Perdue Exceeding the Necessary Limits of Cooperation
If you walked into the legislative budget briefing Wednesday morning, you'd never be able to tell that just over a month ago candidates for the General Assembly were accusing each other of everything from freeing death row inmates to wasting millions of taxpayer dollars to chasing jobs out of the state.
Maybe that's the way it is supposed to work, that once the election is over the politicians forget if not forgive and the winners begin the processing of governing and talking about cooperating with each other for the good of the state.
The difference this year seems to be that members of one party, the Republicans, are so far sticking to their campaign rhetoric about spending and taxes, and most of the cooperation is coming from the Democrats, led by Gov. Beverly Perdue.
Perdue appeared at the legislative budget briefing to tout her plans to privatize and reorganize government, which was music to the ears of the Republicans in the room.
House Speaker-to-be Thom Tillis warmly embraced Perdue's plan as a first step. Let's hope that doesn't send her back to the mansion looking for more state employees to lay off or more parts of the government to turn over to the vagaries of the free market.
The headlines of Perdue's address were her calls for strict limits on legislative sessions (a terrible idea), an independent redistricting commission and more transparency in the legislative process (both of which make sense and were also promptly endorsed by Tillis, at least in spirit).
But while they are important, people aren't exactly screaming for changes in the legislative process. They want to know about their jobs, their kids' elementary school teachers and what happens to a family member with a mental illness.
Perdue didn't offer any specific thoughts about those issues. In fact, there were few specifics at all about how she is thinking about addressing the $3.7 billion budget shortfall, not even the usual boilerplate platitudes about protecting public schools.
She didn't say anything about new revenue either, adding to the worry that she might actually propose a spending plan that balances the budget with cuts alone.
Tillis did offer a couple of specifics, saying that Republicans would not support raising tax rates or continuing the temporary taxes hikes passed in 2009.
All this came after lawmakers heard the troubling details about the state's budget crisis and the $3.7 billion hole facing them. The Republicans' plan to address it is clear: Slash the budget regardless of the damage it inflicts on public schools and vital human services. The Democrats' ideas, at least as expressed by the Democratic governor, are to talk like Republicans while working on their plan.
Outgoing House Speaker Joe Hackney presided over the legislative briefing. He will be the House minority leader when the General Assembly session convenes in January. Senate Democrats this week elected Martin Nesbitt as Senate minority leader.
Nobody knows more about the state budget and how the General Assembly works than Hackney and Nesbitt. They both know something about managing a fiscal crisis too.
They were both key parts of House Speaker Dan Blue's leadership team in 1991 when the state faced a $1.2 billion shortfall in a budget of less than $8 billion and solved it by cutting $600 million and raising $600 million in new revenue. Like now, vital state institutions and services were on the line.
It was a balanced approach worth repeating and one Hackney and Nesbitt should fight for, whether Perdue helps them or not. Maybe there's a plan behind her posturing, but it would be easier to take if there were public calls to protect education and human services to accompany the clamoring for privatization and consolidation.
The election may be over, but the debate has just begun. There's nothing wrong with a civil discussion, but there's a limit to how much warm and fuzzy talk about cooperation we can stand.
It's time for both sides to make it clear what they stand for. So far we are only hearing from one of them.
Chris Fitzsimon is executive director of N.C. Policy Watch. Contact him at email@example.com.
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