The different view four months later

By: - February 9, 2011 3:13 pm

Just four months ago, during the heat of the campaigns for the General Assembly, most Republicans couldn’t stopping talking about how bad things were in North Carolina and blaming Democrats in the General Assembly for all of it, the budget crisis, the high unemployment rates, the rising number of people without insurance, the floods, the locust, everything they could think of.

The think-tanks on the right took things even further, proclaiming that things were worse here than any other place in the country, failing to put North Carolina’s problem’s in national context because that might lead people not blame everything on last year’s legislative leaders. They railed about everything from the state’s pension liabilities and the skyrocketing costs of the state health plan.

That was October, but it seems like a lot longer ago than that when you hear many Republicans talking in the General Assembly that they now control.

Just this week, Senator Richard Stevens was telling the House Appropriations Committee that revenues were running well ahead of projections and the state might end the year with $150 million more than expected.

He also noted that the state had a $236 million cash balance on hand, that left from the last General Assembly that we’ve been told spent too much.

Stevens ought to know something about that since he voted for the budget passed last year that so many of his Republican colleagues spent last fall attacking.

Stevens also told the committee this week that savings ordered in the current year by Governor Beverly Perdue could bring in $400 million to use toward next year’s shortfall. That would be the same Governor Perdue that we were told was part of the big spending Democratic machine that was driving the state to ruin.

Stevens also said that it turns out that the increase in cost of the state health plan may have been overstated. A study released last year by the Pew Center on the States reported that the state has more than 99 percent of its pension liabilities funded, which the study points out is way above the 80 percent benchmark recommended by experts

Also this week, the head of Raleigh’s leading right-wing think tank informed us that North Carolina’s budget problems “aren’t appreciably different from those of most states,” and that there is nothing really newsworthy about the causes of North Carolina’s predicament.”

That certainly wasn’t the case in October. Republican candidates and the think tanks that supported them certainly tried to make the causes of the budget problems newsworthy and campaign worthy too, laying it all at the feet of the Democratic leaders of the General Assembly.

None of this means the state doesn’t face huge challenges, most notably a $3.7 billion budget shortfall that comes after lawmakers have already slashed $3.5 billion from state programs and services in the last two years.

But part of the shortfall can be handled by simply extending the temporary tax increases approved in 2009, an idea that former Governors Hunt and Martin say legislators should consider.

Raising some additional revenue and making more painful but not devastating budget cuts would balance the budget again in a responsible way, just like it was balanced last year when Senator Stevens supported it.

North Carolina’s problems are deep and real, just as they are in almost every other state. And they demand a thoughtful and reasonable solution.

Republicans seem to be admitting that their sky is falling claims last fall were out of line. Now they need to leave that misleading rhetoric and rigid ideology completely behind and make some decisions for the good of the state, not just their next campaign.

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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