My Spin, May 1, 2003 Edition



by Tom Campbell, NC SPIN creator and moderator


Budget Reveals Need for Meaningful Changes



North Carolina has serious issues that need addressing and resolving, but neither the House nor the Senate budgets even make a stab at doing so. We were told at the end of last session that legislators knew there were structural budget problems, overlaps in programs, a need to seriously examine where money was being directed and what outcomes were being obtained, and a necessity to review and revise our out-of-date tax codes, but there was a promise all these tasks would be tackled and dealt with this session.


This pledge was kept about as well as the “temporary” tax increases they passed two years ago when they were dealing with many of these same crises and told us they just had to “get the ox out of the ditch” but they were going to fix things.


What North Carolina citizens got this year was a race to see just how fast they could slap numbers on paper and get a vote. Either version of the budget is yet another band-aid on a hemorrhage. What is this, the fourth year in a row when lawmakers went for the quick, temporary fix instead of really resolving our problems?


The fact is that our legislature has proved that they are either unable or unwilling to ask the tough questions and make tough decisions. Either we are spending too much or taxes are too low. Make no mistake, this won’t be fun and won’t be easy. But our legislators won’t even try. My grandmother used to have a name for them: “weak sisters.”


The citizens of North Carolina deserve better. We have given our lawmakers plenty of time to deal with these issues. We need to establish guidelines to force them to do so. Allow me to suggest a few, some of which will require a change in our Constitution.


Let’s start by limiting the number of years lawmakers can serve. We’ll give them four-year terms in exchange for limiting them to no more than twelve years total…in their lifetime. Service in the General Assembly was never intended to be a career. Do away with the legislative retirement system. We don’t want anyone to serve long enough to draw a legislative pension.


No one should be allowed to more than two years as Speaker, President Pro Tem, or in other key positions. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.


While we are addressing terms, let’s eliminate gubernatorial succession, one of the worst concepts ever devised. Change the term to six years and forbid a governor to ever serve but one term.


To force discipline in budgeting and the prioritization of programs restrict the legislature to spending no more than what the state received in revenues during the past calendar year. Emergency funding over this amount would require a two-thirds vote in both chambers.


Lobbyists and special interest groups have far too much power and influence. Follow the money and you’ll find the power. The current system is out of control. Witness the tobacco lobby. We have to seriously restrict the amount of money, entertainment, and in-kind contributions given to legislators.


Maybe if we fix the system we will find leaders who will rise to the occasion and fix our state’s serious problems. But this will have to be a grass roots effort. You can be sure they won’t volunteer for these restrictions.