N.C. Rep. Guice says state budget process ‘flawed’

Published 2:14 pm Monday, June 29, 2009

Greetings from Raleigh! This past week was certainly an interesting and historic time in the North Carolina House of Representatives. The entire week was dominated by budget discussions, both at the subcommittee level and on the floor of the House. I want to update you on the version of the budget that passed the House on Saturday, June 13, 2009. I would also like to make it clear throughout this update why I voted against the Appropriations Act of 2009.

Senate Bill 202, the Appropriations Act of 2009, passed the House by a vote of 64-53 early Saturday morning, June 13, 2009 with a combination of programmatic cuts and tax increases. Additionally, over $1 billion in stimulus money was used to balance the budget. The approved Fiscal Year 2009-2010 budget total is $18,558,220,699 and the approved budget total for Fiscal Year 2010-2011 is $19,277,960,253. This legislation now heads to a conference committee, with House and Senate members.

We had the first reading of this bill on Thursday, the second reading on Friday and the third reading just after midnight on Saturday morning. Debate was very intense during the first and second readings of this legislation and I had the opportunity to speak in opposition to the bill on Friday. Below is the full text of the remarks that I made on the floor of the House on Friday, June 12.

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Over the past few days I have taken the time to put some of my thoughts and concerns about this budget and this budget process down on paper.

I want to share those with you tonight.

Colleagues and friends, I joined this chamber earlier this year with the hope to make a true difference for the people of my district and all people throughout North Carolina. Over the last several months I have come to know many of you and count many of you as friends ‐ across the aisle, regardless of party affiliation. I believe, as many of you do, that we are here for a solemn purpose – to make better the lives of all North Carolinians. I am deeply concerned about the budget proposal we are discussing here tonight. These are historic times in our state and I believe it is important for all of our voices to be heard.

The entire budget writing process is flawed. When I was sworn-in in January I brought with me the experience of being a state employee for over 30 years, a small business owner for over 20 years and a former two-term county commissioner. I have managed my finances personally, professionally and helped to write the budget for 8 years in Transylvania County. I have witnessed things during my short time in this legislative body that I have never seen before personally or professionally. I have seen recommendations, downright pleas, from departmental staff and leaders thrown to the side without giving them the thought they deserve.

My friends, we owe the people of North Carolina better.

We have heard and many will continue to say that this budget is a compromise and that those who vote against it are simply supporting more programmatic cuts. To those, I would like to say that this is not nearly that simple. We currently face an economic downturn that many of us in this building have not seen personally and certainly have never had to manage from a legislative perspective. To not allow every voice, every opinion, every question and every concern in this chamber to be heard throughout this process is simply irresponsible. For a select few to write a budget that impacts each person throughout our state is unacceptable.

Democrats and Republicans, alike, have been left out of these budget discussions. We learn about budget happenings faster by reading statewide newspapers. Each of us is elected to represent the people of North Carolina and our job is made that much harder when we are not allowed to sit at the table, when we are not allowed to ask the necessary questions and when we are not allowed to engage in the needed discussion about this budget. We owe the people of North Carolina better.

I have received countless email and phone calls from people throughout my district and from all over North Carolina with questions and concerns about the overall budget and specific programs. They are genuinely afraid of the outcome. Many of them even acknowledge that they understand that this budget will set us back years, perhaps decades, as a state. As a former member of the criminal justice system I do not believe that a trial can be carried out through the court of public opinion and I certainly do not believe that a budget can be written by releasing small bits of information to the public simply to scare them. Whether we choose to admit that or not, fear tactics have been used throughout this process to write this budget. That is unacceptable and irresponsible. Those in control of the budget process have not been fair, up front or honest with people throughout our state. We owe the people of North Carolina better.

I know I might be old fashioned, but I believe that to truly write an honest and transparent budget we must look at each item, line by line and make decisions based on priorities. It is important to support our educational system, strengthen our justice and public safety systems, protect the most vulnerable of our population, children and older adults, and work to make progress on issues such as mental health, healthcare and the environment. Throughout this entire process we must also look for ways to reduce the size of state government, streamline government operations and make government more efficient. I do not believe that we have thoroughly discussed our priorities and I certainly do not believe we have looked at ways to streamline state government.

Let me give you a quick scenario as an example. Last fall we elected June Atkinson as the North Carolina Superintendent of Public Instruction.

She is paid an annual salary of $123,198. Governor Perdue appointed William Harrison to the post of Chief Executive Officer of the North Carolina State Board of Education and he is paid an annual salary of $265,000. At one point this budget proposal talked about eliminating over 6,000 teaching positions, all the while we were going to continue paying two people top level salaries to essentially do the same job.

Honestly, what kind of sense does that make? Government is meant to be a place where the people can come together, present their common problems, find common solutions and then government is supposed to get out of the way. Government is not meant to be a machine that simply creates high paying jobs for people who are really not doing the needed and important work on the ground. My friends, we owe the people of North Carolina better.

I have shared with you tonight just some of the problems I have with this current budget proposal. Let me be clear for all of those that might say I support more cuts. I do not support more frivolous cuts ‐ I support looking at areas of state government where there is waste and then eliminating that waste. And yes, there is waste. I believe in supporting our school teachers, I believe in supporting our law enforcement officers, I believe in supporting those people that are actually on the ground making a difference in the lives of all people throughout North Carolina. I do not; however, believe in supporting high paid positions at the top and perpetuating a government that does not work for the people.

Only history will be the true judge of this process and of our actions. We owe the people of North Carolina better.

Response to these remarks has been overwhelming, both from fellow members of the House and from the general public. People are ready for something new; they are ready to find a better way. If you would like to hear the audio of these remarks and the entire debate on this legislation from Friday please visit www.ncleg.net and click on the &dquo;audio archives&dquo; link and look for June 13.

Those that supported this budget did so by supporting tax increases that total over $780,000,000 million and impact businesses and individuals. For example, this legislation increases the overall sales tax by &rac14; percent. In addition, sales tax will now be imposed on warranties, installations and repairs, to include automobile repairs. Movie tickets, digital downloads and non-United States Postal Service deliveries will now be taxed. Further, this budget includes fee increases of $88.7 million in Fiscal Year 2009-2010 and $104.6 million in Fiscal Year 2010-2011.

Those writing the budget would have us believe that the only way to prevent such deep cuts is to approve the tax and fee increases. They call them &dquo;revenue increases&dquo; but make no mistake about it ‐ these are increases that we, the people, will be required to pay. I do not believe that you can write a budget fairly by scaring the general public. I also do not believe that all aspects and all corners of government operations have been searched for potential inefficiencies.

I will continue to fight for the people of District 113, not only serving as a vote in the General Assembly, but also as a strong voice for the people. I cannot do it alone though ‐ I need your help. Your input is always appreciated. Thank you for taking the time to contact my office with your questions, comments and concerns. Please do not hesitate to contact me if I can be of service and I invite you to stop by the office next time you are in Raleigh.

Representative W. David Guice

Legislative Building, Room 1015

16 W. Jones Street

Raleigh, NC 27601