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Seeing the moves in NC’s budget battle

RALEIGH — A fellow political observer had a noteworthy comment: “It’s not as much fun when you can see the moves coming.”

Our discussion centered on the state budget, and the two of us agreed about the basics of the budget fight we’ll see play out over the next several months.

Gov. Beverly Perdue has already staked herself out on protecting teaching jobs and her business recruiting funds. Legislative Republicans have been sending signals for weeks that they’re prepared to cut teaching jobs, to raise public school class sizes.

Public education is where the money is. Roughly 50 percent of the state’s general operating budget goes for schools. With public pronouncements that they’ll cut and not tax their way out of the state’s financial problems, teaching jobs are bound to go.

Initial budget targets show legislative Republicans cutting $1.4 billion in education funding from what’s known as the “continuation budget,” the amount required to keep doing the same things you were doing last year.

The $10.48 billion in public education spending would be about $700 million less than Perdue proposed spending. It would also represent a real year-over-year cut of $224 million.

And there are more kids, inflation and far fewer federal stimulus dollars.

The figures for the next fiscal year are in flux. Republican legislative leaders, like Democrats before them, may push up those budget targets as their lieutenants work through the numbers and begin eyeballing specific cuts.

Still, last week North Carolinians got their first look at a scenario that may repeat itself when the new Republican majority eventually passes its budget plan.

Perdue vetoed a bill designed to generate $800 million in savings for this fiscal year so that it could be applied to the next fiscal year. She didn’t like Republicans raiding the industrial recruiting funds that she controls, arguing that the move would damage her ability to recruit jobs.

The Republican response: Take the veto and throw another bill back at her looking for the same amount of money but without designating the source.

In other words, no attempt to override her veto was coming.

In the Senate, Republicans have the votes needed to override a veto. In the House, they stand four votes short. Last week, they didn’t go shopping for Democrats.

When the real showdown comes, the real budget fight ensues, they may.

Then they’ll have a hammer to try to convince a few Democrats to join their side. It’s called legislative redistricting.

It’s that time again, when the 120 House districts and 50 Senate districts are redrawn. No legislator wants to be drawn out of his or her district. Trying to avoid that fate can lead to some funny, unforeseen political alliances.

How those final moves, that jostling over redistricting and another potential veto, play out is anyone’s guess. But with the way the board is laid out, it’s not too difficult to predict much of the game until then.

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

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