They say politics is a full contact sport, and I believe it. It’s a combination of three-dimensional chess, a game of illusion, and hard-hitting football without pads.
And while actual football season is done until late summer, political football is scheduled to kickoff in earnest with the budget proposal from our first term governor in his second long legislative session.
Over the last 6 months, Governor Pat McCrory seems to have gotten more settled and acquainted with the game in Raleigh as he has figured that deliberately maneuvering down the field is easier and more productive than the big play. And while he’s not lighting up the scoreboard with razzle-dazzle end arounds and flea-flickers, he is doing an effective job of running the ball and moving the chains with short passes, a sort of West Coast offense down on Jones Street.
This was evident when he brokered a deal with the City of Raleigh around the sale of Dorothea Dix, his moderate proposed rules for abortion clinics, and the general capital-improvment outline of his State of the State address delivered earlier this month.
I predict we'll see similar play-calling in the coming week when Governor McCrory releases his budget proposal to the General Assembly. While the governor’s budget really has no official legislative role in the budget making process, it does serve as a spending and tax benchmark, or starting point, for legislators to begin their work. Moderation will likely be that starting point, although some in the public will cheer or jeer because of its moderation.
I estimate the House will get behind Governor McCrory’s wish list of capital improvements, historic tax credits, raising beginning teacher pay to $35,000, a modest and equitable pay raise for our public employees, and greater investment in building and maintaining roads. In other words, we’ll likely see a budget that builds modestly on last year’s spending, but not something that will light up the base on either side.
We are likely to see some philosophical disagreements, especially around tax credits, in the Senate where a growing number of legislators want to go deep on tax reform, an idea that’s been kicked around in one form or another in the General Assembly for decades, even when Democrats were calling the plays. Tax credits just don't jive with conservatives' end goal to significantly lower taxes across the board while broadening the base of what is taxable.
Business incentives are also out of fashion with legislators in both chambers and a strong, bipartisan coalition has formed between conservatives and liberals on the idea. We saw that disdain play out painfully with film tax incentives and we'll likely see it play out with the governor's request for money to recruit industry to the state. We'll see if Governor McCrory can get a fluke turnover on this one, and this lobbyist would also like to see that turnover include help for an ailing film industry.
In the meantime, if you enjoy short passes and running the ball through the hash marks, you’ll enjoy the budget game this spring and early summer.
It may not be as entertaining as the long throw down the seam, but I certainly prefer it.
And who knows…we might even see short running play turn into something exciting for North Carolina to get behind.