Good enough is not a phrase we like to use very often. Why settle for less?
A $20 billion state budget, though, will never be perfect. The spending plan the N.C. legislature is poised to adopt today and Friday certainly isnt. Its plagued with provisions ranging from the unfortunate to the shameful. Yet its good enough, and Gov. Bev Perdue should keep the lid on her quart jar of red veto ink.
Perhaps its because its an election year, but Republican leaders drew up a plan that begins to restore some of the unfortunate cuts made to K-12 education in recent years. They gave back $143 million in K-12 funding for the coming year, an unexpected boost for local school districts. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, for example, expects to receive $13 million or so more.
Thats in addition to a 1.2 percent state pay raise for teachers and other state employees. Combined with county money, that will let CMS give teachers (and, we hope, all other employees) 3 percent raises the first pay hikes in four years for those doing one of societys most important jobs.
Republican leaders only described highlights of the spending plan and as of late Wednesday afternoon had not provided the budget itself. But CMS Interim Superintendent Hugh Hattabaugh told the Observer editorial board that early indications were very positive and that the budget would leave CMS in solid shape if legislators dont put restrictions on the money.
Legislators could have done more for schools, and it was not clear late Wednesday what budget writers provided for crucial pre-kindergarten programs. But the final plan is a big improvement to the Senates budget, and to what the coming year would look like without these changes.
The compromise dropped Senate leader Phil Bergers effort to eliminate teacher tenure. It kept other education reforms that could have merit if done right, including an emphasis on getting students to read on grade level by the third grade. The budget provides $27 million for programs to help students achieve that.
So whats not to like? Plenty.
Lawmakers will not provide even token compensation to people who were forcibly sterilized by the state in a program that ran for four decades until the 1970s. Gov. Perdue, Republican House Speaker Thom Tillis, a number of state task forces and anyone with a conscience recognized this shameful part of N.C. history. The House, in a bipartisan vote, agreed to set aside $10 million to provide $50,000 each to living victims. Sen. Berger would not get behind it, so the victims long fight for justice drags on at least another year. This is indefensible.
Its clear that the money was not the holdup there (it would be one-twentieth of one percent of the budget), but Berger had questioned where the money would come from. A fix in a tax break that the state Senate failed to make would have covered it many times over. The legislature last year created a tax break to help small businesses. It turns out that many folks besides small businesses will receive it, such as wealthy partners of large law firms. The Senates protection of this tax break speaks volumes about who senators serve.
In the end, though, as Voltaire knew, perfect can be the enemy of the good. This budget isnt perfect, but its good enough. Perdue should let it go.