Saturday, April 4, 2009

NC State Budget - An Accident Waiting To Happen?

NC State Senator Peter Brunstetter (31st District) had the following to say about the upcoming NC state budget in a 4/2/09 newsletter: "The other ingredient for next week’s storm is most likely to be the Senate budget. We are hearing that the budget will be released to the public and the Senate early next week, although that information is second hand at best. One of the biggest sources of frustration to me, as a Senator, is my inability to participate meaningfully in the budget process. There has been a lot of work going on in the Senate, behind closed doors, but the activity has been restricted to only a handful of Senators.

The primary participants are what are called the “Big Chairs”. In other words the four co-chairs of the Appropriations/Base Budget Committee, the President Pro Tempore and the Majority Leader. There may be a few others who drift in and out of the process. Other than that, most of the Senate waits for the budget to be delivered to it...We will then have a very short time (often less than 24 hours) to review the massive document before the first vote is taken in Committee, with a floor vote shortly thereafter. The group that I mentioned above has been working on the budget for months, and yet the rest of us need to turn it over night. Something isn’t right about that picture.

I suppose that some centralization is necessary. With 50 people expected to vote, there does need to be reliance upon a core group of leaders at some point. The majority party has the privilege of leading that charge. In our Senate though, the centralization and secrecy almost borders on paranoia, shielding the budget from Republicans, the Press and the public until the last possible moment. In the ten years that I chaired the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners, I bent over backwards to make sure that Republicans and Democrats alike had a full voice in the budget process. I knew where the majority votes would come from, but the input from our Democrats was often very helpful and constructive and shaped a budget that was fairer and more reflective of the entire community’s priorities. Eight of the ten budget votes taken while I was Chairman were unanimous. I think that there would be many more Republicans who would vote affirmatively on state budget issues if there was a meaningful opportunity for participation and input. It’s hard to vote for, and place your stamp of approval on, a budget you have had less than 24 hours to review." (I put in bold print information I thought was important, they were not in bold print in the newsletter.)

I appreciate Senator Brunstetter's concerns with our state's budget. Didn't anyone in Raleigh pay attention to the budget fiasco in Washington, DC not long ago? Did they not see Senators tell us they voted on a budget they didn't read that authorized bonuses to AIG? With the economic issues we face in our state, it would be in our best interests to allow our elected officials the appropriate amount of time to review and vote on our state's budget.

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