Two questions for Tuesday

By: - December 16, 2008 9:20 pm

Is there a business veto over key appointments?

The Raleigh rumor mill is working overtime on who Governor-elect Beverly Perdue will appoint to her cabinet and other key posts in her administration. Perdue has named her chief of staff and legislative team but not much else, prompting some anxiety in the political and advocacy world particularly around appointments to agencies that have been plagued by scandal, Health and Human Services, Correction, and Transportation.

Even things that seem to be decided may not be. Perdue announced two weeks ago that current Health and Human Services Secretary Dempsey Benton would not be staying on the job, but now there are reports that she is rethinking that decision and considering asking Benton to stay.  The sticking point may be Benton's willingness to commit to serving in the job for the length of Perdue's first term.

The discussion in the mainstream media and on political blogs about who will run the Department of Environment and Natural Resources has included a long list of names from current Secretary Bill Ross to former Secretary Bill Holman to Robeson County businesswoman Freda Porter-Locklear. 

It has also been a reminder of the power dynamics in Raleigh. Reportedly, one reason so many names have been mentioned for Secretary of DENR is that the business community has reservations about most of the candidates suggested by the environmental community to head the state's environmental agency.

If that is true, it raises an important question. Why does the business community have so much say about who will enforce the state's laws to protect the environment?  There have been not many reports that environmentalists have much say about who will run the Department of Commerce or Revenue.

When will state leaders publicly face the budget reality?

The bad state budget news continues. The latest report from the economists at the General Assembly released Tuesday finds that state revenues through the end of October were $320 million below projections. That's up from $230 million through September as reported in the last revenue analysis. 

The latest report doesn't provide much hope for things to get better anytime soon, forecasting falling employment through 2009, tight credit and loss of wealth from the housing crisis. The analysis doesn't many specifics about the projections for the 2009-2010 budget that lawmakers will have to put together this session, but the outlook is gloomy, with lower than expected revenues, higher demand for Medicaid and other human services and more people enrolling in community colleges and universities.

The report doesn't put a number on the shortfall for next year, but legislative leaders are now saying privately that it could be $3.3 billion. That raises a question that very few people are asking.

When will Perdue and other state officials stop pretending they can balance the budget by slashing programs without devastating vital state institutions? 

The Chief Economist of Standard and Poor's said at the recent winter meeting of the National Conference of State Legislatures that it will take a combination of budget cuts and tax increases for most states to balance the budget next year. 

And most states don't have a woefully underfunded and understaffed probation system and a mental health system still suffering from a lack of commitment of resources to hospitals and community services.

Time to start talking honestly and unapologetically about the T word in Raleigh.

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Chris Fitzsimon

Chris Fitzsimon, Founder and Executive Director of N.C. Policy Watch, writes the Fitzsimon File, delivers a radio commentary broadcast on WRAL-FM and hosts "News and Views," a weekly radio news magazine that airs on multiple stations across North Carolina. [email protected] 919-861-2066