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Patrick Gannon: 5 budget quotes to be wary of

RALEIGH – If all goes as planned, the House and Senate will vote on a state budget this week, two and a half months after the fiscal year began. That means hours of floor debate by dozens of legislators. Here are five quotes we’ll probably hear, but hope not to.

1) “This budget is balanced.” Whoa. You really outdid yourselves this time. The top budget writers will say this as they are describing the proposed budget on the House and Senate floors. What they won’t say is that a balanced budget is required by the N.C. Constitution and without a balanced budget, they’d violate that important document.

Article III, Section 5 of the Constitution states: “The total expenditures of the State for the fiscal period covered by the budget shall not exceed the total of receipts during that fiscal period and the surplus remaining in the State Treasury at the beginning of the period.”

In other words, it must be balanced. Legislators shouldn’t take credit for that, but they will.

2) “We did the best we could with the available dollars.” Both parts of this sentence – “We did the best we could” and “with the available dollars” – deserve scrutiny.

First, we can always do better. The General Assembly could have started by passing a budget on time by July 1.

And second, it’s the General Assembly that determines how many dollars are available through tax policy. If they want to cut taxes and reduce the amount of revenue that otherwise would be available for public services, such as education, then they shouldn’t get to use that as an excuse for why they couldn’t fund this or that in the budget.

3) “I’m going to hold/plug my nose and vote for this.” If someone gave me an anchovy, I wouldn’t plug my nose and eat it. I’d throw it away and find something else to eat. But this quote, which we also will hear during budget debate, is (typically) a majority party legislator’s way of objecting to certain provisions in the spending plan, but voting for it to appease his or her party leadership.

What political courage.

Because life in the General Assembly could get much stinkier for those who vote against a budget penned by their party’s leadership.

4) “Every budget has good and bad, but the good outweighs the bad in this one.” This is another way of saying, “I really don’t like this budget, but I’m going to vote for it anyway because I’ll be in trouble politically if I don’t.” For once, I’d like the legislators who say this to tell us what they don’t like about it, instead of what they like. But that might make them look bad for voting for it.

5) “This is a budget that all North Carolinians should be proud of.” We’ll hear something to this effect as lawmakers talk about the $21.7 billion spending plan. But in today’s political atmosphere, we know without any doubt that isn’t the case, so why even say it?

In fact, Republican Gov. Pat McCrory over the weekend criticized the budget compromise reached by top House and Senate lawmakers behind closed doors late last week. He expressed concern to The Associated Press that the deal would expand the sales tax to cover labor, as well as shift the way sales tax revenue is divided among counties. McCrory also criticized the fact that important details of the budget were negotiated in secret among a few top legislators.

If the governor of the same party isn’t proud of it, then surely all North Carolinians won’t be either.

Let’s leave all these quotes out of the debate.

Patrick Gannon writes for Capitol Press Association.

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