John Hood: Sky isn’t about to fall over N.C.
RALEIGH ó When Gov. Beverly Perdue issued her veto of the North Carolina legislatureís budget plan for next year, she must have known that a bipartisan supermajority of lawmakers would vote to override it.
So why did the governor do it? The truth is that Perdue did it for political reasons ó not that thereís anything wrong with that.
Under a republican form of government, voters elect representatives on a periodic basis and entrust them with the power to act on the votersí behalf. If once in office politicians stray too far from the preferences of those they govern, voters have the opportunity to replace them with more responsive leaders at the next election.
By flamboyantly vetoing the budget plan, Perdue was expressing her belief not only that it was unwise but also that it did not reflect public opinion. Recognizing that she lacked the power to coerce the legislature to adopt her plan, and unwilling to meet the legislature halfway with a negotiated settlement, she chose to go on record against the measure and take her case to the voters.
The lawmakers who voted to override her veto, all the Republicans in both chambers plus five House Democrats, made a similar decision. They believe that their budget plan, which funds the basic functions of state government and lower taxes to improve the stateís economic competitiveness, is not only a prudent policy but also fits the prevailing mood of North Carolina voters.
Unwilling to capitulate to the governorís original $19.9 billion starting point for the stateís general fund, and unable to get her to agree to their $19.1-$19.2 billion figure, legislative leaders compromised about halfway, at a bit over $19.5 billion (not counting about $200 million in fund-shifting).
Perdue still said no, but five moderate Democrats in the House said yes. The legislators had a deal. It stuck.
So, which side is right? I think that Perdue and her allies will prove to be the Chicken Littles of the story. Their wild claims of ěgenerational damageî to public education, tens of thousands of jobs lost, and massive deterioration of North Carolinaís quality of life will look ridiculous over the coming year as courts and prisons continue to operate, schools and colleges begin their 2011-12 academic years as usual, the poor continue to receive public assistance, and other services continue without radical change.
The logical flaw in the governorís argument ought to be obvious. It is simply impossible for a $19.9 billion general fund budget to protect the vital services of government and a $19.5 billion budget to gut them. Weíre talking about a difference of two percentage points ó even less than that, when it comes to the most frequent topic of debate, public schools.
One reason the two sides proved to be so committed to their respective political judgments is that they were looking at widely diverging results from public and private opinion polls.
For example, in its latest survey the liberal Public Policy Polling firm found scant support, just 23 percent, for the Republicansí no-tax budget option. The conservative Civitas Institute got a very different result, however: 70 percent favored a GOP budget at $19.3 billion with no sales-tax extension, while only 20 percent favored Perdueís $19.9 billion plan with the tax extension.
Are these disparate results evidence that either of these pollsters is dishonest or incompetent? Not at all. What they really show is that voters donít follow state politics closely, lack detailed knowledge of state government, and bring a mixture of political views to the table.
The two pollsters asked different questions and got different answers. Asked cold whether ěending a temporary one-cent tax increase or minimizing cuts to education spendingî was more important, PPP respondents sided with the Democrats. But after Civitas informed its respondents how much North Carolina currently spent on education, and that extending the tax increase would cost North Carolinians $826 million, its respondents sided with the Republicans.
By issuing a doomed veto, Perdue was willing to suffer a short-run loss for the promise of an electoral gain in 2012. I donít think sheís going to get it.
John Hood is president of the John Locke Foundation.