There were a lot of things that the Democrats did wrong while they were running the North Carolina General Assembly back in the day– especially in the state Senate — and many of them were highlighted at the time on this website. That said, the “process” now in use on Jones Street has degenerated since then to the point at which it truly makes a mockery of democratic governance.
Nowhere is this better illustrated than in the the development of the single most important bill that the General Assembly passes each year — the state budget. Here’s how this absurd process has worked in 2015:
Two months ago, the Governor proposed a budget. After that, the various Appropriations subcommittees held a few meetings to review what the Governor had proposed.
That’s it. There’s been no public discussion or hearings on developing or exploring alternatives. There’s been no public debate or amendments and certainly no public give and take.
Now, this morning, almost four months into the 2015 legislative session and just 45 days before the end of the fiscal year, the House released a new version of the budget (really just parts of the budget — we still don’t know about taxes and employee raises) broken into a handful of separate proposals. Naturally, there’s been no time for legislators, the news media or the public to digest the contents. The proposals were all brought before hastily called and simultaneous subcommittee meetings this morning — which effectively prohibited any one individual from reviewing any more than one or two small corners of the proposal.
At the meetings, legislators were told they’d have till noon to develop any amendments and were given a long list of 11 onerous rules (many of them absurdly limiting) with which all amendments must comply. The committee will now reconvene early this afternoon to “dispose” (and that does seem like an apt word) of any amendments that the Committee chairs deign to consider. Needless to say, no changes of real importance will be adopted.
Next week, the whole kangaroo process will be replayed at the full committee level and then on the House floor itself in just a few hours each. After that, look for the Senate to have even less debate and input and then for the final details to be worked out in secret by a handful of key legislators.
The bottom line: It’s a common and legitimate complaint that average North Carolinians pay far too little attention to the details of what’s going on in their state government, but as the ridiculous budget process makes clear, the hard truth is that they couldn’t really follow along even if they wanted to.