Editorial: Behind closed doors, N.C. budget negotiators perpetuate a culture of neglect

Posted June 9

House debates proposed budget

A CBC Editorial: Friday, June 9, 2017; Editorial # 8171
The following is the opinion of Capitol Broadcasting Company

Out of sight of the taxpayers whose money they’re spending, North Carolina’s legislative leaders are cutting deals and making compromises about most important issues facing the citizens of our state: the quality of schools, access to decent health care, competing in the national and global economy and providing an infrastructure that promotes prosperity and a good quality of life.

The state Senate budget plan, and only slightly less so the plan offered up by the House of Representatives, represent a culture of neglect of the state’s critical needs. This culture, over the last six years, has been a race to the bottom. Rather than looking to build a state that excels, the Senate budget is about diminished expectations and the House spending plan is about just scraping by.

They are in sharp contrast to the budget proposed by Gov. Roy Cooper, austere by most standards, but based on an optimistic and expanding view of North Carolina’s future and the potential of all residents.

The force driving the legislative leadership is continuing massive tax cuts to those, particularly large corporations, that need it least. This misguided priority has left the state’s greatest needs neglected.

The budget that is likely to emerge from the shadows of the House and Senate’s secret negotiations won’t change that.

The mess legislators have made of local school finances with the unfunded mandate to reduce classroom size in the lower grades likely won’t be addressed. Teachers and school principal pay will continue to badly lag the national average.

Private schools, many without any appropriate accreditation or other credentials, will be lavished with millions of dollars without any significant requirements to show those tax dollars are even being spent on education.

After decrying, when the state lottery was created, the use of lottery funds for ongoing state expenses, the House and Senate propose using millions to do just that, including paying salaries for school principals.

Pay for state workers continues to lag, benefits are being reduced and retirees’ legitimate need for a pension cost-of-living increase will continue to be ignored.

While backing the “Raise the Age” initiative, there’s no additional money provided to pay the added costs that will be placed on the state’s juvenile criminal system.

These are misguided decisions, and there are plenty more. Just as unfortunate is that the public is blind to the reasoning behind these choices.

Nearly all discussions and decision-making about the state budget are made in secret. There were few committee meetings or hearings in the House and Senate.

The meetings of the budget bill’s conference committee and subcommittees are not announced and closed to the public. North Carolina citizens in general – and even most other members of the General Assembly – are denied the opportunity to view and understand what options are discussed and the reasons choices are made.

While North Carolinians are denied any insight as to how budget decisions are being made -- they are the victims of their results:

  • A struggling public education system
  • Inadequate health care for hundreds of thousands
  • An economy that is lagging the Southeast and the nation
  • A regressive tax structure that puts the costs of governing inordinately on those who face the most challenges to afford it.

Gov. Cooper’s budget presents a reasonable approach to meeting the needs of the state. The House and Senate fail terribly and any resulting “compromise” of those two plans is destined, rightly, for a veto.

If legislators worked as hard at imposing a plan to help North Carolinians as they do at promoting an ideology, we’d all be better off.


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