Governor's Plan Merits Attention

Published 5:31 am Tuesday, March 18, 2003

By Staff
It is not exactly a case today of "worming and squirming," but the governor of North Carolina is acutely conscious of the great difficulty the Legislature faces in coming up with a budget. This is particularly true with the state being a billion dollars in the hole as the Budget Committee begins its task.
Gov. Easley will play a distinct role in this business of coming up with a budget. Now regardless of what emerges from Gov. Easley's plan to tie state spending to the 10-year average of the people's income growth, his plan might fall by the wayside, but surely it will put the legislators to thinking. After all, this is so very close to what the North Carolina Republicans have been promoting for some years. It will be interesting to see how much Republican support Gov. Easley gets.
If the governor is really thinking in terms of limits in spending or elsewhere, then both parties should sit up and take note. If he wants term limits, then we would expect most legislators to turn their heads. But the Easley plan or some other plan seems to be calling right now for understanding and action at the same time.
If we want to place some measure of blame, we might look back to the plush 1990s when the Legislature just about got carried away with spending. We, as a state, were living high on the hog, but our hog got away from our reach about 2000. During the big years, money seemed easy to come by as revenues increased and times were most encouraging. But when Santa Claus rode away, in a sense North Carolina was left holding his empty bag. Still, some new programs such as Smart Start were to become a permanent part of our state program. Gov. Easley says that had his plan been in effect in the 1990s, this state would have a budget $1.2 billion less than it is now.
A budget cap as described is but part of the plan as we understand it. One factor worth attention concerns all state agencies in the preparation of their budgets. They, too, would in a sense be guided by the level of the state economy. Each agency would be expected to deal with needs and not with wants.
Of course, none of us really knows today what will happen to North Carolina over the next 10 years. But we cannot go very wrong if we tie our budget making to the economic picture of the given year. Gov. Easley would apparently place a cap on state spending, but again, this state must have a balanced budget. It cannot come up with a budget that shows greater expendatures than the intake of dollars. Over the next 10 years, the picture hopefully will improve.
Is our Legislature today being forced to deal with finding money in order to meet the spending surge within the state agencies?
In truth, it just seems that we've spent too much, too long. Maybe the governor is calling a shot which ought to be heeded.