I am not mystic, psychic or fortune teller, but here’s one prediction you can count on: In the days ahead, you’ll read innumerable rants against the mean, cold-hearted, visionless Republican state budget.
Before you absorb these attacks, please bear in mind they’re being lodged by the same folks who have roboticly assured you that Obamacare is a great success, that the national economy is in good shape, that coal ash ponds are poisoning drinking water across the state and that UNC-Chapel Hill was a paragon of virtue under its Democratic leaders.
Recall that this partisan propaganda is by the same folks who claim they are mystified by the public’s distrust of Hillary Clinton and assert she was a superb secretary of state. This same crowd downplays the attacks on free speech at college campuses and the assaults against Trump supporters, while insisting that the Donald is a sign of brewing fascism. They insist that America, which has seen a grand extension of civil rights in recent decades while accepting millions of immigrants, is a hotbed of racism, sexism and xenophobia – and then criticize Trump for “talking down” our country. They declare that the impossibly complex science of global climate is absolutely settled, that the failure of socialist countries around the world has zero relevance to Bernie Sanders’ campaign and that it was fine and dandy for the IRS to harass Obama’s opponents.
They’re the same people who … well, you get the point.
The bottom line: Have your salt grains handy when reading opinion pieces on the state budget, which have more unreliable narrators than a Faulkner novel. As with Faulkner’s great works, readers must sift and sort the facts to develop their own version of the truth.
My view of the proposed House and Senate budgets is that they are sensible plans that lay out an effective conservative vision for state government. They continue the work begun in 2011 when the GOP won control of a state saddled sharp budget cuts, tremendous debt and an economy that had underperformed for more than a decade – between 2000 and 2010 North Carolina’s real per-capita income rose just 1 percent, well below the region (5 percent) and the nation (4 percent).
In response, GOP leaders took a series of acts critics predicted would lead to ruin. Despite the headwinds of a lousy national economy, those steps have helped to right the ship of state.
It is extremely hard to measure the specific effect of government policies on the economy – though decades of scholarly research (and common sense) confirm that lower taxes and less regulation often spur growth. Our strawman politics forces me to add that this does not mean that we should have no taxes and zero regulation. Just that the sweet spot tends to be less rather than more.
We do know that North Carolina’s economy is outperforming much of the nation. John Hood, chairman of the conservative John Locke Foundation, collected “the most recent 12 months of data for three key measures of economic growth: gross domestic product (GDP), employment, and per-person income.” Only seven states ranked in the top third of all three crucial categories.
North Carolina is one of what Hood dubs “the Magnificent Seven.”
The state’s finances are also strong. Instead of the shortfalls predicted in response to GOP tax policies, the state is enjoying a hefty surplus.
Ignoring the spending freezes and cutbacks the state endured because it was unprepared for the 2008 recession, Democrats argue that the GOP is putting too much money into the rainy day fund meant to protect essential services during the next downturn.
It would be nice to provide state workers with higher raises. But it’s worth noting that nine of the 10 states with the worst fiscal conditions are deep blue bastions of liberalism, beginning with Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Illinois. If you are appalled by what the GOP legislature is doing to our state, consider what unbridled Democrat rule has wrought elsewhere.
Despite constant claims that the GOP is bent on dismantling the public school system, there is one area where the legislature has loosened the purse strings: It has increased teacher pay more than any other state since Pat McCrory became governor.
The GOP budgets are not perfect. It is reasonable to argue the state should set other priorities. But those making that case ought to admit that their cloudy crystal ball is far better at seeing how to spin things for Democrat advantage than foreseeing the result of GOP policies.
A final prediction: That call will fall on deaf ears.
Contributing columnist J. Peder Zane can be reached at email@example.com.