ELLIOT: Two thoughts on the Cooper budget

Gov. Roy Cooper unveiled his budget proposal this week, giving North Carolinians a glimpse into what Cooper would do if he held the purse strings. Ultimately, the document will not matter much. With veto-proof majorities in both houses of the General Assembly, Republicans won’t give Cooper’s calculations much more than a sniff.Most people have probably seen the headline numbers by now: $23.48 billion in first-year spending; prioritizing healthcare over education; expanding Medicaid; and continuing to add to the state’s rainy-day fund.Some of the details are important, but for now, allow me to offer two observations — one specific and one general. The specific observation is that Cooper is the beneficiary of years of good fiscal management by a General Assembly whose fiscal management discipline is not his own.Repeatedly, Cooper opposed the conservative budgets that have led to perennial surpluses. He said we were not “investing” enough (that sounds better than “we need more government spending”). But because of conservative budgeting, Cooper has the luxury of increasing spending without raising taxes. That’s not because he won’t raise taxes, it’s because with a $550 million surplus, he doesn’t need to.After all, Cooper is not averse to tax hikes; when he was a member of the General Assembly he voted for multiple “investment generators” (if that is the right euphemism). In sum, North Carolinians can be thankful that conservatives in the General Assembly remain a barrier to the budgets of Democratic leaders, where the false promises in glorious winter budgets made for summer shortfalls of discontent, with all the painful cuts, furloughs, and budget gimmicks that the powerful use to trick the gullible, time and time again.The second, general observation is about budgeting. Vice President Joe Biden famously said: “”Don’t tell me what you value. Show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value.” That’s true, to a point. But like all simplistic slogans, it works better as a rhetorical grenade than as a practical principle.Consider Cooper’s budget proposal for 2017-2018. It spends almost nothing on defense. So should we be concerned that, according to Biden’s rule, Cooper values defense with only 0.013 percent of his budget?Of course not. Defense is the primary responsibility of the federal government, not the states. North Carolinians contribute plenty to national defense, just not through state-level taxes. Biden’s pithy saw fails to account for the fact that one budget document does not encompass all spending — even all government spending, much less spending by families, charities, churches, and businesses.Budgets are important documents. But for a government budget to tell you everything you need to know about what a society values necessarily means that you accept that 1) the government should be in charge of everything we value, and 2) more government spending on something means more value is attached to it.Liberals may think that way about budgets, but most Americans do not.
Drew Elliot is a member of the North State Journal’s editorial board, separate from the news staff. Unlike other newspapers, the North State Journal does not publish unsigned editorials; the author or authors of every editorial, letter, op-ed, and column is prominently displayed. To submit a letter or op-ed, see our submission guidelines.