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Balanced Budget Rules and Public Deficits: Evidence from the U.S. States

Henning Bohn, Robert P. Inman

NBER Working Paper No. 5533
Issued in April 1996
NBER Program(s):Public Economics Program

Most states (Vermont is the exception) have a constitutional or statutory limitation restricting their ability to run deficits in the state's general fund. Balanced budget limitations may be either prospective or beginning-of-the-year requirements or retrospective or end-of-the-year requirements. Using budget data from a panel of 47 U.S. states for the period 1970-1991, the analysis finds that states with end-of-the-year (not prospective) balance requirements enforced as constitutional (not statutory) constraints by an independently elected (not politically appointed) state supreme court do have significant positive effects on a state's general fund surplus. The surplus is accumulated through cuts in spending, not through tax increases. It is saved in a state `rainy day' fund in anticipation of future general fund deficits. In contrast, prospective requirements, statutory end-of-the-year requirements, or constitutional end-of-the- year requirements enforced by a politically appointed court do not significantly constrain general fund deficit behavior. Finally, we find little evidence that the constraints `force' deficits into other fiscal accounts.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w5533

Published: Bohn, Henning & Inman, Robert P., 1996. "Balanced-budget rules and public deficits: evidence from the U.S. states," Carnegie-Rochester Conference Series on Public Policy, Elsevier, vol. 45(1), pages 13-76, December. citation courtesy of

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