If you had to suddenly cut 5 percent from your family’s budget, how would you do it? I suspect most people would include the term “priorities” somewhere in their answers.
Because of overzealous spending commitments and overly optimistic revenue projections, North Carolina is facing what many are calling a budget crisis. In short, the current state budget spends significantly more money than is available.
In response to this crisis, budgetmakers in Raleigh have been frantically trying to figure out how to cut roughly 5 percent of this year’s spending in order to make ends meet.
On Nov. 6, the state’s Office of State Budget and Management unveiled its plan to trim about $900 million in spending — and tap almost $300 million from the Rainy Day Fund — in order to close the current year’s budget gap.
The planned spending cuts involve a combination of measures, including: withholding money from all major state agencies, ranging from 1.5 percent (Public Schools) to 5 percent (General Government, Natural and Environmental Resources) of each agency’s budget; freezing capital projects not receiving federal matching funds; holding back unspent funds carried over from 2007-08; and putting off repair and renovation spending on government property.
Agency heads are allowed significant latitude in how to best cut their budgets, and most likely they will do so without affecting “essential services.”
Such a plan, however, prompts the question: If spending can be cut by as much as 5 percent in some agencies without impacting essential services, why was so much money budgeted to be spent in the first place?
If your family was able to trim 5 percent from its budget without impacting your quality of life, how quickly would you realize a more fiscally prudent decision would have been to save, not spend, that money?
Likewise, North Carolina taxpayers should be asking some tough questions of their elected officials. Why does it require a “budget crisis” for agencies to seek ways to cut their spending?
If our state leaders were truly responsible stewards of our tax dollars, they would restlessly pursue the elimination of so-called “non-essential” services. After all, if it’s not essential, it is necessarily frivolous.
But this brings us back to that “p” word — priorities. The budget crisis provides observers with a case study on how our elected officials and bureaucrats decide to set priorities when spending our tax dollars.
For instance, the OSBM plan cuts Justice and Public Safety spending by $62 million, while the current budget spends about $130 million to purchase land. One could easily surmise that lawmakers are prioritizing the protection of wildlife over the protection of North Carolina citizens.
Furthermore, the plan would cut mental health spending by three percent — roughly $22 million — while the state sets aside $143 million for corporate welfare.
Granted, state agency heads may choose to marginally cut corporate welfare handouts and land purchases this year, but the message is clear. Lawmakers are opting to balance the budget by chipping away at public safety and mental health while land conservation and corporate welfare come away largely unscathed.
Looks like special interests (big business and environmental alarmists) win again.
It is often said that adversity reveals character. Taxpayers and voters should be taking note of the character being revealed by North Carolina’s politicians during these adverse times.
This article was originally published in the Fayetteville Observer