Friday, February 11, 2011

Will Guv's State of the State be a Valentine? Doubt it

The General Assembly has invited Gov. Bev Perdue to deliver her biennial State of the State message on Monday night -- Valentines Day. But given the verbal scuffling of the past week, no one expects the governor to deliver a Valentine to the honorables. Both sides are engaged in some interesting maneuvering as Republicans have begun running the General Assembly for the first time in more than 100 years and as Perdue considers how to make the most of her second legislature as governor leading up to next year's reelection campaign. 

Perdue and the Republican legislative leadership have made nice a few times and worked together on a couple of matters, but things got tense when, after agreeing to run a bill giving the governor more authority to order spending cuts worth $400 million, Republican leaders also added in $140 million or so worth of additional cuts. These included trimming more than $8 million in spending under two of the state's economic development funds that are used to seal the deal and persuade industries to create new jobs here. 

Democrats objected, saying that the Republican cut would hurt the state's job recovery. Republicans responded that they were only trimming spending in funds where there was still a hefty balance, and that in any case there was other money to recruit companies and in a pinch the Perdue administration could always ask Republicans to sponsor a bill for a really big project.  Democrats responded by criticizing Republicans' "job-killing" budget bill. (Sound familiar?) Republicans threw back some barbs.  And so it went, back and forth.

Here's my view: The Republican initiative was a reasonable way to get a head start on the job of cutting several billion from the 2011 budget that begins  July 1.   Perdue might have spoken up earlier to give Republicans time to find another place to cut the $8 million before their plan was announced. But even after Perdue raised objections, I believe Republicans could have found a place to trim what they needed. Surely a compromise could have been worked out. I think one almost was, but someone balked at the last moment.

Now both sides are staked out, and the question is whether Perdue will veto the spending cut the legislature just passed.  It certainly appears that both sides are making a statement they consider important.

Republicans are saying Look here: We worked fast, took on the tough job of finding cuts, picked some trims that aren't popular but represent the sort of hard work we have to do this year to balance next year's budget and get the state's finances back in good shape.

And if Perdue vetoes the bill, which is plausible because Republicans don't have enough GOP voter to override, she'll be saying this is all about jobs and neither party should tie her hands when she's trying to make up for the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs that disappeared in recent years, so lawmakers should find another place to cut.

Valentines Day might not be a time when many folks would willingly tune in to a political speech, but this one might be worth the time to watch.  It's a great opportunity for Perdue. And sure enough, Republican leaders Phil Berger, the Senate President Pro Tem, will respond to her speech right after, and House Speaker Thom Tillis will be standing by for further comment.

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