RALEIGH -- Marc Basnight as Monty Hall?
The image may be arresting, but the comparison could well be considered an apt one. The powerful leader of the North Carolina Senate tried to get away with a couple of last-minute "bargains" during the closing hours of the 2003 session of the General Assembly. His wacky, legislative version of "Let's Make a Deal" didn't exactly turn out the way he wanted, though. Perhaps he should have borrowed from Monty Hall's tacky wardrobe.
Actually. . . uh, never mind.
Perhaps the most disappointing "no" Basnight got from his would-be contestants in the North Carolina House involved a new $180 million cancer hospital for UNC-Chapel Hill. Basnight sprung the idea late in the session. He imbedded it in a "technical corrections" bill that usually does little more than correct poor wording or legal niceties in previously passed legislation. This time around, however, the technical corrections bill turned out to be the equivalent of "what's behind Door Number One?" It was never quite clear what goodies were contained in it.
In this case, the provision would have authorized the university to issue debt to construct the hospital, with the costs to be paid for from the state's share of the national tobacco settlement. House members (properly) objected to considering the idea outside of the normal capital budget, given the state's manifest needs in other areas. Indeed, in response to the Senate gambit, House lawmakers proceeded to drag out their own mystery boxes full of pork projects. Basnight's stage started to get cluttered.
Doing his best game-show host impression -- insert a favorite Basnight dialect/syntax joke here -- the Senate leader persisted. "Name me a better deal," he said of the cancer hospital, which he said would serve patients and the needs of private researchers. "You can't do it."
Huh? Let's take a tour of the studio audience for a moment. If you stopped a thousand North Carolinians at random and asked them what their top priority would be if the state "found" nearly $200 million to spend, how many do you think would volunteer: "Hey, I hear that that cancer hospital in Chapel Hill is getting a bit ratty. Couldn't we build a shiny new one?"
No, I suspect that the suggestions would turn towards educating children, building roads, fighting crime, or rescinding some of the legislature's just-enacted state tax increases on consumers, entrepreneurs, candy, soft drinks, families with children, software, or health insurance.
The just-completed session of the North Carolina General Assembly offered little to celebrate. But at least our July 2003 revival of "Let's Make a Deal" didn't get picked up by the network. Could still live on in syndication, though -- in this case, a special session planned for September.
Hood is president of the John Locke Foundation and publisher of Carolina Journal.