Editorial: Territory uncharted for a reason
The Republican majority marched into the 2011 session of the General Assembly vowing to revolutionize state government.
ìIt is time for a different philosophy in state government, one that will return North Carolina to its rightful place as the Southeastís leader in job creation, education, transportation and quality of life,î Senate Majority Leader Phil Berger said.
Speaker of the House Thom Tillis was equally ambitious: ìWe must lower our heightened expectations of what government should do for us and raise the expectations for what we must do for ourselves.î
They may have succeeded. But only time will tell if the result is what North Carolinians really wanted ó or even what the Republican leaders intended. They are in uncharted territory guided by an ideology that is hostile to state government.
Take the budget, which trades the sunsetting of a 1-cent sales tax for cuts in public school and university funding and an increase in community college tuition, among other things. While supporters of the final $19.7 billion budget argue that it is the only budget North Carolinians could afford, they also point out that it is just slightly smaller than Gov. Bev Perdueís $19.9 billion budget. The Republicans moderated toward the end of the budget debate ó decreasing some education and Medicaid cuts ó to win support from a small group of Democrats and build a veto-proof majority.
So where is the revolution? Like the devil, itís in the details. In addition to spelling out how much to spend, the budget also says where to spend it. So there will be $62 million more to hire teachers, but $92 million less to buy textbooks and $121 million less in general education funding. Smart Start gets a $37.6 million cut and district attorneys lose $2.6 million for support staff, but the building of urban loops gets a $131 million boost. Etc.
And while Tillis supports shrinking government in theory, in practice he gives his legislative staff hefty raises.
Every budget is a mixed bag, but this one clearly trends toward less government, as promised. People on both sides of the debate tout studies projecting the impact. A UNC study says weíll gain 19,439 jobs because of the sales tax cut. Perdue says weíll lose 40,000 jobs because of Medicaid cuts alone. The N.C. Budget and Tax Center projects a net loss of more than 30,000 jobs.
This budget is hardly the way to return North Carolina to its place as the Southeastís leader in education, as Berger promised. And one wonders what citizens now will have to ìdo for ourselves,î as Tillis suggested ó take in preschoolers to prepare them for kindergarten? Mop the school halls? Volunteer to help the district attorney or house the jail overflow?
The leadership crammed bill after bill onto the calendar last week, working late into the night and learning that ending a session is not as easy as it appeared from the back row. The same may be said for reining in government. Itís not as simple as one might think; every cut has a consequence. High-minded talk is easy. Positive results are not.