Make no mistake. The budget failed because Republicans failed to compromise.

By: - January 15, 2020 5:30 am

Senator Harry Brown (R-Onslow) and Senator Minority Leader Dan Blue (D-Wake) debate pay raises for teachers on Tuesday.

There is a temptation—and believe me, I understand it—to celebrate the fleeting nature of this week’s special session of the North Carolina state legislature as some sort of success.

Resist that temptation, even if the sight of an ostensibly frustrated Phil Berger is a new one to these tired eyes. 

Berger and his compatriots in the Republican caucus enjoyed near unchecked power over the last decade. A post-Obama surge of conservatives played a modest part in that, although the gerrymandering did its part too. 

But this week’s inevitable failure—you could hear this train steamrolling down the tracks, sounding its mournful sound a long time ago—is another sign of the Republican failure to compromise. It is as if they spent most of a decade in the supermajority, heedless of compromise. And when compromise was necessary, they found it not at all like riding a bike.

“You give me everything I want, plus I give you none of what you want,” WRAL quoted Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue as saying when describing the GOP’s negotiation style. 

It is a sign, the latest in a voluminous compendium of signs, that the North Carolina General Assembly is as dysfunctional, as myopic, as disastrously lost as our erstwhile lawmakers in Washington, D.C.

Legislators convened and adjourned, presumably until April, because they could not find accord on education spending and healthcare, just to name a few of the most obvious disagreements. They convened and adjourned because Republicans could not convince one additional Democrat to flip sides in the state Senate and vote for an override of Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto. So, rather than face the prospect of horse-trading, they threw all of the horses off a bridge and went home.

Four Senate Democrats voted for the GOP budget last year, but those members could not be convinced to support a veto override. “We’re open-minded,” Blue said Tuesday. “Those four members have been awakened.”   

[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Rather than face the prospect of horse-trading, Republicans threw all of the horses off a bridge and went home.[/perfectpullquote]

In the coming days, mawkish columns will decry the demise of civility and bipartisanship in Raleigh. Some will suggest that both parties will leave Raleigh with some share of the blame.

But don’t believe such tripe. It is the weak-kneed warbling of pedantic politicos and spinsters. Democrats left Raleigh without a deal because they wanted significant, not miserly, investments in education and teacher pay. Republicans left Raleigh because they wanted another round of top-down tax cuts. One is a public need; the other—following billions of dollars in cuts since 2013—is a public want, and it can hardly be justified in light of our schools’ failure to keep pace with other states on K-12 funding and educator pay.

Republicans struggled to compromise on healthcare, tax breaks, environmental regulation, and virtually anything that could have been construed as conceivably progressive.

Expansion of Medicaid—a mostly federally-funded extension of services that would have benefited rural hospitals and the poor—is an unqualified no-brainer, but regardless of what Republicans say, they could have struck a budget deal with Democrats and Cooper that did not require expansion. They knew as much months ago, when they began their backdoor efforts to buy off Democrats with local pork spending. They knew as much this week too, rendering Tuesday’s special session mostly ceremonial. The next few months will be spent selling the public on who is to blame for our budget-bereft year, which in all likelihood will spin into the next budget cycle as well.

[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Democrats left Raleigh without a deal because they wanted significant, not miserly, investments in education and teacher pay. Republicans left Raleigh because they wanted another round of top-down tax cuts. [/perfectpullquote]

“I do not see us doing a second-year budget in the short session,” Berger told reporters Tuesday.

In other words, the standoff will get worse before it gets better. None of this is necessary. None of this is advisable. And none of this will advance North Carolina.

At some point, perhaps Republicans might be forced to reckon too with their duplicitous override vote in the House last year, in which Republicans appeared to mislead Democrats and reporters into believing there would be no veto override votes. After that vote, it was difficult to conceive of any civil negotiations between the two parties.  

NCAE President Mark Jewell

The losers, most obviously, are educators and the poor. You could count the big-money donors seeking a fresh round of tax cuts as losers too, but, well, there are a lot fewer of those, aren’t there?    

“No one’s livelihood should be used for political leverage,” Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue said Tuesday, flanked by several top Democrats and red-clad educators from the N.C. Association of Educators, a K-12 lobbying organization that has been relentlessly critical of the Republican leadership in recent years.

The NCAE is, technically, a nonpartisan organization, serving teachers of varying political affiliations across the state. But you can hardly tell anymore. 

Republicans ask for the impossible when they suggest the organization should be less inclined to Democrats, so hostile has GOP leadership been to public educators.

“I ask Sen. Berger: ‘What’s next?’” NCAE President Mark Jewell said. “I suggest negotiating with Gov. Cooper.”

Jewell, it seems, based on this sorry fracas, is asking the impossible too. 

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Billy Ball

Billy Ball, worked at NC Policy Watch from 2016 to 2020 — first as an education reporter and later as managing editor.