Mark Washburn

Stubborn state budget standoff must end

“It’s time to get down and get this done; enough’s enough,” Senate Rules chairman Tom Apodaca, R-Buncombe, scolded lawmakers last week for delays in getting a state budget passed.
“It’s time to get down and get this done; enough’s enough,” Senate Rules chairman Tom Apodaca, R-Buncombe, scolded lawmakers last week for delays in getting a state budget passed. hlynch@newsobserver.com

One good thing about this little budget problem we’re having in Raleigh is that everyone agrees on the first and most important task: Assign the blame.

It’s clearly the fault of the pig-headed Democrats, unless of course you happen to be a pigheaded Democrat, in which case it is clearly the fault of the bullheaded Republicans.

On that point, we have unity. Beyond it, we have nothing but obstinance and intransigence.

We understand that, under a two-party system, it’s natural to have a little honest disagreement from time to time about the precise course of the great ship of state.

What’s unsettling is to have quarreling helmsmen on the bridge twisting the wheel this way and that, each insisting with frothing vigor that they know the best way.

When we sent our representatives to the General Assembly early this year, it was with the expectation they would figure out how much money the state had, and then how it would be spent.

There is no question they excelled at the first task. They found a huge bundle of tax money, nearly $500 million more than expected.

So far, so good.

Now comes what you’d think would be the easy part, deciding where to sling it.

Should some be earmarked for a rainy day? Hurricane season is coming, you know. Should we hire more teachers to reduce class size, or spend the money on teachers’ aides? Overall moderate raises for state workers, or just big ones for those whom private enterprise is trying to hire away?

We’re getting nowhere on all this, except to complain about the immovable opposition.

If you ran a business, you’d want your budget in place at the beginning of the fiscal year. That is called sanity.

If your business were named The State of North Carolina, your fiscal year is more than a month old and you’re still flummoxed about where the money should go. That is called politics.

Fortunately, lawmakers have found a solution. They’ve declared that – even though the fiscal year is ticking away – the budget isn’t due until the end of August. That is called weird.

What’s so odd about the budget impasse this year is that we’re talking about a heap of extra money. You expect friction when the times are hard. But right now we’re like Uncle Jed pulling into Beverly Hills.

We’re rich. Can we just act like it?

Sock away some emergency money. Keep teacher aides and reduce class size. Give state workers a raise and increase the salary for in-demand jobs. And go paint the barn, too. You can afford it.

Now how hard was that? All you have to do is sit down and work out just how much goes into each category.

We can afford all that. What we can’t afford is the pigheaded to refuse to negotiate with the bullheaded.

We sent you to Raleigh to work these kinds of things out. Please hop to it.

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