General Assembly is Right to Go Slow on Budget Talks

It might be good politics for Democrats and partisan interest groups, far right and left, to paint the Republican-led General Assembly as lackadaisical about negotiating a final budget, but good politics doesn't always make good policy, or state budgets for that matter.

And it's not like budget negotiators were ever doing wind-sprints at the General Assembly.   Back in 2009, when Democrats controlled both chambers, hundreds of non-tenured teachers were given pink slips from local school districts because the continuing resolutions failed to protect these positions.  (Most of the teachers were hired back after a final budget was signed by Governor Perdue but only after collecting unemployment for 2 months.)  

While groups beat the political drum, those of us concerned about crafting a politically balanced budget applaud the General Assembly for its deliberate negotiations.   I would even hazard that the very groups complaining -- especially those wanting more balance in our state politics -- are relieved as well.  

Rep. Rick Glazier, a respected Fayetteville Democrat, said as much to the News & Observer last week when he applauded his chamber's approach to negotiations: "The House is showing admirable patience in negotiating and working toward what I hope will be a good deal for the public."  

Senate's Bold Approach Needs a Deliberate House

Despite the broad brush used to describe the General Assembly, the House and Senate have very different approaches to lawmaking.  The House takes a more moderate and deliberate approach while the Senate tends to act more boldly.  

To see this play out, take a look at Senate Majority Leader Harry Brown's tax reform proposal in which rural counties reclaim the tax revenue spent in more urban counties.   The Senate plan is politically bold, it addresses a long-term, often ignored, problem in the way North Carolina funds low wealth counties; but it has negative economic repercussions for the point-of-sale counties.  

Senator Brown, a Jacksonville Republican, concedes his plan has problems and House members know full well our state is really two states:  the haves and have nots.  However, discussions, negotiations and compromise solutions to the disparity problem takes time and balance, and that requires patience in negotiations.  

New Speaker, New Approach

The House did not always live up to its role as a "cooler" in budget negotiations under the leadership of now US Senator Thom Tillis.  Final budget negotiations were hurried, and as a consequence, the back and forth of compromise was often unbalanced.  

Public proclamations from then Speaker Tillis that he would grow a beard unless the Senate capitulated at the budget table did nothing to balance talks but rather reflected his urgent need to adjourn session so he could campaign for the US Senate.  Senate Pro Tem Phil Berger, who was less concerned about Speaker Tillis' political ambitions and more concerned about governing. seemed to enjoy seeing Speaker Tillis scratch his itchy whiskers in the summer heat.  

When former Rules Chairman Tim Moore, a Tillis lieutenant in the back budget room, assumed the Speaker's gavel this session, he made it clear that negotiating the House's position in the budget, not its adjournment date, would be the priority of the House.  

Of course, it means slower negotiations, and even threats of spending Christmas together.   

Some will criticize the process, after all it's not a pretty one and never has been, but I'm willing to bet you a $5 shave that these groups also see the wisdom in balance and deliberation.