Budget battle

The governor, with her veto, has held high ground in the state budget confrontation.

July 3, 2012 

Republican leaders in the General Assembly kept standing by their revisions of the second year of the two-year state budget they passed in 2011, but their stubbornness smacked of an attempt to bully a lame-duck governor. They basically told Gov. Beverly Perdue to take it or leave it, confident the veto she exercised Friday would not stand.

What a sad state. The governor made some common-sense suggestions for budget revisions that amounted to $100 million, or one-half of 1 percent, in a $20.2 billion budget. Perdue’s ideas, which she aimed to carry out with reserve funds or from additional revenue that might come in, are hardly radical or unreasonable.

She wanted more money for schools in general, for pre-K programs, for additional probation officers (a critical need) and to compensate victims of the state’s now-defunct eugenics program, where those judged unfit to bear children were involuntarily sterilized.

She also pushed to have the state set aside $600,000 to attain compliance with the Help America Vote Act, which would release another $4 million in federal money to improve the state’s elections system.

Purely partisan?

And what in the world was wrong with any of these ideas?

Nothing, except in the eyes of Republicans, because the ideas came from the Democratic governor.

House Speaker Thom Tillis said the governor’s ideas were “structurally flawed” and noted she was holding up the budget for a relatively small amount of money. First, not even Tillis can likely define what “structurally flawed” means in this context, beyond the flaw that Perdue’s a Democrat. Second, given how her suggested changes could improve public safety (probation officers) and advance something Tillis himself has championed (the eugenics compensation), why were GOP leaders insisting on a “take it or leave it” command to the governor?

After all, Republicans are in charge. They’ve already managed to cut lots of programs, diminish regulation of business, including environmental oversight, and finagle the budget for public education in a way that has cost teaching jobs. The public university system has taken tremendous hits. Yet despite all their victories, GOP leaders clearly never intend to give an inch as long as they hold power.

Their logic now in this confrontation with Perdue has been curious. They noted that they gave state employees, teachers and other school personnel 1.2 percent raises, which they say have been threatened by the governor’s veto.

And they say they restored money to public schools that will soften the blow of losing federal money from a stimulus program that’s due to expire. If the governor’s veto prevailed, they said, schools would be down $333 million, whereas under their budget the figure would be “only” $190 million.

Costly tax break

None of the suggestions in Perdue’s $100 million package would prevent any of that, and Republican leaders know it. The governor’s ideas wouldn’t have taken a dime from teachers or state employees. And they would have further lessened the blow to education.

What will take money away from the budget in general is a foolish tax break that lawmakers – seeking to grant some relief to small businesses – also handed to individuals with partnerships in law firms and other similar high-income positions. Without an income cap, the $3,500 break will cost the state $336 million.

Another excellent idea from Perdue, to restore a sales tax boost that expired, would have brought in hundreds of millions of dollars that could have closed some budget gaps and really made a difference in public schools, for one example. But no – Republicans running the legislature wouldn’t hear of it.

Perdue sought a modest compromise on education and a few other worthy spending items. When legislative leaders dug in their heels, her veto was justified. The GOP majority on Jones Street, confident though it may be, still has to answer to the people.

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