As chairman of the Moore County Democratic Party, I cannot remain silent and witness State Rep. Jamie Boles, in his July 31 column, providing inaccurate information about the budget standoff in Raleigh.
While The Pilot properly questioned a policy permitting “budget earmarks” that Boles states are at risk by Gov. Cooper’s veto, the truth is somewhere in between. Let’s examine the facts.
House Bill 966 was essentially approved on party-line votes, ignoring efforts by Senate and House Democrats to have input on major policy issues during the appropriations process. What we had was a legislative “cram down.” Boles voted “yes” on the budget bill when it was adopted 64-49 on June 27. The Governor issued his veto on June 28.
The N.C. House has seen attempts to override this veto pulled from the House calendar consideration at least 16 times because the Speaker cannot secure the needed 60 percent of members to override the veto per our Constitution.
Boles states that “millions for Moore County are blocked by Cooper’s veto.” This is incorrect. In a counter-offer to the legislative leadership, the governor said he was agreeable to a budget compromise even if it contained the “earmarks” Boles wants you to believe are down the drain.
Excluding funds for school construction, these projects total just about $4 million. The governor is agreeable to the pay raises for teachers and state employees. While he opposes the corporate franchise tax repeal, he supports individual income tax cuts, such as raising the standard deduction. Cooper wants Medicaid expansion.
This response to Boles requires some clarification as to the $12 million for additional school construction. House Bill 966 states at page 330 that “The General Assembly intends to appropriate at least Five Hundred Million ($500,000,000) for local school administrative unit capital projects by the end of the 2021-2022 fiscal year.”
Hence these monies are contingent upon the legislature making an appropriation not later than June 30, 2022. There is no legally binding commitment on future legislative sessions to make these funds available. Cooper has instead proposed that the General Assembly fund the school needs via a statewide bond issue. This is exactly what the House did on a bi-partisan basis when it earlier approved House Bill 241, The Education Bond Act of 2019. Boles voted “Yes” on HB 241 when it was cleared to the Senate by a lopsided vote of 109-6 on March 15.
So, what has changed on school funding? HB 241 assures Moore County that it would receive $10 million which, if approved by the voters statewide, could be applied toward the recently approved local school bond debt, or applied on new construction, or a combination.
However, HB 966 only promises that Moore schools should receive $12 million.This is a distinction with a difference. To have an I.O.U. that can be fulfilled — or not — in the next three years is nothing more than a hollow statement of intent. The continued inflation in construction costs, not to mention the accrued interest on state/local bonds, will exceed the $2 million difference.
For Boles to claim that Moore is at risk on $12 million does not state the truth of the matter. The state Senate needs to take up HB 241, pass it and remove this issue from the budget stalemate. This will help narrow the differences between the governor and the Legislature.
Boles will then have it both ways: his $4 million in earmarks will get funded and the statewide bond issue he voted for will go to the voters. Politics is the art of compromise, but neither side seems willing to blink.
The policy debate on the wisdom of “earmarks” is for another day. Meanwhile, more “pork” for Moore is what Boles offers us, but it is now subject to a more truthful assessment of the impact of Cooper’s veto.