By John Peters
August 6, 2013
North Carolina’s recent General Assembly session has again made national news, this time being featured in Time Magazine for the sweeping, ultra-conservative changes the state is enacting.
While the Time article took more of a straight news and reporting approaching than did a recent New York Times editorial (which called the session’s actions a “demolition derby”), overall it painted the state in unflattering tones, which is, unfortunately, becoming all too common when the national media turns its attention to our state.
By now the major hot button issues are well known. The General Assembly has limited voter registration and essentially eliminated some folks from the voting process, has limited access to polls, made it difficult for young adults still in college to take part in the electoral process, cut state jobless benefits and interrupted access to federal jobless benefits for many state residents, reduced funding to programs for the poor, to pre-K programs, eliminated funding to programs that have proven to spur job growth in rural areas, and…well, we think most folks get the picture.
All of this has been going on while so-called tax reform lowered personal income taxes, primarily for those who are well-off, decreased corporate taxes, and shifted more of the tax burden to those poor who are seeing benefits and state aid cut.
That list, no doubt, to those on the right of the political spectrum would seem to be simply the laundry list of left-wing liberals, the same-old same-old.
We would agree, if that was all there was to this particular General Assembly. However, nearly as disturbing as the way it has seemingly wanted to wipe the poor and lower echelons of the middle class from existence, is the cavalier manner in which some of these legislators have treated individual voters and communities in the state.
Sen. Thom Goolsby, R-Wilmington, called Moral Monday protests Moron Mondays, and said those participating in the weekly events were clowns and carnival barkers, all putting on some sort of sideshow. Later he called those participating “angry, aged former hippies” from the “loony left.”
Other members of the GOP rallied around his descriptions and essentially backed his statements.
The General Assembly also damaged its credibility with moves to wrest control of local operations from cities and counties, as well as reneging on legally binding agreements a previous governor had made.
The state voted to take over the Asheville city water system and turn it into a metropolitan sewerage district, even though city residents there had paid to build and develop that system over the years. Imagine if the General Assembly decided to take over the Mount Airy water and sewer system and use it to expand into the rest of Surry County, even though city residents have by and large paid for the building and maintenance of this system.
The law, as written, will allow the state to do just that should it decide to — it is not limited to Asheville.
The General Assembly likewise voted to take over the Charlotte Douglas International Airport. The legislators took this action not because there were any problems with the operations of the airport, but precisely because it was running well and profitably, and the state decided it wanted to control its operations. Thankfully, a judge has blocked that move, at least for now, while the city and the state prepare to slug this one out in court.
Then the General Assembly decided to go back on an agreement former Gov. Bev Perdue made with Raleigh, in December 2012 leasing the grounds of the Dorothea Dix Hospital property to the city. Raleigh officials had planned to develop the property into a park, with attractions that might draw people from outside the area.
The present General Assembly decided it didn’t like the deal, so it broke the agreement.
This isn’t meant to bash the General Assembly repeatedly. Governing is hard work, and this General Assembly should be given credit for at least attempting meaningful tax reform (something state leaders have talked about for decades but never acted on). And virtually everyone agrees the state has been out of control with its spending over the past decade, or more, and this General Assembly acted to rein in spending. And, while this governor and assembly has been hammered for cutting public education spending, but in reality education spending in the new budget is higher than the previous year (though not enough to offset enrollment growth and other cost increases).
But the general disrespect and disdain shown toward state residents who dared disagree with the majority party, and the manner in which the legislators have felt anything in the state is theirs for the taking, definitely leaves a sour taste and calls into question whether any entity, and especially businesses looking for a place to expand, would want to deal with a governor and legislature that can’t be trusted.