Commentary

Phony state legislative budget process continues this morning

Here’s a classic example of the absurdity of the North Carolina General Assembly’s budget writing process from this morning’s committee meetings on Jones Street. House Appropriations subcommittees convened this morning to look at a new version of the budget bill that House leaders authored in secret. Though a superficially better process than the Senate — where the subcommittees had zero public role — it quickly became clear that the meetings were essentially for show.

In the Justice and Public Safety Subcommittee, for example, members learned how the designated pots allotted to their categories of state government had been filled and then had some discussion. Rep. Billy Richardson, for example, offered a powerful explanation as to why far too little was being appropriated to the office of Indigent Defense Services (IDS).

Here’s the kicker, however: Upon hearing Richardson’s legitimate beef, committee chairs informed him that if he wanted to make any kind of amendment to raise the appropriation level in IDS or any other line item, he would have to propose an equal cut in some other JPS item. In other words, the idea of taking money from tax cuts or savings was verboten. All amendments would have to comply with what we might call a “rob Peter to pay Paul” rule. The committee than recessed for one hour and informed members they had 60 minutes (less really) to prepare any such amendments they might care to offer under these absurdly restrictive conditions. You can read all of the rules here.

In other words, the “process” being implemented this morning is essentially meaningless. While it is superficially superior to the kangaroo legislating that when on in the Senate, when it comes to the basic of budgeting and governing — i.e. deciding how much to spend and how to prioritize on anything other than a micro-level — the House is really no different. GOP bosses have already decided the important matters in private. What’s more they’re so insecure in their decision making that they won’t allow genuine “give and take” debate in which elected representatives of the people have a real opportunity to propose meaningful amendments in public.

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