GOODMAN: N.C. needs to fix our budget process

Rep. Ken Goodman (D-66)

Rep. Ken Goodman (D-66)

If there is anything that we can learn from the protracted budget fight between the super-majority Republicans governing both chambers of the General Assembly, it is the fact that the system in how we construct a budget is broken.

It’s insightful to look back to April 2010, when then Republican Senate Minority Leader Phil Berger said in a Facebook post that the Democrats were “demonstrating incompetence” in the budget process. I wonder if he thinks the Republicans have been demonstrating the same level of incompetence he spoke of just five years ago?

In the typical world of politics, we can all waste time calling the other team incompetent. Let’s get real about this. Main Street Democrats recognize one important fact — our voters just want results.

The latest budget process clearly shows there is room for improvement.

There is a great deal of precedent and history in preparing the state’s governing budget. The modern-day budget process goes back to 1925 and the administration of Gov. Angus MacLean from Lumberton.

The system has remained pretty much intact since then with perhaps a variation here or there such as the scheduling of legislative sessions in the Great Depression with a “Long” and “Short” session schedule and the creation of Advisory Budget Committee that ran fiscal matters for the legislature in the late ’70s through to 1988.

Since 2010, the Republicans have implemented base-line budgets, where spending and revenue numbers revert back to the previous year’s budget. However, there has been little movement from either party on operational reviews and audits. Why do we continue to default to an arcane budget process that was designed in the 1920s, modified in the Great Depression and expanded in the 1970s? Our world has changed, our technology is better and our accounting and review processes have improved. Surely, we can improve the state’s budget process.

MainStreetDemocrats wide final

Main Street Democrats believe we need a 21st Century budget process. Here’s our plan for state budget reform:

  1. Improve transparency in the budget process; conduct regional budget hearings across the state throughout the fiscal year. We need more citizen input.
  2. Make the state budget more interactive and reactive to real-time revenue and spending numbers.  This means a collaborative working partnership between the executive, legislative and judicial branches.
  3. We need to embrace technology and improve communications between agencies, departments and the branches of government.
  4. Program review and evaluations need to be a part of the legislative discussions and public input.  The State Auditor and specialized audit teams within the executive branch need to ask this question on an annual basis:  “What programs are working? What programs provide return on investment? What programs demand management attention? What programs could be cut and/or scaled back?  What can we do to provide better services to our citizens?
  5. Budget stalemates and brinkmanship should not be part of the legislative process. The legislature shouldn’t delay funding to local governmental entities such as our public schools, community colleges and universities because of the lawmakers are unable to pass a budget.
  6. Legislative inclusion is important. More members should play a role in writing the state budget and having oversight of it. Main Street Democrats will create a new budget oversight process that evaluates and judges management on budget performance.

The people of North Carolina expect the state legislature to do its most important job, which is to pass a state budget by July 1. Here, we are going into the middle of September and the Republican leadership is just rolling out its budget compromise.

We all know the budget process is broken. The Main Street Democrats stand ready to fix it. Everyone agrees we can improve the process.

Rep. Ken Goodman represents District 66 in the North Carolina General Assembly.  He is the chairman of the NC Main Street Democrats group, whose mission is to promote common-sense policies that improve the day-to-day lives of our citizens through a platform that is attractive to pro-business, Main Street voters.