Raleigh, N.C. — N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis did a conference call on behalf of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney this morning. Tillis, who leads the first GOP House majority since the 1990s, delivered some pretty standard-issue Republican criticisms of the Obama administration, including that the businesses were delaying investment until they saw how the new federal health care law panned out.
Most interesting was his response to a question about North Carolina's use of federal stimulus money during the height of the recession. According to North Carolina's recovery act spending website, the state benefited from some $8.9 billion in stimulus spending, including roughly $6.3 billion that went through various state government agencies.
A reporter asked him that funding was helpful to the state at about the 10 minute mark on the audio of the call.
"I think the stimulus money caused a number of structure problems for us. It is one of the reasons we had a $3 billion deficit...because the leadership that preceded me choose to use that non-recurring money just to pay our bills," Tillis said. "So we had a structural deficit going into last year solely because of the stimulus money and the irresponsible decisions made by our irresponsible legislature. One half of our $3 billion deficit was because that money was gone."
As a follow up to that question, I asked whether Tillis would have really rather not seen that money spent here. After all, it surely delayed and softened the budget problems that lawmakers are dealing with to this day.
"In many cases yes, we probably should have dealt with the problem at the time rather than kicking the can down the road," Tillis said.
It's worth noting that this is not an entirely new train of thought for a Republican. There have been others who suggested using one-time money to offset recurring costs, such as salaries, is a bad idea. Still, not having stimulus funding would have hastened, and likely deepened, layoffs of state workers.
Tillis did soften the edge on this comment a bit, saying that the money could have been spent differently, saying that the federal controls on how they were to be used were too restrictive.
"There are a number of instances where stimulus dollars created as much of a distraction and a false sense of security as any long-term benefit," Tillis said. For example, Tillis said the dollars might have been better put toward repaying money to the federal government North Carolina borrowed to pay unemployment insurance claims.
"We could have used that money a lot more wisely and probably shouldn't have spent as much as we did," Tillis said.
In other topics, Tillis had these thoughts to offer:
- Asked if Romney was doing enough to campaign in North Carolina, Tillis said he did. "I would expect to see a lot of Gov. Romney and people who are supporting him."
- The president didn't do that well here in 2008, winning by only a little more than 14,000 votes. "To my way of thinking, I would not be very proud that I was only able to convince that much of a margin at a low point for conservatives. That is exactly why I think President Obama is going to lose in November."
- Tillis called Obama ads criticizing Romney's job creation performance while governor of Massachusetts a "smoke screen."