July 14, 2011

As governors of states whose residents, like all Americans, are desperate for the restoration of fiscal responsibility in Washington, we are proud to have signed the “Cut, Cap and Balance Pledge” amid the debate over once again raising the federal debt ceiling.

We oppose an increase in the federal debt limit unless three common-sense conditions are met: substantial cuts in spending; enforceable spending caps to put the country on a path to a balanced budget; and congressional passage of a balanced-budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution. That amendment should include a requirement for a congressional supermajority to approve any increases in taxes.

At heart, the pledge represents the reality that yet another temporary fix to our nation’s budgetary woes is no fix at all. The time has come for all of us to begin holding the federal government to the same common-sense standards in place in most states, including South Carolina and Texas.

Just like most businesses and families, states have a limited amount of money on hand with which to build their balanced budgets, and when times are hard states have to prioritize, make sacrifices and figure out how to best provide essential services to residents.

In Texas, state leaders managed to balance the budget, hold the line on raising taxes, preserve billions in a rainy-day fund and prioritize funding for public schools. That sort of philosophy is a big reason Texas accounts for 45 percent of net U.S. job creation since June 2009, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.

In South Carolina, for the first time in history, legislators have to record their votes on every section of the budget, so that voters can see their spending habits. And a new marker has been laid down — every dollar that comes in after the budget is initially balanced should go to one of three things: tax relief, debt relief or rebates directly to taxpayers. No longer will South Carolina spend every single dollar every single year.

Washington’s ability to continuously vote itself more fiscal breathing room may help Congress — at least in the short term — avoid making the kinds of tough decisions made by states, businesses and families. But ignoring economic realities will lead to even more painful choices down the road and increases the potential for a financial collapse that could permanently cost America its role as the world’s leading economic power.

Unfortunately, the system in Washington makes it easier for elected officials to bury their heads in the sand, avoid responsibility and make the easiest choice of all: borrow more, plunge our nation deeper into debt and allow this generation to punt the tough decisions to our children and grandchildren.

Such moves may be good politics, since they mean officials don’t have to say no to anyone, but as a matter of policy they are indefensible.

The more money Washington prints and borrows to pay for pet projects and wasteful programs, the further our federal government gets from fulfilling its core missions: the missions that keep Americans safe, productive and employed.

Meanwhile, the more Washington spends money it doesn’t have, the more it attaches strings to that money, dictating to states and communities exactly how they should be run. It’s an endless cycle: Washington borrows on the good name of the taxpayer, then “gives” some of that money back with mandates on how it should be spent.

It is worth remembering that all government money, borrowed or not, comes from the taxpayers, and it’s those taxpayers who will be left to pay when the bill comes due.

The only way to get the federal government to end this indefensible practice is to draw a line and finally hold Washington accountable. The pledge we’ve signed represents an important step in this process.

It calls for the kinds of budget cuts Washington needs now and for a hard cap on all future spending. And it finally moves us to a mandatory balanced budget that will end the era of national debt, raging deficits and failed “stimulus” programs that have negatively affected so many aspects of American life.

Americans must continue to stand up for the principles that served as the foundation for our nation’s unparalleled successes. The principles of a limited federal government and responsible fiscal leadership have sustained us during tough times, and they can lead us out of this period of sluggish economic growth.

As governors, we have to ensure the voices of all Americans — not just those in Washington who largely got us into this mess — are heard in this debate, and that we don’t miss the opportunity to repair a part of our economy, and our political culture, that’s been broken for far too long.

Rick Perry, a Republican, is governor of Texas. Nikki Haley, a Republican, is governor of South Carolina.