It was more than a little odd.
The Democratic Leader of the State House called a press conference and got up and announced he’d discovered a Republican ‘Secret Society’ at work in the State Legislature – which had a ‘secret’ plan to cut state employees fringe benefits.
Now a lot goes down at the backrooms of the General Assembly – bills get changed, budgets get bartered, and deals get made. But Democratic Leader Larry Hall must have been reading too many spy novels: Because he’s giving Republicans too much credit. What goes on in the legislature is more like organized chaos than a well-oiled conspiracy.
Secret Societies aside I, for one, am glad Hall brought up the state employees fringe benefits. It’s time someone did. Because it’s one of the most cynical political games ever played in Raleigh.
It worked like this (under Democratic legislatures) for years: Politicians tell state workers, We’re sorry but we can’t pay you as much as you want this year – but we can offer you wonderful fringe benefits like exorbitant pensions and free health insurance for life.
For the politicians, that gambit worked like a charm: 1) They gained the votes of state employees; 2) then paid for their promises with I.O.U.’s instead of cash; 3) which meant they didn’t have to raise taxes and lose the votes of taxpayers.
But, now, the chickens have come home to roost – the politicians can’t sweep the problem under the rug anymore, because the pile of IOUs is bigger than the rug.
Earlier this summer, the legislature’s non-partisan Program Evaluation Division reported unfunded retiree healthcare benefits add up to a debt owed by the state of $25.5 billion.
Let’s put that in perspective: $25.5 billion is billions larger than the whole state budget.
It’s twelve times bigger than the $2 billion or so bond legislators propose to put on the ballot for voters to approve next year and, when it comes to this $25.5 billion, there was no vote of the people to approve one penny of the debt.
Even scarier, the PED reported the debt (for this unfunded liability) is growing like kudzu – by $2.5 billion each year.
The politicians in Raleigh have flummoxed state employees with promises of grand pensions and lifetimes of free health insurance – and flummoxed taxpayers by not setting aside the money to pay for their promises. And Larry Hall knows all that. Because, as I said, most of the promises were made by past Democratic legislatures.
Despite the Democrat’s tremors, there are no secret societies in the legislature. But there is a secret problem: A $25.5 billion debt. And I’d like to hear how Representative Hall proposes to pay those bills.