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1991 Wis. L. Rev. 1301 (1991)
Controlling Legislative Shortsightedness: The Effectiveness of Constitutional Debt Limitations

handle is hein.journals/wlr1991 and id is 1315 raw text is: CONTROLLING LEGISLATIVE SHORTSIGHTEDNESS:
In this article, Professor Sterk and Ms. Goldman examine the efficacy
of constitutional debt limitations as a method of controlling the incurrence of
public debt. In examining the historical development of such limitations, the
authors conclude that they are responses to perceived deficiencies in the
legislative process rather than reactions to specific instances of legislative
abuse. The authors determine, however, that courts have transformed
absolute constraints on legislative power to incur debt into more flexible
limitations that leave the judiciary with a substantial role in determining the
fate of proposed borrowing schemes. Moreover, the authors found that few
states revised their constitutions in response to these transformative judicial
decisions. These results lead the authors to conclude that debt limitations,
even if not rigidly enforced, provide a modest constraint on the legislative bias
toward present spending and future payment.
When legislatures act, do they account adequately for the future
impact of their actions? In recent years, much public discourse has
suggested that legislatures are too short-sighted, that they are too quick
to discount the future consequences of their actions. Environmentalists
lament a wide range of government decisions-from those that permit
intensive development in ecologically sensitive areas to those that permit
or promote destruction of the atmosphere. Economists express concern
about the future effects of the federal budget deficit, and of the commit-
ment to pay liberal Social Security benefits.
Debate over the environment and over the budget deficit has differed
from ordinary discussion of government policy in an important respect:
critics of government policy assert not only that legislatures make unwise
policy decisions in these two areas, but more broadly that legislatures, as
institutions, cannot be trusted to make appropriate policy decisions. The
Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Act,' for instance, is an attempt to constrain
the ordinary legislative processes in order to reduce the federal budget
*     Professor of Law, Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law.
**    Law Clerk to the Honorable Clarence C. Newcomer, United States District
Judge, Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
1.   The Act is more formally known as the Balanced Budget and Emergency
Deficit Control Act of 1985. See 2 U.S.C. §§ 901-09 (1988).

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