August 17, 2021

We read an interesting editorial from the News and Observer Sunday penned by opinion writer Ned Barnett about what the NC General Assembly should do with the $6.5 billion budget surplus sitting in state coffers that resulted from higher than expected revenues and federal COVID money.

A choice was now presented to legislators, “Spend more or tax less?”

Of course, we couldn’t help but think of the old Miller Lite TV ad: “Tastes great, less filling.”

There actually is a corollary to the “Spend more” and the “Tastes great” lines.  Liberals have it easy when they promise more programs and more spending of your tax dollars.  It’s like giving away candy. (“Tastes great”)

In return, liberal politicians gain political support and votes.  That’s where the conservatives’ role comes in.  These giveaway programs cost real money and conservatives are left being the adult in the room responsible enough to rain on the parade by saying “No.” Nobody ever said being a conservative was fun.

The intriguing thing about this editorial was how balanced it seemed.  Typically, the N&O’s opinions lean Left – and we in turn respond with relish to offer a counter.

This time though, Barnett presented a rather balanced approach to answering the question “Spend more or tax less?”  He got two university business school professors to offer their opinions – one from Duke and one from UNC – and stated right up front that their responses were an honest “No one knows for sure.”

Then the piece went back and forth discussing what policy actions had served to attract new business to the state.  The professors gave credit to public investment in education, health care, and transportation.  At the same time the article acknowledges conservative legislators’ success in cutting taxes since 2013.

“Both sides have logical chains of reasoning,” the Duke professor stated, “that have been shown in different settings to have merit. The reality probably falls somewhere in between.”

Neither professor seemed to appreciate how North Carolina’s past liberal record of high taxes quashed economic growth while the Reform Majority’s recent record of tax cuts produced a steady, upward surge in prosperity and jobs for our state. But for the most part, the article presented a balanced look at options for this budget surplus cornucopia.

Here’s the interesting thing.  Given the N&O’s long record of taking the liberal side of things, what’s with all this fairness?

Could it be that the Reform Majority’s record of tax cuts is so strong in reinvigorating the state’s economy and producing jobs that the N&O knows reasonable people wouldn’t buy their typical one-sided harangue attacking the conservative approach to spending the budget?

Or could it be that with a pot of money so big – $6.5 billion dollars – they cleverly see gains to be made for things they believe important by getting some moderates to let up on their fiscal conservative approach and give away more budget items here or there and look fair-minded to voters in playing the liberals’ “giveaway” game?

Conservatives originally structured pre-surplus budget plans with personal income tax cuts and corporate tax cuts that would continue a sound approach to state money matters while doing plenty to address infrastructure needs.

Instead of seeing the surplus as some sort of “found money in the jeans pocket,” common sense legislators should approach the new money with the same discipline with which they approached the original budget. That principled approach is important now as it will also be in any negotiations with Governor Cooper.

Our adage to responsible lawmakers.  Watch out, dear friends.  Hold the Line.

Give taxpayers their money back.  It’s their money, not the government’s.  It’s just like if you give someone a loan and it turns out they didn’t need all of it.  You’d count on them to give the money back.

Again, watch out.  The temptation is great to not be the adult in the room.  Don’t trust ‘em.  Hold the Line.  Tax Less.