UNDER THE SLIGHTLY tattered banner of thrift, some misguided disciples of penny-wisdom are now working the halls of the State House in Annapolis, hoping to win votes for "LIMIT" bills that would impose strict limits on state spending. Like their counterparts in Richmond and on Capitol Hill, these members of the Maryland Taxpayers Coalition, Inc., offer formulas that may seem appealing at first glance -- but that would make governments even more inflexible and unresponsive than they are found to be now.
So far, the resistance has prevailed, but the danger remains that sensible monitoring of spending might be replaced by one of the LIMIT-lobby proposals. Backers of these artificial spending ceilings are banking on a groundswell of constituent support; but taxpayers who really worry about government spending can see through the quick-fix gimmickry of taking annual budget-ceiling whacks instead of allowing a government the flexibility to protect people from any sudden sharp changes in the economy.
Coping with the effects of inflation on public services is too much of a challenge to be answered with cosmetic formulas that hook spending to some percentage of total personal income, a fraction of any surplus or half the total of everybody's age divided by the first three digits of their Social Security numbers.
The most heartening resistance to these fiscal games so far has been in the House of Delegates, where House Speaker Benjamin L. Cardin said this week that the 21 members of the House leadership group have agreed to work for defeat of all strict-limit plans. These legislators recognize the bad long-range effects of LIMIT, formulas; their concentration on more effective fiscal discipline -- through the budget process -- could do far more for taxpayers' peace of mind than would any vote locking the legislature to some crude and unnecessary mathematics.