06/30/06 — Budget-watching: Picking the numbers is only half the battle

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Budget-watching: Picking the numbers is only half the battle

Although it is not quite finished yet, the state budget is well on its way, with legislators still arguing, but getting closer to coming up with a spending plan that could actually move North Carolina forward.

They are still debating some line items — and there are still some concerns that could hang up progress, but truth be told, there is reason to think the state budget debate is out of the deep woods, finally.

But even after the grandstanding has diminished and there are nothing but tumbleweeds in the state capitol, there will be reason for taxpayers to stay sharp and focused on where they want to see their state in the next five, 10 or 15 years.

A budget is only a collection of numbers. What is actually done with money — and who reaps the benefits — will still be a matter for the people of North Carolina to oversee and critique.

There will be something to be learned from how North Carolina handles its budget surplus — as well as reason to judge if money spent on some programs was worth the line item.

We will need to keep an eye on where the lottery profits end up and if their addition to the state’s school budget has any effect on the goal of improving North Carolina’s schools.

We will need to keep an eye on how state budget money was divvied up to take care of infrastructure needs — and on which counties took home the most state dollars.

In a nutshell, North Carolinians have told their leaders how they want their money spent. Now, it is up to those taxpayers to make sure their bidding is done right.

There will be another budget debate next year — and it probably will have just as many arguments and just as many bouts of grandstanding.

But if we pay attention this year, and truly judge the performances of those we put in charge, we can make sure we do an even better job of positioning this state to use tax money prudently and efficiently, while still giving the state’s working men and women something to take home in their paychecks.

This budget debate might be almost over, but the work has just begun. It is important to make sure that the legislators know that while we are glad the process is completed, we will be watching to see how it is executed.

That way, this watched pot will not boil over with waste, pork and all the other hallmarks of a state legislature that has forgotten who pays the bills.

At least, not this year.

Published in Editorials on June 30, 2006 1:02 PM