I was lucky enough over this beautiful past Memorial Day weekend to be out at Cape Lookout, NC playing a little bocce ball. Bocce, the up and coming Italian outdoor bowling game, involves rolling larger balls as close as possible to a smaller ball called the pallino. The team with the ball closest to the pallino wins and, of course, it’s OK to knock your opponent’s balls out of the way with your own. Playing in the soft sand at the Cape changes the game from bowling to more targeted throwing. It was this twist on the game and the strategy of one of my opponents that reminded me of the NC Senate and their budget presentation this week.
My friend Markus, a frequent and vocal bocce adversary with a penchant for making conversation at the moment of your throw, had a unique and effective technique. He’d drop the large ball in directly on top or in front of the pallino with enough force to anchor it and the pallino firmly in the sand. Then, try as his opponents might, even a direct hit on his ball would not dislodge it from its early winning position.
Italian lawn bowling might not have been uppermost in the NC Senate’s minds this week, but they clearly adopted Markus’s strategy in their budget presentation. As my colleague Chris Fitzsimon points out, when the NC Senate unveiled its $20 billion two-year spending plan it emerged from leadership discussions and passed out of committee in just a few hours. Few had seen the plan before it was presented. Attempts to change by amendment any major aspect of the plan were not allowed. The entrenched positions of a few ensured a quick and painless win right from the starting gate and there was little anyone could do to change that.
The Senate decided not to take the first steps towards affordable health coverage for all children suggested by the Governor and the House. It fell down on mental health coverage. It lowers the top income tax bracket and incurs $1.2 billion more in debt. All these decisions were final and not open for discussion.
Senate leaders might think they have the winning strategy, but I’m not so sure. Despite Markus’s success with his similar technique in the early rounds of the bocce tournament, he was soundly beaten later as his opponents switched to the harder sand and he couldn’t respond to the changing environment. Likewise, people in North Carolina are looking for more from their leadership than what the Senate offers in a changing political environment. The old strategy may work for a while, but it doesn’t address the new problems working families face in tough and increasingly inequitable times here in North Carolina.