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:

  • End Certificate of Need, which restricts competition in health care; stop promising health insurance coverage through the State Health Plan for state employees hired after June 30, 2018, so the state can better ensure those benefits already promised
  • Split Adult Corrections and Juvenile Justice into a cabinet agency apart from the State Highway Patrol, National Guard, and other functions of the Department of Public Safety (other states combine those aspects of public safety with military and veterans affairs, though that is not in the Senate proposal)
  • Continue the political fight over K-12 schools by giving the State Superintendent authority to create new positions while eliminating specific positions that report to the State Board of Education

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.”