John M. Kunst, Jr.: Legislators need to be held accountable for fiscal irresponsibility |

John M. Kunst, Jr.: Legislators need to be held accountable for fiscal irresponsibility

John M. Kunst, Jr.
Breckenridge and Cincinnati

The president’s call for investment in the future offers little confidence that spending will be curtailed anytime soon. Thus, it remains to be seen whether the new Congress will adhere to the mandates imposed upon them by the nation’s electorate last November. The fresh sting of fiscal rebuke may result in some short-term deficit reduction and some curtailment in spending, but how long will it last?

The problem lies in the fact, we have no mechanism to hold our elected officials accountable for their reckless spending habits. Our only check against irresponsible spending is to vote the offenders out of office the next time around. But, by that time, significant damage has been done to our economy while the spendthrift incumbent hopes he can sneak beneath the radar and get re-elected on name only. Stated another way, legislators have no skin in the game and are free to vote recklessly, wantonly and without any regard to the damage they cause long term.

During the past 12 years, I have often wondered whether legislators really understood how the legislation they passed would ultimately be paid. Having accumulated a national debt near $14 trillion in that same time period, I suspect that an overwhelming majority gave not a wit as to how we would pay for these enactments. And, no wonder: When the bill comes due, the consequence to each elected official is no greater than that he imposed on each of us as taxpayers – his personal tax bill.

Is there a remedy? I think so and call upon all legislative bodies to consider amendments to their respective oaths of office and include language that would require anyone elected to public office to swear that he will exercise reasonable fiscal prudence in the creation of, or vote in favor of, any legislation that imposes a tax burden on the citizenry. To secure this pledge, an elected official would be required to post a surety equal to a meaningful percentage of his net worth, including all trusts, gifts and other wealth management mechanisms over which he has control. This surety would be posted for the benefit of his represented district. Laws can be drafted that define the prudent fiscal review that would be imposed on legislators under this new oath a la the Sarbanes – Oxley requirements imposed on publicly held companies following Enron. Procedures can be developed for constituents to claim a forfeiture of the official’s surety should he run astray of his oath. While the amount of the surety will never be enough to overcome the financial burden imposed on the electorate by the fiscally irresponsible legislation, the surety is an ever-present reminder to the official that his personal assets are at risk when he performs the legislative duties we have bestowed upon him and would give him pause before casting any vote. Can anyone argue with the proposition that many Democrats, with their net worth at stake, would not have blindly followed the administration in the passage of the health care bill? Food for thought.

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