not to support a policy that would kill many jobs in his home town.
Suffice it to say, there is ample reason for Republicans to scuttle the phony austerity pay-go plan. The good news is, legislators will have another chance to impose real austerity when the long bill and the state budget wend their way through the legislature later this spring.
At that point, we'll see exactly who his committed to the high ideal of fiscal discipline. Call us cynical, but we aren't betting on Sal “the Fist” Pace.