@NCCapitol

Dems criticize GOP as state budget process slows

Posted April 6, 2011 5:04 p.m. EDT
Updated April 6, 2011 6:59 p.m. EDT

State budget

— House budget writers said Wednesday that they would delay the release of their next round of spending reduction options until next week.

Rep. Harold Brubaker, senior chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said subcommittee meetings set for Thursday to roll out menus of potential spending cuts had been canceled. Republican legislative leaders need more time to work out details, said Brubaker, R-Randolph.

Democratic lawmakers criticized the Republican leadership for handling many budget details behind the scenes and not in committee meetings. Gov. Beverly Perdue plans to speak Thursday about the apparent lack of focus by the General Assembly on the budget and boosting the state's economy.

"I think there are a lot of folks concerned about the process," said Sen. Linda Garrou, D-Forsyth.

Republicans had similar concerns about the budget process over the past six years when Garrou was the lead budget writer, but she noted that the GOP promised change when they seized control of the General Assembly in November's elections.

"They were going to be open and transparent," Garrou said. "Everything was going to be wonderful. They were going to show us. In fact, that's what we've heard – 'We're going to show you' – and I'm waiting for them to show me."

Lobbyists agreed that the GOP is no better than the Democrats at hammering out budget details in public.

"It's no different than it has been in the past. It's not a transparent process," said Rob Thompson, a member of the Together NC coalition opposed to drastic cuts in education and social service programs.

House and Senate budget leaders are no longer working as closely on how to close a projected shortfall of $2.4 billion next year. The two chambers had been working together for weeks, but now the House is working alone to assemble and approve its version of the budget. The Senate will follow with changes.

The new fiscal year starts on July 1.

Brubaker said the chambers have different views on how deep cuts should be for public schools and the University of North Carolina system.

"You wake up in the middle of the night saying, 'How can we do all those things with no money?' It's frustrating," said Sen. Jerry Tillman, co-chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Education.

Even with the delay, Tillman, R-Randolph, said the Republican-led legislature is making headway with the budget much faster than the Democrats used to.

"The pace has been the hardest thing for me to adjust to. We're moving at a very fast pace," he said.

House Speaker Thom Tillis promised transparency would be evident once appropriations subcommittees meet next week.

"The idea here was to gauge the viability of certain proposals to reach a point to where they should be considered by the committee," Tillis said. "What I think Democrats have been rightly criticized for (in the past) is that the recommendations in committee, as open as they may have been, bore no resemblance to the end product."

Nothing is set in stone yet, and everything in the budget will be up for an honest debate, he said.

"We won't have much patience for stonewalling, but we will have patience for good ideas and legitimate challenges to the things we have to deal with," he said.