The state will be watching Fletcher Tuesday as he unveils his budget to the 2004 session of the General Assembly. The new governor already has vowed that he will not raise taxes. He also has indicated in a recent interview he will propose in his budget a program of cuts to "prune" state government.
But some members of the legislature believe more fertilizer is needed, not more pruning. They favor at least a slight increase in taxes as necessary in order to plug the shortfall hole in the budget dike and keep local school districts on their reform path.
The Goodes were among a couple of dozen people interviewed at Wal-Mart about the state's budget situation in general and education in particular. They were asked if they could favor even a slight tax increase if that's what it would take to ensure education gets the money it needs.
The interviewees were split on the question with about half saying they would favor a slight increase and the other half saying they would oppose an increase. And even some of those who said they could support an increase said they would expect the governor and legislature first to tighten state government's own belt before imposing additional taxes on the public. Also, some said they could favor an increase only if the additional money were to go to education.
"I could go for a little increase in taxes," said Joe Goode. "Education is important to us because we have three kids (Amber, 9, Kelsey, 7 and Jaelyn, 5) all in school and we want them to get the best education possible.
"But if they do a tax increase, no matter how small, they also need to trim back on unnecessary expenses," he said.
Tina Goode agreed but offered another condition. "If the state really needs more tax money, I can be for a tax increase. But it has to go for education," she said.
Jason Gilpin, of Stanford, doesn't have a little crew of kids in school, but he agrees with the Goodes that education is the state's No. 1 priority and it should get additional tax revenue as long as government is attempting to "cut the fat and not the meat" of the budget for education.
"I can go for a slight increase in taxes for education," said Gilpin. "Schools are too important not have the money they need."
But while he agrees that schools are important, Scott Stephens of Danville believes the state should first "cut all the waste and excess" before even considering a tax increase of any kind, even if it is earmarked for education.
"If they (state government) first cut out all the unnecessary expenditures and prove that they have done that, then we might be able talk about tax increases," Stephens said. "But until then, I'm for leaving the taxes as is."
Marie Cloud of Danville agreed.
"The first thing the governor and the legislature should do is focus on cutting all the unnecessary expenditures," Cloud said. "We're taxed enough as it is."
Jeff Townsend offered an interesting perspective on the issue. He is a longtime state employee, with the Finance and Administration Cabinet, and derives his salary from taxes. But he lets people know that he also is a taxpayer and believes the state doesn't always spend wisely.
"Before I can even consider my taxes being raised, even if it is for education, the state needs to explain a few things," said Townsend.
"For one thing, why do cabinet secretaries get big raises when I was promised a little 5 percent raise and was told it would be cut in half?" he said. "For another thing, why do cabinet secretaries get their own state cars to drive and other perks? Those special things should be for the governor and lieutenant governor but not anybody else, even cabinet secretaries."
The legislative branch has some explaining to do as well, Townsend said.