by Donald Bryson
President and Chief Strategy Officer, John Locke Foundation
The 2022 General Election has come and gone. And while the oft-prophesied national “red wave” failed to materialize, North Carolina Republicans had a successful election season.
Republican Congressman Ted Budd defeated Democrat Cheri Beasley for a U.S. Senate seat that was considered one of the most competitive in the nation. Republicans won both state Supreme Court races, thus ensuring a partisan majority through 2028. Republicans also won 30 of 50 (60%) seats in the state Senate. Additionally, Republicans won 71 of 120 (59.16%) seats in the state House of Representatives.
This last figure of 71 Republican state House seats is likely the most dramatic number to come out of this year’s North Carolina elections. Why?
Article II, section 22 of the North Carolina Constitution sets the rules for a legislative chamber to reconsider a bill that the governor has vetoed. The Constitution stipulates that a veto override can occur after “such reconsideration three-fifths of the members of that house present and voting shall agree to pass the bill.” If that happens, the bill goes to the other legislative chamber, and if three-fifths of the present members in the second chamber also vote to override the veto, then the bill becomes law.
The state House consists of 120 members, so three-fifths (60%) of the House would be 72 members, commonly called a supermajority. However, a House supermajority of 72 would be one more than the number of incoming House Republicans.
Republicans have a solid supermajority in the state Senate, but some have described House Republicans as having a “functional supermajority,” which means that some Democrats may be willing to cross the aisle to help Republicans override a veto by Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat.
But why would freshly elected Democrats cross the aisle?
As a fiscal conservative, here is where I have some concerns about the legislative session. Candidly, there is a lot of horse trading in any legislative body. The constitutional framers of our republic made it that way so that the interests of one region would be balanced by those of another. My fiscal concern is that lots of that trading can be made through “special provisions” in the state budget process.
“As a fiscal conservative, here is where I have some concerns about the legislative session.”
A special provision in the state budget can be boiled down to a more colloquial term — pork-barrel spending. Special provisions are additions to the state budget that are not core state government functions and are pet project spending for lawmakers on parks, high school athletic facilities, or funding for a local nonprofit.
For example, Paige Terryberry, senior fiscal policy analyst at the John Locke Foundation, found special provisions in the 2022 state budget, such as $400,000 to Alleghany County for a new public swimming pool, $150,000 to the Arts Council of Wilmington and New Hanover County, and $100,000 to the North Carolina Folk Festival.
As a fiscal and constitutional conservative, I have serious reservations about these special provisions. The primary reason is that they can add up to tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars when spread across the state and are not allocated to the constitutional functions of the state government.
I am confident that the North Carolina Folk Festival is a fine event in Greensboro, but I need help finding where the General Assembly derives the constitutional power to fund it. Nor do I understand how $31 million in incentives for the film industry, mainly in Charlotte and Wilmington, is a core government function. And the same goes for the $10,000 spent in 2021 for a mural in Sanford.
To put it another way, if the state government is spending money on things that are not core government functions, then it is taxing citizens beyond what is necessary.
Both Democrats and Republicans are guilty here.
If the state government is spending money on things that are not core government functions, then it is taxing citizens beyond what is necessary.
Additionally, these special provisions can be for “good causes,” but state legislators are elected from local districts to make decisions on a statewide basis. It is not fiscally conservative or fair to use taxpayer money to fund localized projects that only benefit a select area at the expense of all North Carolina taxpayers — particularly when these provisions are funded to broker a deal.
The conservative leadership of the General Assembly has accelerated North Carolina’s economy over the last decade. We have skyrocketed from the third-highest state unemployment rate at the height of the Great Recession to being named the Best State for Business and ascending as the clear economic engine of the Southeast.
North Carolina did not get there with an overspending government and easy decisions. It was a meticulous and fiscally conservative process. That may not lead to the seductive headlines that some lawmakers want, but it is how true conservatives govern.