Don’t pass the buck

Published 1:00 am Tuesday, March 1, 2011

An apparent decision by state leaders to pass the state’s budget woes onto local governments amounts to nothing more than passing the buck.

Perhaps state leaders, the governor and the General Assembly included, especially included, should be reminded of the sign on President Harry Truman’s desk: “The buck stops here.”

Granted, the governor and the General Assembly are working to address a shortfall in the state budget of around $2.7 billion, according to Gov. Beverly Perdue’s latest estimate. The question is: are they doing enough? Probably not when state leaders appear ready to let counties, cities and towns take on the burden of helping fix the state’s budget predicament.

If it’s the state’s budget, state leaders should roll up their sleeves and look harder for answers to fixing the budget problems. Forcing local governments to take on an unfair part of that burden is an easy way out for state leaders.

Local governments have similar problems of their own without having to worry about helping the state balance its budget.

The lingering effects of the Great Recession are taking their toll on all levels of government, but many local governments, especially those in poorer, rural areas, have fewer resources to use when it comes to getting their fiscal houses in order.

Take Washington officials, for example. During a budget-strategy session Jan. 31, City Council members and Mayor Archie Jennings agreed on two things concerning the upcoming budget for fiscal year 2011-2012. One of them was that they’re not sure how the projected shortfall of revenue in the state’s budget will affect the city’s revenue stream in the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.

At the session, Councilman Doug Mercer said at a time when the city’s revenues may come in significantly less than budgeted for this fiscal year, a loss of revenue from the state could worsen the city’s revenue picture even more. Matt Rauschenbach, the city’s assistant manager and chief financial officer, said then that he believes the city’s revenue projection for this fiscal year “will hold up.”

Rauschenbach urged caution in crafting the next city budget.

“The big question is what the state’s going to do with funding for cities and counties,” he said.

Mercer concurred.

“We don’t know what in the world the state’s going to do,” Mercer said.

Several years ago when Mike Easley was governor, the state withheld some revenues from local governments to help cover a shortfall in the state’s budget. Jennings and the council is concerned that could happen again.

What state leaders should do is continue to work on a problem that is their responsibility to solve and not pass that responsibility on to local governments.

The buck stops in Raleigh.