05/17/06 — Measure twice, then spend: Legislature should be careful with newly discovered surplus

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Measure twice, then spend: Legislature should be careful with newly discovered surplus

Boy, it sure did not take long for the members of the North Carolina Legislature and interest groups from every nook and cranny of the state to come up with a thousand ways to spend the state’s first budget surplus in years.

From education to mental health reform, there were plenty of people who seemed to know what to do with the money and why they specifically should get their cut.

And some of that money should be spent shoring up what has become a “challenged” education system in North Carolina. Better pay, better facilities and better resources might not fix test scores or improve graduation rates overnight, but they could be a start in making a difference in how much and how successfully the state’s children learn.

And, as usual, there is a line of others who have been patient in the past waiting for raises and other benefits, who now want their share of the surplus pie.

And, miracle of miracles, some legislators are even suggesting some sort of relief for North Carolina’s taxpayers, but don’t hold your breath. Rebates and other tax cuts have a way of slipping down the ladder when there is money to be spent and special interest groups to satisfy.

The recently discovered extra funding is a real plus for the state — and a chance to get some work done that has been postponed for a while.

Devoting some of the money to education is wise — and the mental health system in this state could use a funding boost. And there is certainly nothing wrong with considering a few more options, including some relief for taxpayers — whatever form it takes.

But before this surplus gets eaten up by special interests and pork barrels, legislators need to set some priorities for the future and set aside some funding for a rainy day.

Just because we have a surplus in Raleigh this year does not mean that we need to eliminate it as fast as we can. A long-term plan that invests the money in programs that need it and deserve it, is the best way we make the decisions necessary to encourage growth and to position the state to take advantage of future opportunities.

But that means, in addition to practicing their listening skills as varied interests pitch their money needs, legislators will have to work on saying the words, “no, that would be nice, but it isn’t in the best interest of the state or its taxpayers.”

Now, that will be a challenge.

Published in Editorials on May 17, 2006 10:55 AM