Iris Lav

Iris J. Lav is a senior adviser to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and former deputy director of the center.

Recent Articles

Loosening Fiscal Straitjackets

Proponents say that caps on taxing and spending enhance democracy. In reality, they destroy accountable government -- but that can be changed.

When Justice Louis Brandeis famously called states "laboratories of democracy," he might not have envisioned the out-of-control monstrosities that those laboratories sometimes produce. Case in point: caps or formula-based limits on revenues and spending that many states have adopted over the last three decades, which have undermined public services and stymied activist government. These measures apply statutory or constitutional limits to how much the state or local governments in the state can collect in revenues and spend on services. They replace the normal give-and-take of legislative decision-making with simplistic formulas often designed to diminish the state's ability to fund education, health care, and other services that help residents and the state prosper. Many of these limits require referenda before taxes can be approved or their terms can be changed. And once set in motion, these fiscal Frankenstein monsters are notoriously hard to stop. Tax and spending limits exploit...