Good News, Bad News on Budget Process
By John Hood
North Carolina state government finally has a budget for the fiscal year that began last month. If you are a fiscal conservative, there’s nothing much to celebrate.
Yes, it does cost taxpayers around $35,000 in operating expenses for every day the General Assembly remains even in skeletal session. But judging by the final outcome, delay may well have saved taxpayers about $350,000 a day in forgone spending — given that the final budget will increase spending by nearly $1.3 billion in 2005-06 over the previous year, and at least some of the new spending could not have been accomplished retroactively.
And it sprinkles more than $40 million in pork-barrel projects into the districts of politically favored legislators, including such gifts to campaign-ad copywriters as $20,000 for a rec center in Northampton County, $1 million for a two-ring horse park in Rockingham County, $50,000 for part of a bike path in Franklin County, and $400,000 for a teapot museum in Alleghany County.
But if we decide that the state needs to perform a valuable service for us that we as private individuals can’t perform for ourselves, those providing the service ought to be qualified, dedicated, and motivated to serve us well. Particularly outrageous was the failure of a last-minute effort by a handful of House members to boost the average pay raise by a scant $150 per person, costing $22 million. Gov. Mike Easley threatened to veto the state budget if it included this amendment, arguing that the extra spending would have violated his spending cap, which is based on average growth in personal income and would allow 5.6 percent growth this year. Citing the threat, lawmakers backed off.
The governor’s spending-cap shenanigans constituted the bad news about this year’s budget process. Some good news could be found in the fact that all the pork appears to have been ladled out by name in the budget bill, rather than tucked away in a secret slush fund as in years past. If you’re going to waste the public’s money, it’s better to do it in public.
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