Attorney General Josh Stein is begging for money so he doesn’t have to lay off staff. Meanwhile, Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler is, to paraphrase the biblical story, living in the land of milk and honey.
The main difference is that Stein is a Democrat and is being treated by the legislature as a political leper, while Troxler, as a Republican, is now in the Promised Land.
How a state agency fared when the Republican-controlled legislature passed a $23 billion budget last month depended, in part, whether it was headed by a Democratic or a Republican elected official.
Most of the publicity has centered on Stein, the newly elected Democratic attorney general who had $10 million cut from his budget, or about 35 percent of the funding for his legal and administrative staff. He is facing laying off 123 full-time employees including attorneys and technology and human resources workers and has been asking other agencies to contribute money – the AG’s office provides legal advice for other agencies – so they don’t have to make the cuts.
The GOP legislature knows Stein well, because he was a leading Democratic senator who defeated one of their own, former state Sen. Buck Newton of Wilson, in a race so close that Newton didn’t concede until December.
Part of the rancor is that the GOP legislature is hip deep in lawsuits and it has shelled out more than $10 million for private attorneys in part because it doesn’t trust Democratic attorneys general to vigorously argue its case on polarizing issues such as voter ID.
The Republican legislature also went after newly elected Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s budget, cutting $1 million from his budget to $5.3 million.
Compare this with the budgets of Republican office-holders. Troxler saw his budget jump from $116.9 million to $133.6 million.
Newly elected State Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey, a Republican, saw his department’s budget jump from $38.3 million to $48.8 million. (The budget had been flat under his Democratic predecessor, Wayne Goodwin.)
Newly elected Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson, a Republican, was given $700,000 by the legislature to hire 10 new policy positions.
Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Forest saw his budget increased from $672,972 to $793,708. Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry, a Republican, saw her budget increased from $15.8 million to $17.6 million.
(Funding increases did not always follow partisan lines. Both Secretary of State Elaine Marshall and State Auditor Beth Wood, both Democrats, received budget increases. Newly elected Republican State Treasurer Dale Folwell saw a budget cut, but he didn’t see less money because more of the cost of his office was shifted from state appropriations to receipts.)
While the legislature was asking Stein and Cooper to suck it up, it was ladling out thick budgetary gravy for its own operation. The legislature’s budget has gone from $52.8 million in 2015 to $57 million this past year to $65.9 million in the new budget.
So as Stein wanders around the state government complex with a tin cup in his hand, Republican-led state agencies are enjoying budget increases of 14 percent, 27 percent, 17 percent, 9 percent and so forth.
As my Cajun friends might say: Laissez les bons temps rouler! (Let the good times roll!)
All of this is politics as usual, you might scoff. To the victors go the spoils.
But if you think about it, it’s not the Democratic elected leaders who are being punished. If anything, such punitive politics gives them an issue on which to raise political funds.
But what about the citizens who elected them to perform a job? Or don’t they count?
Rob Christensen can be reached at 919-829-4532 or at firstname.lastname@example.org