SCOTT MOONEYHAM: Some Lame Excuses on The Budget
The budget didn't raise taxes; it cut them by $198 million. It provided rank-and-file state employees with the first significant pay raise in five years, at 5.5 percent. The pay hikes for teachers, university professors and community college instructors were even higher.
It also didn't contain the typical pork, whether fire trucks or local museum appropriations, seen in most budgets.
Tax cuts and state employee pay raises are tough things to vote against. For some, the votes will show up in campaign attack ads in the fall.
But for those 50 GOP legislators who voted against the budget, the bad outweighed the good.
The reason most frequently cited was the spending increase. The previous year's budget totaled $17.2 billion, meaning the $1.7 billion increase represented a 9.8 percent rise in spending.
The budget also didn't completely undo the tax hikes approved in 2001 as "temporary." With a surplus around $2 billion, waiting another year to roll back the entire tax increase was unconscionable, critics charged.
A dozen GOP House members voted for their chamber's budget plan but against the final bill that emerged from House-Senate negotiations. The main reason given was that Medicaid relief for the counties dropped from $53 million to $27 million, and none of the money permanently capped local governments' cost.
For the conservative crowd, the reasoning is sound enough, even if it doesn't mitigate the political peril of voting against a tax cut and state employee raises.
But another justification making the rounds among conservatives has about as much legitimacy as a claim that Saddam Hussein is a misunderstood softy.
Some GOP leaders argue that this budget is fiscally irresponsible. As proof, they say the Democratic-controlled legislature has taken $405 million in one-time money and spent it on recurring needs.
The claim is based, in part, on the analysis of legislative economist David Crotts, who believes corporate tax collections will follow historical patterns by dropping after a sharp rise.
Crotts' analysis, as it should be, is conservative.
But the only real one-time money budgeted -- money the state cannot expect next year -- is the $1.07 billion in tax revenue collected above projections last year and the $117 million left unspent from 2005.
The one-time expenses incurred in the budget -- including $323 million for emergency reserves, $206 million in new construction, $222 million for building repair and $80 million for computer technology -- far exceed $1.1 billion.
Meanwhile, lawmakers have pumped up the state's main reserve fund above $600 million and created other pots of money that can be tapped during disasters or tough times.
These aren't the actions of a fiscally irresponsible state.
Scott Mooneyham writes for Capitol Press Association. Contact him at smooneyh@nc insider.com
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