Republicans Are Right And Wrong
Maybe the Republicans are right. Politically, they're wrong. When the state Senate last week voted on its $19 billion state budget plan, just three Republicans joined with the Democratic majority to vote for the bill.
The Senate's Republican leadership argued that the budget bill was financially irresponsible. They predicted that it would set the stage for tougher decisions, more hardship and more tax hikes next year.
It's hard to argue with the prediction. The state is counting on another $1.5 billion boost in federal stimulus money for the upcoming budget year. After that, the federal help is likely to begin running dry.
A one-penny increase in the state sales tax is also scheduled to expire next year. That would be another $800 million hit to the bottom line.
"This budget fails to position the state of North Carolina to address the $3 billion shortfall that is coming next year," said Senate Minority Leader Phil Berger, a Rockingham County Republican.
OK. But no one voted on that 2011-12 fiscal year budget last week. They voted on the 2010-11 state budget.
And that budget cuts taxes. It doesn't increase spending. It eliminates some programs that have been criticized for being wasteful.
In other words, it does most of the things that Republicans typically say that they want from state budgeting. And they still voted against it.
In fact, they even argued against a Democratic proposal to cut small business taxes by $40 million, to ensure that those small businesses pay no more than the 6.9 percent corporate tax rate. Sen. Andrew Brock, a Davie County Republican, pointed out that the tax cut could average as little as $200 per qualifying business.
So the argument has shifted that the only good tax cuts are those over $500 per taxpayer? Or is it $1,000 per taxpayer?
Essentially, what Senate Republicans did last week was vote against the following year's budget this year. But their arguments about next year won't matter this fall. They've delivered a political -victory to Democrats desperately in need of any advantage that they can find.
Now, those Republicans can look -forward to seeing mailers sent to voters stating how they opposed Senate Bill 897, a bill to cut small business taxes. (That the budget bill does a lot of other stuff will be conveniently omitted.)
State government in North Carolina, as Berger has repeatedly pointed out, faces serious, long-term and structural financial problems.
That legislators in either party are ready to address those problems, particularly this year, seems unlikely.
Easing budgetary pressures over the long haul involve really hard decisions - things like structural changes to Medicaid, redefining state employee health and retirement benefits, rethinking the need for 16 public universities in this state, modernizing the state tax code.
Those are the kinds of decisions that would make a lot of different groups of people plenty mad.
Interestingly enough, elected officials - Republicans and Democrats - don't like making people mad.
Scott Mooneyham writes for Capitol Press Association in Raleigh. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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