What's The Truth in The Charlotte Observer?

According to The Charlotte Observer, the state's budget forecast has gone from optimistic and rosy to absolutely desperate in the space of eleven days.

First let me give you the good news as we once knew it. That version was reported on December 26th in an article by J. Andrew Curliss entitled "N.C. Tax Income Exceeding Plan, Commitments Loom: Easley purposefully used conservative collection figure"...

Nearing the halfway point of the state's budget year, it appears the government will bring in more money from taxes and fees than it had planned....

Receipts in the state's general fund budget were $130 million to $160 million ahead of the forecast over the first five months of the fiscal year, when about $7.1 billion was due to be collected, according to a legislative research budget report.

Curliss goes on to offer one tiny bit of caution when he reports that Rep. Jim Crawford, one of the legislature's chief budget writers, says that while the news that collections are ahead of pace is promising, there are no signs that the income will cover all of the predicted deficit.

Never-the-less, every legislator knows that it's far too early to tell because no final accounting has been made of the bulge in sales tax revenue that always occurs with the holiday season.

From there to the conclusion of the article is an upbeat discussion of the state's fiscal prospects. While new spending will be modest, Governor Easley is proposing a new earned income tax credit for the working poor that would cost between $70mm to $140mm a year. By all accounts, this proposal is being warmly received and chances for passage appear promising.

The only real tax question facing Raleigh this legislative session will be whether or not to extend the temporary one-quarter percent sales tax which, if allowed to lapse, "would return between $240mm and $260mm to the taxpayers." It is a foregone conclusion that the income tax surcharge levied on the state's richest citizens will be allowed to expire without a second thought.

OK, now let's move to January 6th and an article by Mark Johnson that is headlined, "N.C. Braces for Budget Shortfall: $500M shortage possible; Easley disputes likelihood." Suddenly the sky is falling and the state is smack dab in the middle of a budgetary "dilemma."

According to Mr. Johnson's report...

The size of the gap between revenues and planned spending -- what legislators call a shortfall -- is unclear. Legislative leaders are talking about a potential $500 million shortage, and the liberal-leaning N.C. Budget & Tax Center earlier projected as much as $1 billion.

Wow! Suddenly even those notoriously spendthrift "liberals" are sounding the alarm, and Geez Louise! They've been forecasting a $1 billion dollar shortfall!

Johnson quotes Sen. Tom Apodoca, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, as warning that the Democratically controlled legislature is engaging in the same practice that created the financial crisis at the beginning of the decade.

Now we've moved right past dilemma, and it's fast becoming a full fledged "financial crisis." (Do you smell the smoke? Are those sirens I hear?)

Even our good friend Rep. Crawford who once reassured us about the promising pace of revenue collections seems to have lost all hope. According to Mr. Johnson's article, "Crawford and other General Assembly leaders predict that inflation and population growth will push spending about $500 million beyond any growth in tax revenue."

I probably don't need to mention that no where in Mr. Johnson's article is any mention of the governor's day dream; that tax credit for the working poor. Who would be so foolish to point out that embarrassing little detail when it's so obvious that our state government is suddenly insolvent.

After reading those two articles I'm left to wonder, as I'm sure every reader of The Charlotte Observer must wonder, have things really changed all that rapidly? Or have we been offered two articles, purported to be straight news, not opinion, not analysis, that are so wildly divergent that they don't even resemble each other.

With this huge disparity in treatment how is the reader supposed to know where the facts leave off and the interpretation begins? Is The Charlotte Observer making a good faith effort to provide the facts in a balanced way so that the rest of us can be confident we're well informed? Or is being a reporter for The Observer simply a license to provide spin and opinion masquerading as the truth?


Andy Curliss is an N&O reporter - not Charlotte Observer

Mark Johnson is a Charlotte Observer reporter.

