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The honeymoon comes to an end

RALEIGH — Inevitably, all that lovey-doviness came to an end. It didn’t take long.

A few days ago, Gov. Beverly Perdue and Republican leaders in the North Carolina General Assembly were all smiles and platitudes. Both sides spoke of working together to plow through another year of financial woes.

But a Democratic governor and a Republican legislature don’t usually get along very well.

Just a week into the legislative session, they weren’t.

Republicans rolled out a plan to ease the budget pain facing the state in the next fiscal year by giving Perdue more authority to save money in the current fiscal year. She was fine with the preliminary talk, which involved holding back money from state agencies to the tune of $400 million.

Then those naughty Republicans went and tried to raid Perdue’s pots of money for incentives to lure new business and jobs to the state.

Trying to double the savings to $800 million, Republicans in the Senate proposed grabbing $8.2 million from a couple of incentive funds controlled by the governor and another $67.6 million from the state’s tobacco settlement proceeds that go to rural economic development.

“It won’t work, and, what’s more, our people won’t work if we can’t bring new companies and new industries to our state,” Perdue groused.

The Republicans’ comeback: The amounts under consideration would still leave money in each of the funds; balancing the budget using pots of unspent money is nothing new in tough budget times.

And they tossed out a dire prediction for Perdue and the Democrats: This is the easy part.

“This isn’t tough. You wait,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Brown, a Jacksonville Republican.

After all, they weren’t proposing that teaching jobs be eliminated. They weren’t slashing Medicaid spending and the accompanying health care dollars that ripple through communities.

That’s the point.

When it comes time for the hard decisions, ones that do lead to cuts in the state work force, the new Republican leadership wasn’t about to be accused of skipping over savings that caused no immediate or obvious pain to anyone. (OK, sure, some of the bureaucrats who oversee these programs might be suffering a bit of heartburn.)

The fact is that Democrats, when they controlled the legislature, had raided two of the three tobacco settlement funds on a few occasions to help balance the state budget.

Perdue’s stubbornness, though, is understandable.

She is staking her governorship to economic development and getting job growth in North Carolina moving again.

Even in the tough economic times, she has some success stories to dangle out there: 500 jobs and a $62 million investment in Halifax County by an Oregon food processing company, 392 jobs and a $426 million investment in Forsyth County by Caterpillar, keeping software company Red Hat in the Triangle as it plans to add 540 jobs.

Like them or not, incentives were involved in all those deals.

But this scrap between governor and legislature is just the beginning.

The game is on.

Scott Mooneyham writes about North Carolina politics for the Capitol Press Association.

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