The General Assembly used this year’s legislative short session to put 6 amendments to the North Carolina Constitution on the ballot for voter approval. Knowing that implementing language would be needed if certain amendments passed, the legislature did not officially adjourn the session, instead scheduling a follow-up session for the last week in November.
In the election earlier this month, Republicans lost their veto-proof majorities in both the North Carolina House and Senate. Given this reality, the November session is likely to take on an expanded agenda as Republican leaders attempt to pass their highest-priority legislation before they lose the ability to independently override vetoes by Democratic Governor Roy Cooper. Some have called for legislative Republicans to use this special session as a trial run for the bipartisan cooperation that will be required in January.
One piece of legislation that is rumored to be on the agenda this month would provide a great opportunity for bi-partisan lawmaking. It would also be a great step towards budget transparency and an increased commitment to government accountability.
During the 2017 long session, Rep. Verla Insko (D-Orange) filed House Bill 83, titled Ensure Budget Transparency. Minority Leader Darren Jackson was one of the 12 Democrat co-sponsors. Three Republicans also signed on to the measure.
The bill amends the state budget process to include a requirement that “Every special provision contained in the Current Operations Appropriations Act shall indicate the name of the member or members who requested the provision.”
This is a small change with huge impacts on budget transparency and accountability.
The referenced “special provisions” are pet projects of legislators that are often included in the state budget as negotiating tactics. Colloquially known as “pork barrel spending,” these projects use state taxpayer money to buy good favor for lawmakers through funding local projects in their home districts, and typically finance projects far outside the core functions of government.
Sometimes the projects are often intuitively “good causes,” such as parks or nonprofit organizations, but it is irresponsible to use North Carolina taxpayer money to fund localized projects that only benefit a select few at the expense of statewide taxpayers. Outside of a fairly established grant process, these deals can also foster an environment of political patronage though the state budget.
House Bill 83 would disincentivize this by requiring that anyone who asks for a special project take public responsibility for doing so. Understandably, lawmakers would probably be much less likely to request the inappropriate funding if they had to be held directly accountable for it.
Similar measures have been adopted in other states, including Florida in 2016.
Rep. Insko and the other bill sponsors should be applauded for their initiative. Passing this bill would be a tangible commitment to fiscal responsibility from both sides of the aisle.