Editorials

NC leaders bungle the state budget

hlynch@newsobserver.com

It was 1968, and Democrats were up against it in the presidential race pitting Hubert Humphrey against Richard Nixon. One television ad flashed up the name of GOP vice presidential nominee Spiro Agnew, with laughter in the background. Then came, “This would be funny ... if it weren’t so serious.”

The ad proved positively prescient. Agnew resigned in scandal and disgrace, and Nixon was gone thanks to Watergate before his second term ended.

For different reasons, the same statement could apply to the current edition of the North Carolina General Assembly, Republican style. Though they’ve been in charge of the General Assembly since 2010, GOP House members and senators now are fussing with each other over the state budget, adding another extension to budget talks, which will make this the longest budget delay since 2002. This should be embarrassing for the GOP leadership, as sharp exchanges between the House and Senate expose everything from clumsiness to ineptitude.

House members want a budget that boosts spending a modest 5 percent, too modest, really, given the toll the Great Recession took on public agencies, services and employees. But the Senate, led by Phil Berger, Tom Apodaca and Bob Rucho, wants only a 2.7 percent increase in the name of more tax cuts for the wealthy and businesses and cuts in valuable programs like historic tax credits and incentives for what’s sure to become a vanishing film industry.

House members see this trio as bullies, and they’re right. Senators talk down to the House, dismissing the lower chamber’s budget ideas and in particular the House’s belief that teacher assistants are vital to the quality of public education delivered in early grades. In the Senate budget, thousands of assistants would lose their jobs because of a plan to reduce class size and hire more regular teachers. In fact, assistants should be retained and more teachers should be hired, both of which would be possible with a $445 million budget surplus. But Senate leaders who have shown little support for public education since taking charge apparently couldn’t care less.

That there would be a second delay is ridiculous and shows that even after five years in power Republicans are amateurs at drawing a budget. They are embarrassing themselves and the state.

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