Andy Curliss is also the guy who does the more gossipy stuff in Under the Dome. I wouldn't read/trust anything serious by him anyway. BlueNC had a go at him months ago. Use the little Google search bar and you can find his history with BlueNC.

Robin Hayes lied. Nobody died, but thousands of folks lost their jobs.

Vote Democratic! The ass you save may be your own.

Read both of them side by side

Johnson's piece is thorough and well-written. The problem is with the framing of Andy's piece. He actually says some of the same things that Johnson does, the N&O editors/title writers just decided to give the piece a title it probably shouldn't have been given based on the content of the rest of the article. Of course, that makes me immediately suspicious since I don't trust the N&O.

What you snipped out of your first quote from the Curliss piece is this:

But it doesn't mean budget writers will have smooth sailing as they assemble the state's next spending plan, due to be adopted before July 1.

That's because spending commitments already made for the coming fiscal year will likely outstrip even the extra income. A shortfall will have to be made up with taxes or cuts.

Johnson's piece might have a gloomier outlook, but when read side-by-side the guts of the two articles pretty much say the same thing. Revenues will not be enough to cover spending next year.

The real problem comes with the two papers sharing articles. There is a very, valid complaint. I like The Charlotte Observer far more than the N&O. The reporters are more professional for the most part and most of their work is thorough and objective. Most, not all.

If the N&O had opened with "Despite early reports of higher than expected revenues, budget writers face a shortfall," it would have suited the rest of their piece better. It's unfortunate. It's almost like they're trying to set something or someone up.

Vote Democratic! The ass you save may be your own.

You say tomato...

I would say that your comment that "Johnson's piece might have a gloomier outlook," would qualify as the biggest understatement since a Southern diarist described the Civil War as "our recent unpleasantness."

However, I will take your point that many of the same facts are at the heart of each article. The real point here is not the few facts that underlie each of the two pieces, which in both cases are overwhelmed by a surplus of speculation, and a complete absence of tax data regarding the forth quarter. No, what separates these two articles is that three quarters of their content that is all interpretation based on who to quote and what to emphasize.

I don't think that the typical reader could peruse each of these two articles and walk away with a sense that they were making a similar characterization of the state's budget position.

I'm 56 years old. I moved to North Carolina five years ago. The previous twenty-five years I spent as a resident of Chicago's north shore and before that Wisconsin, Utah and California. I live in Moore County. My Congressman is Howard Coble, my State Sen

What I didn't say was I

fell into a deep depression after reading the piece. OK....just kidding.

I really think your "Gotcha" line of journalism might describe what is going on here. Let's watch and see if Andy Curliss comes out with some dramatic story describing the massive shortfall in a month or two. First he makes the picture look rosier than it is then........

I don't usually find too much wrong with Mark Johnson's pieces, but for some reason this comparison jolted something in my memory and I've been looking for much of the morning for what it is. I think he must have written something I thought was off-base, but didn't write about. I can't stand it when this happens.

Vote Democratic! The ass you save may be your own.

By the way, let's watch Apodaca

He'll be grandstanding more and more as he tries to position himself as Charles Taylor's natural successor.
“All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players.”
So enjoy the Drama.

Man, DQ

Can't you keep those WNC Republicans in line!

Robin Hayes lied. Nobody died, but thousands of folks lost their jobs.

Vote Democratic! The ass you save may be your own.

It's the McClatchy model

Shrink the staff. Reduce editorial oversight. Confuse and obfuscate. Stand for nothing. Watch circulations dry up. Shrink the staff some more. Bring in Babs. Huff and puff. Go for broke. Become a laughingstock. Become irrelevant.

Complaints keep coming in to the Observer

about N&O stories appearing in the paper. People here don't like the N&O's style. The Observer has been a better paper for a while....not perfect, but better. Sad to see it going down hill so quickly.

I still say we need to find a way to keep track of the stories to document their patterns.

Robin Hayes lied. Nobody died, but thousands of folks lost their jobs.

Vote Democratic! The ass you save may be your own.