by Joseph Coletti
Senior Fellow, Fiscal Studies, John Locke Foundation
A criticism of Republicans at the national level has often been that they want the same thing as Democrats, just less of it. Who expected Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger would describe the Senate’s budget proposal in a similar way? The Senate, he said, has many of the same priorities as Gov. Roy Cooper, but with different spending levels.
For better or worse, the priorities really are similar. The Senate and the governor would expand the availability of early childhood education, raise teacher and state employee pay, add funding for apprenticeships and move the program to the Community College System, “raise the age” at which a person can be tried as an adult, help small towns and rural areas, fund new computer systems to track spending and performance of state government, and provide cash or tax incentives to film production companies and tire manufacturers. In just about every area, the Senate spends less than the governor.
The cumulative effect of those reductions is a spending increase half the size of what Gov. Cooper sought. Under the Senate plan, spending for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2019, would still be less than the governor would spend in the first year of the biennium.
These spending choices allow the Senate to provide more tax relief and set aside more in savings. Here again, the governor and Senate sought similar outcomes but with different dollar amounts.
Differences between the governor and Senate are more noticeable in the policy direction spelled out in special provisions that accompany the budget. Senators would:
Not exactly the same but less.
You can understand why Sen. Berger would downplay the differences with Gov. Cooper. The important statement in his press conference Tuesday was not about fiscal policy, but about philosophy. Berger commented, “We understand that some want to spend more than this budget spends, but memories can be short. We have not forgotten the mess we found in 2011, the result of years of spending growth at unsustainable levels. We feel strongly that, when government collects more than it needs, some of that money should be returned to the taxpayers.”