What will the BOC do about the $41 million deficit?
January 15, 2013 6 Comments
News crept out in the blogs late last week regarding the $41 million deficit facing our beloved county. Monday morning, the News and Record reported on this topic with a point-counterpoint series of quotes from Commissioner Jeff Phillips and Register of Deeds Jeff Thigpen.
Thigpen last year filed a mischievous lawsuit that sought to overturn North Carolina marriage law in order to pave the way for gay marriage. Now, he appears to be the spokesman for tax-and-spend local Democrats on budgetary matters. And he freely employs a common rhetorical ploy when he suggests that voters knew they were raising their own taxes when they passed the bonds four years ago. Of course, that is a wild stretch; but shamelessness is one of the requisite characteristics exhibited by this particular breed of politician.
We can attempt to recite all the instances of profligate spending over the years. But there is little point. Democratic gerrymandering over the last two decades has had a devastating impact on the well-being of our county. Repeated tax increases and massive local net job losses have been the legacy of this brand of leadership.
The big question mark at this point is what the new Republican majority will do to eradicate this deficit.
But I would argue that, for all practical purposes, we do not really have a Republican majority. Instead, we have a de facto Democratic majority because of one or more moderate Republicans who sit on the Board of County Commissioners.
Thus far, we have seen an underwhelming performance on the part of the new Republican “majority.” But it is early.
You can count on the Democratic commissioners to remain united in their efforts to prevent spending cuts. But if the past is any indication, Republicans will likely splinter. And that could result in yet another tax increase for county property owners– on top of the many other tax increases we have had locally over the last two decades.
How can we avoid this eventuality? Let’s count the ways:
1. Place a moratorium on new bond spending– immediately.
2. Resurrect all the spending reduction ideas generated by the C4GC summit that occurred during the spring of 2011.
3. Hire a county manager from private industry– and preferably from out of town– who will bring balance and a fiscally responsible approach. We need someone who is not tainted by the old corrupt machine politics.
4. Consider furloughs, lay-offs and reductions in work hours for county employees. Few of us would even notice the difference.
5. Eliminate set-aside programs.
6. Stop funding pet non-profits.
7. Differentiate needs from wants. Differentiate what is mandatory versus what is optional.
This deficit poses a major challenge for the new nominal Republican majority. They will either unite and tackle this challenge in a manner that avoids a tax increase; or they will drive many local conservative and Republican donors and volunteers back into the woodwork for another generation. The choice is theirs.
But here is an even better idea. They can find a way to cut taxes– in spite of the deficit. That might actually rally the troops instead of alienating them.
It will be interesting to watch how this drama unfolds.
Dr. Joe Guarino is a Guardian columnist.