Crisis shows the need for fiscal responsibility


April 9, 2020 11:50AM

Imagine this scenario: the Utah Jazz (or your favorite basketball team) is down by 2 at the very end of the game. The ball is inbounded, and your best player shoots a well-covered fadeaway three-point shot as time expires.  The shot goes up and…and bounces off the back rim. Your team loses by two.

Many fans would blame the star player for missing the shot, but that completely misses the point. The moment was unexpected, but what your team did the last 48 minutes on the court was just as important as that one shot. Statistically, every shot you take has the same impact on the game with none being more important than the other. Because your team played so poorly and turned the ball over 26 times the rest of the game, you were forced to come up with a crazy shot to win the game.

As you can probably guess—because this is on the Beacon Center blog—this is not a basketball article but an analogy for what local and state governments across the country are facing with the COVID-19 pandemic. Governments are now scrambling to figure out how to deal with the economic effects of this crisis on an already busted budget because they have repeatedly chosen to take the easy way out and spend without regard to the future. Cities and states that have shown no fiscal discipline in the past are now completely unable to handle a potential economic catastrophe because they have little to no rainy day funds. Of course, no one could have predicted COVID-19, but it just as easily could have been another financial crisis or natural disaster.

Nashville, for example, has been financially mismanaged for years with a huge budget hole. When a disaster strikes, they have no way to deal with it. In fact, Mayor Cooper is planning on raising property taxes substantially on the very same Nashvillians who have lost income or their jobs. Nashville is in terrible financial shape as is, but just imagine if we were responsible for funding the $9 billion transit plan that the city council so badly wanted. Thankfully, because of state law, the transit boondoggle was brought to voters where it was soundly defeated. If we hadn’t been allowed to vote and the tone-deaf city council passed it by a bill, we could be talking about property taxes that look like San Francisco or New York City right now in order to try to pay for it, or at least defaulting on bond payments because the government has basically prevented people from spending money by shutting down the economy.

Cities and states need to be fiscally responsible in good times so that they are able to meet the needs of its citizens in bad times. Tennessee will be in much better shape than almost any state in the country when it comes to dealing with this pandemic because of our fiscal sanity when things are going well. While liberal groups and politicians tend to think that because we have money, we need to spend it on pet projects or expanding failing government programs, the truth is that being fiscally responsible is the tough—but morally right thing to do when you have public pressure from nearly every political interest group.

It’s easy to spend other people’s money and let the politicians or generations who come after you fix the problem when an eventual crisis hits. Instead of taking the easy way out, politicians across the country need to start using more fiscal discipline so they can take care of their citizens when the next crisis happens.