Opinion: Daily Journal

Easley to Mayors: Stick It

RALEIGH – Yesterday, the mayors of North Carolina’s largest cities – most of them Democrats, by the way – asked Gov. Mike Easley to reconsider his action last month to withhold some $200 million in local revenues from cities and counties. They suspended talk of a lawsuit to recoup the money (one I think they would have a good chance of winning, by the way) in favor of offering constructive suggestions to more than replace the withheld local dollars with state budget savings.

Included in their proposal were more than half a billion dollars in sound ideas, such as borrowing from the state’s bulging Hurricane Floyd relief account, selling some state lands, economizing in personnel costs, tapping a $15 million “business recruitment” fund, and diverting some of the proceeds of the national tobacco settlement that are currently being squandered. The mayors showed statesmanship and a grasp of the true fiscal priorities of the state.

And the Easley administration responded by, essentially, telling them where to stick it.

Maybe you think I’m being a bit melodramatic, but the governorcould at least have had the graciousness to receive their recommendations, thank them for their assistance, and promise to get back to them after careful and thoughtful consideration. Instead, the governor’s press spokesman shot the mayors’ ideas down immediately.

“Our budget office has already turned state government upside down looking for every bit of change that we can find,” Fred Hartman said. “All of the items the local governments suggested are areas that the state has already looked at, and in the cases where it made sense, have already tapped into to plug the reserve” (see here for more on this).

This is no way to run a state. Put aside the absurdity of taking money away from local public safety and education programs in order to protect unspent “emergency” funds from three years ago and the governor’s personal incentive kitty. Put aside Easley’s refusal to eliminate a significant number of jobs in state government (personnel is where most of the money is spent) or to consider, as the mayors suggested, “mining the balance sheet” to convert low-yielding state assets into needed cash.

The bare minimum Easley could have done, after the mayors put forth effort at his invitation to offer up a list of suggestions, is to say, “Thank you for your service. We’ll get back to you.”

Instead, he put his flack out to say that, in effect, what the mayors proposed didn’t “make sense.”

Easley’s shrinking pool of political friends just got smaller.