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The political econmoy of state government debt : an analysis of constitutional limitations (1961-1990)


Szakaly, Kristin Erica (1994) The political econmoy of state government debt : an analysis of constitutional limitations (1961-1990). Dissertation (Ph.D.), California Institute of Technology. doi:10.7907/tyyv-0e22.


Over the past decade, scholarly interest concerning the use of limitations to constrain government spending and taxing has noticeably increased. The call for constitutional restrictions can be credited, in part, to Washington's apparent inability to legislate any significant reductions in government expenditures or in the size of the national debt. At the present time, the federal government is far from instituting any constitutional limitations on spending or borrowing; however, the states have incorporated many controls on revenues and expenditures, the oldest being strictures on full faith and credit borrowing. This dissertations examines the efficacy of these restrictions on borrowing across the states (excluding Alaska) for the period dating from 1961 to 1990 and also studies the limitations on taxing and spending synonymous with the Tax Revolt.

We include socio-economic information in our calculations to control for factors other than the institutional variables that affect state borrowing levels. Our results show that certain constitutional restrictions (in particular, the referendum requirement and the dollar debt limit) are more effective than others. The apparent ineffectiveness of other limitations, such as the flexible debt limit, seem related to the bindingness of the limitations in at least half of the cases. Other variables, such as crime rates, number of schoolage children, and state personal income do affect the levels of full faith and credit debt, but not as strongly as the limitations. While some degree of circumvention can be detected (the amount of full faith and credit debt does inversely affect the levels of nonguaranteed debt), it is so small when compared to the effectiveness of the constitutional restrictions that it is almost negligible. The examination of the tax revolt era limitations yielded quite similar conclusions, with the additional fact that constitutional restrictions appear more binding than statutory ones. Our research demonstrates that constitutional limitations on borrowing can be applied effectively to constrain excessive borrowing, but caution must be used. The efficacy of these restrictions decrease dramatically as the number of loopholes increase.

Item Type:Thesis (Dissertation (Ph.D.))
Subject Keywords:Social Sciences
Degree Grantor:California Institute of Technology
Division:Humanities and Social Sciences
Major Option:Social Science
Thesis Availability:Public (worldwide access)
Research Advisor(s):
  • Kiewiet, D. Roderick
Thesis Committee:
  • Ordeshook, Peter C.
  • Grether, David M.
Defense Date:13 September 1993
Record Number:CaltechTHESIS:05222013-103745904
Persistent URL:
Default Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:7739
Deposited By: Dan Anguka
Deposited On:22 May 2013 17:55
Last Modified:09 Nov 2022 19:20

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