Gov. Mike Easley must be taking notes on the way President Bush is running the country. How else to explain a State of the State address that calls for expanding education programs, increasing pay for state workers and professors at community colleges while at the same time not raising taxes, cutting up to $800 million in spending and instituting a state spending cap? It sounds like the Tar Heel version of how to carry on a multi-billion-dollar war against Iraq while proposing a $600 billion-plus tax reduction plan.
Well, there are a few ways to explain it. There is, of course, the lottery, which the governor insisted on bringing up again. He still raises the possibility of a separate Education Lottery Fund, which was originally conceived as a way to supplement legislative education funding, not replace it. But who doubts that a legislature with access to that kind of money, in the kind of economic crisis we’re in now, wouldn’t use it to pay for routine operating expenses–thus defeating the purpose. A lottery was a bad idea in the best of times; it’s an even worse idea now.
There is the line-item veto that Easley asked the General Assembly to hand him, a power that would take great influence out of legislators’ hands and place into the governor’s. He knew that would be a hard sell, and rightly so. While legislators are no doubt prone to pad the budget with plenty of spending that’s the result of all kinds of horse-trading, handing the governor the final say on any and all projects is not the answer.
And there was the governor’s push for a limit on state spending that ties state budget growth to growth in personal income. It is a dangerous and unrealistic proposal that can be explained only as a sop to conservative voters. It’s dangerous because it assumes that a rapidly growing state like North Carolina won’t need new programs and initiatives to stay ahead of the needs of its population. And it is unrealistic because this year, for instance, it wouldn’t have accommodated even the most basic growth in costs.
More important than what the governor said is what he didn’t say: That we need to raise revenue by closing tax loopholes that were foolishly granted to big businesses in the 1990s, helping put us in the current predicament. And we need to look for better sources of new revenue than a lottery–like increasing the cigarette tax.
This week we begin a new feature tied to The Independent‘s upcoming 20th anniversary celebration–a look back at stories we covered in the distant mists of time. It’s on page 12. Stay tuned for features and events all this year celebrating our first issue in April 1983. Some will be serious, and some will be excellent opportunities to go nuts, like Friday’s late-night Roller Boogie. (See Spectator, p. 9). God knows we need it.