One party, but no unity on NC budget

June 24, 2014 

At the federal level, the gulf between the Democratic-controlled Senate and the Republican-controlled House is a given and legislative gridlock is the expectation. But it’s a mystery why North Carolinians must endure the same frustration in their Republican-dominated legislature when it comes to the state budget.

Indeed, it’s even worse in North Carolina’s capital. At least in Washington, the Senate and President Obama are on the same page. In Raleigh, Republicans in the Senate and House can’t agree with each other or the Republican governor on how the state should spend its revenue. It’s a three-way level of dysfunction.

Now that inability to agree has brought the state to the brink of a new fiscal year with wide differences between proposals for the second year of the state’s two-year budget.

The standoff has prompted Gov. Pat McCrory to issue a contingency plan for operating the state if lawmakers can’t reach a budget agreement by the end of the fiscal year on June 30. That plan calls for state agencies to operate at whatever is the lower appropriation between the proposed Senate and House budgets. And it leaves out promised pay raises for teachers and state employees.

It’s true that proposals within the Senate budget were so draconian – including a massive reduction in teacher assistants – that it might be just as well that no budget changes are approved. But it’s a dismal state of governance when three budget proposals from the same party can’t be reconciled.

This is a far cry from what legislative leaders promised before the short session opened in May. House Speaker Thom Tillis said lawmakers would manage to offset a revenue shortfall caused by the Republicans’ excessive tax cuts and help teachers and state employees, who’ve gone for years without meaningful pay increases.

“Thanks to state budget tightening earlier this year, we remain confident that the shortfall is manageable, and we will be able to move forward with our legislative priorities including pay raises for teachers and state employees,” Tillis said in a statement.

Senate leader Phil Berger was equally confident. “Teacher compensation and addressing a compensation increase for our state employees is one of those priorities we have, and I expect us to be able to do something,” he said.

Now, it’s more than a month later and the House and Senate may have to punt on their stated priorities because they can’t agree on how to pay for them.

Meanwhile, the party’s figurative leader, the governor, has no recourse but to urge Republican lawmakers to please do their jobs. “I just want to urge the General Assembly to continue to add a sense of urgency to these budget negotiations,” McCrory said.

While Republican leaders moved with speed on divisive issues such as approving hydraulic fracturing and new rules governing protesters at the Legislative Building, they can’t seem to do the basics of taxing, spending and serving. They’ve cut taxes for the wealthy and corporations to an extent that state government can’t meet the state’s needs. Their responses are calls for more budget cuts or goosing the lottery for more cash or just going home with their work undone.

Republicans are in power, but in these chaotic days no one is in charge.

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