Opinion: Carolina Beat

CJ Editorial: Fuzzy Job Math From Gov. Perdue

The following editorial appeared in the October 2011 print edition of Carolina Journal:

Gov. Bev Perdue and her liberal allies have made a series of outlandish claims about the impact on public employment of the Republican-led General Assembly’s budget. Their approach reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of the proper role of government. So long as this confusion continues, the Perdue administration and the state’s liberal establishment will continue pushing policies that will undermine a sustainable recovery.

The current nonsense began in April, when Perdue predicted the GOP’s proposed budget would reduce government jobs by 30,000 — 18,000 of them in education. At the time, she said, “We are about to see the largest public layoff in North Carolina and maybe in American history” if the budget became law. Other Democrats echoed that pitch. In August, the left-wing N.C. Budget & Tax Center predicted the budget would eliminate nearly 20,000 public-sector jobs and an equal amount of private employment.

While the budget became law July 1, it’s far too soon to quantify its effect on government jobs. Why? Public education — from pre-kindergarten through higher ed — is the largest employer in state and local governments. Education accounts for 51 percent of local government employment and 45 percent of state jobs. And those employers operated with skeleton crews during the summer hiatus.

Our first solid look at the impact of the budget on government jobs should emerge when the Employment Security Commission releases its monthly employment report Oct. 21. The key numbers to compare are state and local government jobs (not seasonally adjusted) in September 2010 versus the same month this year.

Our guess? Some jobs have disappeared, though those losses will overstate (perhaps dramatically) the number of people who lost a primary source of income. Public elementary and secondary schools reported some job losses but did not distinguish between those who were laid off because of budget cuts in the General Assembly and those whose positions were funded (foolishly) with federal stimulus dollars that ran out.

Higher ed may take a hit. But colleges and universities hire thousands of part-time, “adjunct” instructors, most of whom have full-time employment in other fields of work and moonlight as college teachers. Campuses are eliminating a lot of those adjunct positions, and they’ll show up as lost jobs in employment reports. But the people who held those posts will continue drawing paychecks elsewhere.

The governor and her progressive allies appear to argue that government is meant to be an employer of last (or perhaps first) resort when the economy goes sour.

That philosophy is in stark contrast to the principles of liberty and free government articulated in the North Carolina Constitution’s Declaration of Rights, which affirms each person’s inalienable right to, life, liberty, the fruits of his labor, and the pursuit of happiness.

A bloated public sector, financed with money extracted forcibly from North Carolinians, cannot create wealth, generate commercial enterprise, or nurture a self-reliant citizenry. So long as the governor and her allies view state government as one big employment agency, they will fail to promote the policies that can restore North Carolina’s economic vitality.