Local Politics

How much state spending is too much?

Posted July 15, 2009 6:26 p.m. EDT
Updated July 15, 2009 7:42 p.m. EDT

— The House and Senate passed a continuing resolution Wednesday to keep state government running without a new budget.

The first continuing resolution, which expired Wednesday, limited spending to 85 percent of 2008-09 levels. The new one, which will last until July 31, caps spending at 84 percent of previous levels.

Meanwhile, budget negotiators remain far apart on where to cut and how to raise taxes to finalize an $18.9 billion spending plan. Gov. Beverly Perdue called key Senate Democrats to the Capitol in hopes of pushing them toward an agreement.

"She's getting a little frustrated like I am, so she knows we need to draw something to a conclusion pretty quick," said Sen. David Hoyle, D-Gaston.

The sour economy has forced lawmakers to trim the $20.6 billion budgets of the past two years to an $18.9 billion spending plan, yet Republicans note the amount is still much larger than a few years ago.

In the 2003-04 budget cycle, the state budget was $14.7 billion, meaning the proposed budget would be almost 29 percent larger.

"Obviously, we spent more money than we needed to," said Sen. Neal Hunt, R-Wake. "You can call it pork. Call it whatever you want. It's at least porkish."

Democrats said a majority of the additional spending has gone to education, health and human services and public safety as North Carolina's population continues to grow.

"We started More at Four. We did a lot of things for Smart Start. We did a lot of things for children and for our universities we had not been able to do before," Senate Majority Leader Tony Rand said.

According to the National Association of State Budget Offices, North Carolina ranked 33rd in per-capita spending, based on total state expenditures in 2007. The state spent $4,214 per person.

New Jersey topped the , with per-capita spending of $22,187, while New Mexico was 50th, with $1,569 in spending per person.

Neighboring Southeast states spent amounts similar to North Carolina, according to NASBO. South Carolina ranked 30th, at $4,437; Virginia was 31st, at $4,342; Tennessee was 37th, at $3,910; and Georgia was 39th, at $3,756.

Other reports rank North Carolina as low as 45th in per-capita spending.

"We've tried to make sure we lived within our means," Rand said. "We're in a mess now, but so is everybody."

Republican leaders said that's not saying much.

"North Carolina is not unique in overspending," Hunt said. "It might be good for a small group of people, but it's not good for the state . So we've got to have more courageous legislators to stand up and say enough is enough."

As part of the budget negotiations, Democrats are trying agree on a plan to raise $990 million in new revenue to avoid deep cuts to some programs. Republicans insist a fair budget can be passed with no new taxes.