The dramatic shift in North Carolina’s political dynamics that took place in 2018 has not been paralleled by a change in the Republican mindset. The GOP has grumpily decided to attempt continued one-party rule in the face of a governor who has popularity and the caucus numbers to exert leverage over the majority. This has been especially true in the area of the state budget. Last year, we didn’t even get one. And today came the news of an agreement between House and Senate Republicans so far outside the realm of what Governor Cooper would sign that it is entirely unserious.
With the frat-jock bravado typical of their very male caucus, Berger and Moore jointly declared “This agreement builds on the last decade of responsible Republican-led budgets resulting in a boom decade that put North Carolina on a strong trajectory to recover from the recession.” In fact North Carolina is an diminished state from what it was a decade ago in every area from education to the attraction of new residents. It’s an odd “boom decade” indeed that saw the state fall from sixth-fastest-growing in the nation down to eleventh, and that has seen 31 counties lose population. Republicans even represent some of those counties.
But what is true about their bombastic claim is that this budget continues the trend set by Berger and his erstwhile counterpart Thom Tillis in 2011. Since that fateful, devastating budget, North Carolina has subsisted meekly while deprived of resources for key public services. After solidifying a new status quo in which state spending is 30% below what was normal in the four decades before they took power, the GOP has slowed investment growth to paint-drying-on-a-hot-summer day speeds. This year they plan to spend only 3.45% more than in the previous annum, below the radical anti-government starvation diet prescribed by the infamous Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR).
In fact, the state has effectively been living the far right’s dream of a TABOR for years now. Without putting it in the constitution, as Colorado and no other state have done to disastrous effect, North Carolina has been forced to live with anemic public investment. Inflation and population growth are the standard, they declare–and then fail to meet the standard. Our public schools and universities are crumbling before our eyes because a dogmatic legislature refuses to give even an inch to the half of the state that voted against them.
As Carolina Journal notes with satisfaction, the Berger-Moore budget is far out of range of what Roy Cooper has proposed. In fact, it is so far beneath Cooper’s aspirations that one must assume the Republicans do not intend to have a serious negotiation with the governor. They went for their dream budget, again, and will presumably ram it through with few if any Democratic votes, then ponder whether to abuse the process with another of Speaker Moore’s “surprise votes” to make it law. This gambit shows an incredible disrespect for the one man whom the voters chose to sit in the Executive Mansion and for the future of this state.
Alexander Jones is an original contributor to PoliticsNC.