Shubert Seeks Senate Seat

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June 19, 2002

How Not to Do A Budget - Subcommittee Follies II & III

The August 6, 2001, Raleigh Report tells how the House budget was printed and included Capital Appropriations of $132,936,000 supposedly recommended by a subcommittee that had never met. I have given a number of talks since then in which I spoke about the way the activities (or lack thereof) of this subcommittee show the way the budget process is being (mis)handled by the Democrat leadership.

Apparently word of my speaking activities has spread, because members of this subcommittee were called back to Raleigh May 1st for a meeting. The subcommittee chairman opened the meeting by saying we were meeting because the Appropriations Committee Chairs had asked that we meet. The topic for the meeting was a booklet describing the spending wishes of the various agencies of state government for the next six years.

The meeting was less than a month before we were going to reconvene and would be able to meet without costing the taxpayers more for our travel expenses. The booklet was hardly time critical; it had been printed in December 2001. It could have been sent to us snail mail and been received long before the meeting. Worse yet, the booklet didn't include any spending plans that were already funded, so the committee had no way to really judge the total spending plans of any agency. The meeting was pretty much a waste of time.

The following week the members were called back again, wasting more travel money. This time legislative staff explained how to borrow money without asking permission of the voters. When I said I didn't see how we could even consider borrowing when we couldn't get a five year projection of spending already committed, whether on or off balance sheet, Appropriations Chairman David Redwine told the staff to furnish me that information. They told him the same thing they've told me for months: It isn't available.

We're truly flying blind, which I find rather scary. How do you run a multi-billion dollar business without long range plans? How do you make long range plans without any projection of spending already committed? Scary, indeed.

Shubert Seeks Senate Seat
Race Has Statewide Impact

Last Spring (2001) I was told Democrats planned to use redistricting to create a House seat I couldn't win. My response was clear and I think gave fair warning: “No problem. Who says I have to run for the House?”

Democrats have controlled the Senate for over 100 years. I concluded some time ago that if North Carolina is to enjoy the checks and balances of a two party system, we need some new people in the Senate.

Also, if the voters of NC are to receive fair treatment, we need representatives who will work for the people who elected them rather than answer to party bosses. It is glaringly obvious to most people in Union County that the Democrat incumbent's district hasn't received a fair share of highway funding, water and sewer grants, community college funding, you name it.

The incumbent Senator from Union County is in his 10th term in the Senate ( 20 years ) and before that served 4 terms in the House. He is one of the co-chairs of the Senate Appropriations Committee. As such, he is one of the people most responsible for the unbalanced budgets of the last several years and this year's budget disaster. He is considered one of the most powerful men in the Senate.

Given his power, one has to ask how his district could be so neglected. It seems to me that the answer is that serving the public is not his top priority. After watching him vote to divide his home county in redistricting in a way that benefits his party rather than the people, I believe a lot more people can now recognize the need to elect as Senator someone loyal to the people of this area rather than someone loyal to an increasingly liberal political party.

Bill Clinton was noted for observing that people who keep doing the same thing shouldn't expect a different result. If the people of the old 17th district want better roads, a fairer share of community college funds, and better government from Raleigh, then they need to make some changes in the Senate.

“One hundred years of one party rule; how are your roads and how are your schools?” I'd say the roads are pretty bad and Union County continues to be shortchanged on community college funds. We can do better!

Blank Check Budgeting
How the Game Is Played

Last year the House passed a fairly typical 40-page technical corrections bill to tidy up the legal language of bills previously passed. By definition, a technical corrections bill is intended to make technical corrections, not serious policy changes or spending allocations.

Somehow, in the Senate, the bill grew by about 100 pages in some very strange ways. For example, at the end of the bill, this provision was added:

“SECTION 125. The North Carolina Department of Transportation is authorized to expend funds as necessary to assist in implementing the objectives of G.S. 143-641. The Department shall provide a report of any expenditures as authorized in this section no later than March 15 and October 15 of each year to the Joint Legislative Commission on Governmental Operations.”

If you have no idea what this means, don't feel alone. I've read this to a number of audiences and asked them what I just said and no one has had a clue, because this wasn't written to be real clear. What it means in simple English is take as much money from building roads as the people planning a party to celebrate the Wright Brothers Centennial think they need.

To see what section G.S. 143-641 includes, go to www.ncleg.net and search the statutes for this statute. You will find it envisions hiring a director and staff, coordinating with and possibly visiting groups “throughout the state and nation,” and generally planning a major celebration. It doesn't limit how much the party planners can spend and neither does the provision added to the Technical Corrections Act. At the time, I heard it rumored that they expected to spend $15 million, but this could be greatly exaggerated or far less than contemplated. In any event, the money for the party would come out of transportation funds that could be spent on roads.

When questions were raised about this provision it was dropped from the bill, but no one knows how many “blank checks” like it have been passed. Maybe we do need to fund a centennial observance, but this certainly isn't the right way to go about funding it. Blank checks are bad business.

Stealth Tax Threatens NC
Trying to Bale Out Budget

There have been few House committee meetings since we reconvened, but I've been busy working on bills that try to deal with some serious budget problems.

Congress passed a tax stimulus bill effective last September to help the economy recover from the recession. The NC Department of Revenue told taxpayers to expect NC to conform to the federal changes because that has been state policy for years. Unfortunately the Democrat leaders have decided to abandon tax conformity for short term revenue gains, meaning many people would need to file amended returns and pay additional tax and that businesses would have to keep a second set of depreciation records for NC. I co-introduced H1561 to correct this problem.

For some time teachers have complained about the requirement to prepare portfolios to become certified. (See the Raleigh Report of February 16, 2001.) My bill filed last year to eliminate portfolios was shuffled off to a committee and turned into a study bill. Then the study was forgotten and a provision was put into the budget to give teachers days off with pay to prepare portfolios. The Speaker refused to permit a vote on my amendment ending the requirement (and saving the cost) for fear it would pass. This year I have again introduced a bill, H 1741, to eliminate the requirement. Why waste money, run off good teachers and insult principals?

The DMV license issues and vote fraud questions first raised last year (Raleigh Report of October 24, 2001 and January 11, 2002) have still not been addressed by DMV or the Board of Elections. This week H1755, the Antiterrorism Identity Security Act of 2002, was filed to address those issues.

H 1756 was filed to require using last calendar year's revenue in preparing this fiscal year's budget. Why guess at revenue when we can know for sure? Erroneous estimates underlie the current budget fiasco.

To see these bills, go to www.ncleg.net . If you have questions or comments, please feel free to contact me. My e-mail address is ferns@ncleg.net. My phone number here in Union County is 704-624-2720 and in Raleigh it is 919-733-5602. My Raleigh office is Room 1426 in the Legislative Building, but my preferred mail address is my local office, 106 E Main Street, Marshville, NC 28103. My website is www.forfern.com


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