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Daily Journal

Will She Blow the House Down?

Jun. 1st, 2011
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RALEIGH – After Republican House and Senate leaders announced a state budget deal Tuesday, Gov. Beverly Perdue again began to huff and puff about what she saw as numerous flaws with the measure, which reorganizes state government, cuts taxes, limits regulation, and authorizes $19.7 billion for next year’s General Fund.

Will the legislative structure that House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate leader Phil Berger built stand up to an expected gust of veto wind? It all depends on their choice of building materials – the promised support of the five Democrats needed to override Perdue’s veto of the measure in the House.

If the political promises of Reps. Jim Crawford, Bill Owens, Dewey Hill, Bill Brisson, and Tim Spear prove to be made of brick, the budget deal will stand.

There’s solid evidence for the brick theory. Gov. Perdue’s closest ally among the five, Owens, told the Associated Press that Republican leaders kept their promises in the new budget plan and so he’s support it. To go back on their word now, after conducting lengthy negotiations with House leaders, would reflect bad faith. Owens and his fellow conservative Democrats would take a big credibility hit.

On the other hand, Perdue and liberal activists weren’t a bit mollified by the latest version of the GOP budget, which includes more education spending and fewer controversial cuts than previous versions. They still describe it in apocalyptic terms, presumably for political effect (though some may actually believe their hyperbolic claims). Their hope is the Owens & Co. have made pledges of straw that the governor can blow in with a few more huffs and puffs.

The truth is that the new budget deal deserves neither strident denunciation nor enthusiastic celebration. It is simply a compromise between the two starting positions. When Gov. Perdue released her budget plan earlier this year, it called for $19.9 billion in General Fund spending next year. The House and Senate offered a counterproposal of between $19.1 billion and $19.2 billion (not counting some $200 million that was only shifted from the Highway Fund to the General Fund in the two legislative plans, and thus shouldn’t be included in any comparison to the Perdue budget).

Compared against the original General Fund baseline of $20.8 billion for FY 2011-12, Perdue’s proposal was an average cut of about 4 percent. The Republicans proposed an 8 percent cut. The new deal works out to about 6 percent.

Yes, you are reading that right. The debate will now be over 2 percent of the General Fund, which is itself only a part of a total state budget for the coming fiscal year of about $50 billion, when transportation, federal, and other funds are taken into account. Apocalypse Now? Try Apocalypse Not.

Are there provisions in the new budget that Democrats don’t like? Of course there are. It’s a state budget drawn up by Republican majorities for the first time in more than a century. Did anyone really expect a different outcome?

Try as they might, Democrats aren’t going to be able to undo the results of last fall’s election through gubernatorial vetoes. If Perdue somehow manages to blow the North Carolina House down over this budget deal, there’s a very real possibility of disruption in state operations, employment, and contracts after the fiscal year ends on June 30.

She’s fooling herself if she thinks such a result will improve her political standing. This is not a Raleigh replay of the Washington shutdown drama of 1995-96, when Bill Clinton was able to reverse an initial slide in his popularity after the federal shutdown by shifting the blame to Newt Gingrich. Bev Perdue is no Bill Clinton, and Thom Tillis and Phil Berger bear no resemblance to Gingrich. They won’t be convenient foils for her. They are largely unknown to the general public.

The Republicans know this. So do Bill Owens, Jim Crawford, and their colleagues. I suppose someone on Gov. Perdue’s staff knows it, too, but have neglected to tell her yet.

Hood is president of the John Locke Foundation.