On February 15, 1876, the people of Texas ratified our state constitution by a three to one margin. While considered cumbersome and over-amended, it has well-served the people of Texas.
For example, the ratified version of constitution said the “Legislature shall not have the right to levy taxes or impose burdens upon the people, except to raise revenue sufficient for the economical administration of the government…” Even in the 1870s, people were concerned about creeping government.
But it wasn’t for another 60 years that Texans installed one of the most important features: a balanced budget requirement. Article 3, section 49a requires:
Except in the case of emergency and imperative public necessity and with a four-fifths vote of the total membership of each House, no appropriation in excess of the cash and anticipated revenue of the funds from which such appropriation is to be made shall be valid. No bill containing an appropriation shall be considered as passed or be sent to the Governor for consideration until and unless the Comptroller of Public Accounts endorses his certificate thereon showing that the amount appropriated is within the amount estimated to be available in the affected funds.
The requirement for a balanced budget forces prioritization. While some may not always agree with the priorities established by the Legislature over the decades, the fact lawmakers have had to go through the motions of setting priorities has protected Texans from the damaging excess found in our federal government and among so many states.
The balanced budget requirement has forced lawmakers – at least in part – to spend within the people’s means.
While a balanced budget alone doesn’t ensure good public policy or efficient spending, it should well be considered a necessary component.
It’s high time for the federal constitution to be similarly amended. Having balanced books is the most fiscally responsible base-line action government can take.