According to news reports, Michigan’s state government may take in $735 million more than previously expected during the fiscal year that began Oct. 1. Other accounts put the figure as high as $1 billion. But as Capitol Confidential reported yesterday, since 1977 the state has spent $179.8 billion more than if spending increases had been limited to the rate of inflation plus population growth (as under a Taxpayer Bill of Rights law). That’s 244 times more than this year’s revenue “surplus.”

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Nevertheless, the spending interests are already lining up to claim a piece of this taxpayer overcharge. Gov. Rick Snyder is being cautious, but given history there is reason to be concerned.

Specifically, in the summer of 2000, thanks to a strong state economy, lawmakers learned that state coffers would accumulate $600 million more than previously expected. It would be nice to report they prudently socked the excess away against a rainy day, or returned it to the taxpayers from whom the money was taken, but that’s not what happened. Instead, the Legislature went on a spending spree that included the purchase of a new polar bear zoo exhibit, among other items.

Spending interests and politicians then and now tend to regard these taxpayer overcharges as an invitation to spend more. After ensuring that the surplus really does exist, perhaps the Snyder administration would consider offering long-suffering Michigan taxpayers a refund of some sort.

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