Senate to Perdue: Win some, lose some

Senate Appropriations agreed today to give the governor more power to cut this year's budget. But the bill includes cuts she hadn't envisioned.

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The full Senate is scheduled to vote tomorrow on S13, a bill that started out as a simple measure giving the governor more power to manage the current year budget. As these things do, though, it got a lot more complicated before it was approved Wednesday by Senate Appropriations. 

Perdue had asked for the power to make cuts that could total $400 million. She’s likely to get it, but it’ll come at a price: steep cuts of more than $142 million to programs and funding organizations she prizes. More than $80 million would come from job development and incentives programs like Golden Leaf, JDIG and the One North Carolina Fund.

It’s important to note that, according to Senator Richard Stevens, lawmakers aren't leaving any of these funds penniless. Most already have significant holdings that won’t be touched. But that doesn’t mean the proposed cuts won’t impact those funds’ ongoing operations.

Commerce Secretary Keith Crisco said Wednesday that the cuts to economic development programs could put the kibosh on recruitment deals already in the works. He warned the committee that the measure would bring N.C.’s business recruitment efforts “to a screeching halt.”

“The way to get out of this [recession] is to create jobs,” Crisco said after the meeting. “That’s what we’re about, and we’ve done a good job with the tools we have and the partnerships we have. We need our partner, we need our tools.”

Stevens was understanding but unapologetic.

“Other jobs are teaching positions, positions at our university’s community colleges, funds for Medicaid… How many of those can we preserve now while still making some significant changes?” he asked. “This is the best way to go forward."

“These are cash balances,” Stevens continued. “Is it easy? No...There’s going to be some other hard choices coming our way.”

Senator Don East (R-Surry) was even more direct, pointing out that cuts to the Golden Leaf’s rural development programs would hurt his district severely. “I would ask you folks, if you don’t agree with this, what group of employees do you plan to lay off? Which taxes do you plan to raise? ‘Cause we’ve got to balance the budget some way or other.”

“It ain’t pretty,” he said, “and the phone’s gonna ring off the hook. But tough choices have to be made.”

My report from Wednesday's 6 p.m. newscast on WRAL-TV is here. 

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