Don't Bail Out My State
South Carolina's governor says more debt isn't the answer.
By MARK SANFORD
I find myself in a lonely position. While many states and local governments are lining up for a bailout from Congress, I went to Washington recently to oppose such bailouts. I may be the only governor to do so.
But I suspect I'm not entirely alone, as there are a lot of taxpayers who aren't pleased with Christmas coming early for politicians. And I hope these taxpayers make their voices heard before Democrats load up the next bailout train for states with budget deficits.
Several questions led me to oppose bailing out the states. They are worth asking, even if you supported bailing out Wall Street.
Who bails out the "bail-outor"?
Washington is short on cash these days and will borrow every dime of the $150 billion to $300 billion for the "stimulus" bill now being worked on. Federal appetites may know no bounds. But the federal government's ability to borrow is not limitless. Already, our nation's unfunded liabilities total $52 trillion -- about $450,000 per household. There's something very strange about issuing debt to solve a problem caused by too much debt.
Do you now have to be a financial "bad boy" to win?
Community bankers tell me that they are now at a competitive disadvantage for being careful about who to lend to, because others that were less disciplined will get a federal bailout. This is also true for states. Those that have been fiscally responsible will pay for or lose out to the big spenders. California increased spending 95% over the past 10 years (federal spending went up 71% over the same period). To bail out California now seems unfair to fiscally prudent states.
Was the economist Herb Stein wrong when he said that if something cannot go on forever, it won't?
Medicaid grew 9.5% annually over the past 10 years. That's unsustainable. But if Congress opens the checkbook now, there will be no reform.
Isn't government intervention supposed to be the last resort and come only when it can make a difference?
In 2008 bailouts became the first resort. Over the past year the federal government has committed itself to $2.3 trillion (including the tax rebate "stimulus" checks of last February) to "improve" the economy. I don't see how another $150 billion now will make a difference in a global slowdown. We've already unloaded truckloads of sugar in a vain attempt to sweeten a lake. Tossing in a Twinkie will not make the difference.
However, there is something Congress can do: free states from federal mandates. South Carolina will spend about $425 million next year meeting federal unfunded mandates. The increase in the minimum wage alone will cost the state $2.6 million and meeting Homeland Security's REAL ID requirements will cost $8.9 million.
Based on what I saw in Washington, the bailout train is being loaded up. Taxpayers will have to speak up now to change its freight, tab or departure.
Mr. Sanford, a Republican, is the governor of South Carolina.