Brown's student body is known for being politically active and engaged. A quick glance at the list of student organizations classified as "Service, Political and Social Action Groups" shows that students are involved in a wide variety of causes, including everything from the Brown Animal Rights Club to a chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy.
While the level of activism on campus is laudable, one important cause seems to have gone overlooked: fiscal responsibility in government. Currently, no student organization at Brown is dedicated exclusively to this ideal. As such, we're calling on a few motivated students to found Brown Students for Fiscal Responsibility in Government, a non-partisan group that will promote awareness of major public fiscal challenges and advocate concrete solutions.
Several considerations favor the creation of a new non-partisan group. The federal and state governments face fiscal predicaments that are too perilous to be considered through a partisan lens. A 2008 report by the Government Accountability Office projects that the federal government's debt is on its way to reaching 170 percent of GDP by 2040, far exceeding the previous high of 109 percent set during World War II. By 2080, debt could surpass 600 percent of GDP. Clearly, the present path is unsustainable, and unless our country can change course, the future seems to hold huge tax increases, major cuts in services, or both.
Rhode Island's state government is also struggling — it projects a $427 million deficit in the coming fiscal year. The real long-term issue, though, is the state employee pension plan, which has roughly $4.3 billion in unfunded liabilities, according to a report released last week by the Pew Charitable Trust's Center on the States. The report also noted that Rhode Island is one of eight states without funding to cover over one-third of its total pension liabilities.
A new student group could do a lot of good by getting involved on the local level. And by showing a willingness to work towards the state's long-term fiscal health, the group can bolster the already extremely strong case against last year's proposed taxes on out-of-state students and large non-profits.
If created, this new group should be sure to eschew any hint of partisanship. Recently, neither major political party has been able to establish credibility on fiscal issues. President Obama's plans to freeze some domestic spending for three years and establish a new deficit panel are reasonable first steps, especially with some economists saying that it is still too early in the recovery to halt stimulus efforts. However, he has yet to develop a comprehensive plan to reverse the damage done to the federal accounts by the economic recessions of 2001 and 2009 and the Bush presidency, which inherited an $800 billion projected annual surplus.
In trying to establish itself on campus, Brown Students for Fiscal Responsibility in Government will come up against an interesting challenge: how to make an issue traditionally associated with conservatives and libertarians appeal to a liberal-leaning student body. This challenge is perhaps what excites us most about the possibility of a new group of this sort. The current level of partisanship and gridlock in our government is unacceptable if America is going to continue to prosper in the 21st century. By starting a pragmatic, non-partisan conversation on a contentious issue now, our generation can prepare to do a better job when our turn to lead comes.
Editorials are written by The Herald's editorial page board. Send comments to editorials-at-browndailyherald.com.