I am old enough to remember when Republicans were adamant about cutting government spending and school choice was an absolute and timely priority. Today, however, the current impasse in North Carolina’s state budget negotiations deeply concerns me. I wrote last month that I was afraid of such a thing happening.

Traditionally, conservatives have sought to limit government spending, advocating fiscal responsibility and the efficient use of taxpayer dollars. Unfortunately, the present deadlock between the Republican majorities in the House and Senate threatens to prolong the legislative session and jeopardizes educational freedom for more than 54,000 Tar Heel families on the waitlist of the North Carolina Opportunity Scholarship Program.

Conservative ideology is rooted in the principle of limiting government overreach and spending, focusing instead on creating an environment where individuals and families can thrive with minimal interference. This philosophy stands in stark contrast to the current negotiations, which seem more focused on local pork and massive pet projects, such as the proposed $250 million for NCInnovation. While supporting innovation and community projects can be valuable, it should not come at the expense of fiscal responsibility or overshadow more pressing needs, such as educational freedom for North Carolina families.

Moreover, conservatives have long championed the importance of transparent and accountable governance. The current budget process, mainly conducted behind closed doors, undermines these principles. Legislative leaders should prioritize transparency in their negotiations, allowing the public to see and understand the decisions being made on their behalf. This transparency fosters trust and expedites the budget process by holding all parties accountable to their constituents.

At its core, a state budget reflects North Carolina’s priorities. Delaying full funding of the Opportunity Scholarship Program sends a troubling message to thousands of North Carolina families who rely on it to make critical educational decisions for their children. It is late May, and families must make choices for the next school year now — not in the middle or end of the summer after a prolonged budget debate. Educational freedom is a cornerstone of conservative values, and legislators must recognize and act upon this priority.

It makes no sense to have prolonged budget negotiations this year, especially given that last year’s budget wasn’t passed until nearly four months into the new fiscal year. Such delays create unnecessary uncertainty and instability for state-funded programs and services, disrupt planning and operations, and erode public trust in our legislative process. With the experience of last year’s delays still fresh in our minds, it is imperative that our legislators streamline the budget process, avoid prolonged impasses, and prioritize timely decision-making to ensure that the needs of North Carolina’s citizens are met without unnecessary disruption.

Considering these challenges, legislative leaders should pass a simple, straightforward budget that minimizes pork and pet projects. We can ensure that taxpayer dollars are used effectively by focusing on core government (read: “constitutional”) services and eliminating unnecessary expenditures. Furthermore, negotiating in public will speed up the process and reaffirm our commitment to transparent governance.

One reason North Carolina Republicans secured legislative majorities in the 2010 election is that Democrats had, for too long, overspent taxpayer dollars on regional pork projects, lacked transparency in their dealings, and overtaxed the people of the Old North State. Voters turned to Republicans, seeking a change from the mismanagement and fiscal irresponsibility that had characterized Democratic leadership.

However, if Republicans aren’t careful, they risk falling into some of the same traps, neglecting the principles that brought them to power. They could easily find themselves fated to repeat the ending of George Orwell’s Animal Farm, indistinguishable from the oppressive regime they replaced. To avoid this fate, Republicans must remain vigilant in upholding conservative values of fiscal responsibility, transparency, and limited government, ensuring they do not betray the trust of their constituents.

North Carolina families deserve some certainty, especially when it comes to their children’s education. Our legislators should demonstrate their commitment to conservative principles by expediting school choice funding and then passing a budget that reflects small-government values.