Through the lens of this fiscally conservative, socially progressive Independent voter, as low as the Republican led US Congress has been ranked, there is a legislative body that dwarfs them in terms of poor legislative activity. While the US Congress has been favored less than a ”colonoscopy” per Senator John McCain, the Republican led General Assembly of the State of North Carolina truly takes the cake. The key difference is both chambers of the General Assembly plus the Governor are all Republican, so my fellow citizens get to witness up close what happens when you have an unfettered body passing legislation that is not only contrary economically to what is needed, but stomps on opportunity and rights of others who are disenfranchised.
As a 54 year-old former Republican, I have never been so embarrassed and disappointed by a governing body of people. But, don’t take my word for it. They have been ranked low in formal polls with approval ratings beneath 40%. In an informal poll by the online Business Journal magazine, which tends to be a more conservative cross-section of people, the General Assembly has been given a D or F grade 55% of the time. Also, the Moral Monday crowds which have been protesting every Monday since the first of May, have grown in number and the arrests have increased to close to a 1,000 people. There would have likely been more, but the authorities are weary from arresting ministers, professors, teachers, doctors of all races and ethnicities. The national attention that the Moral Monday protestors have been given at the expense of this legislature is appropriate.
The legislature is following the GOP playbook that is being used by many GOP led states. Our Governor, who initially said the Moral Monday protestors were predominantly from out-of-state (a random survey said 97% were from in state), has had no qualms about having Grover Norquist, the de facto leader of the GOP, fly in to NC on numerous occasions. Note, he was not boarding a plane from a NC city to fly here. Yet, the citizens in this state apparently do not matter in this lobbyist-fueled legislature, which is prima facie evidence of what can happen with unfettered access to decision-making. Well, what have some of those decisions been?
- Significant reduction to unemployment benefits – NC is the only state to reduce long term unemployment benefits so much that they lost Federal long term unemployment benefit funding. This was done in addition to cutting regular benefits by 1/3. Cuts were needed, but this was well beyond the call of duty and will harm people, as well as the economy with $780 million flowing out of the economy the rest of this year alone.
- Not expanding Medicaid benefits under Obamacare – I have written several posts on this failure to act. This will harm 500,000 people and forego bringing billions of dollar to the state that would help the healthcare economy where rural hospitals are suffering as they chase dollars to pay for services. The Rand institute is the latest group to say expanding Medicaid should be a no brainer for a state.
- Reducing funding for education – Teacher pay in NC ranks 46th in the country. So, the solution was to provide very little for raises, cut teacher assistants, cut tenure, cut extra pay for Masters’ degrees and install a voucher program for going to private schools. NC is attractive to industry because of its innovation and education. We have just fallen from 4th most attractive in 2012 to 12th best in 2013. By my math, that is not progress.
- Reducing taxes that benefit the wealthiest – Estate tax is gone, plus the upper end will enjoy the largest of tax cuts. This is called a job creating law, yet trickle down economics has been shown by numerous studies to fail in creating jobs, the most recent of which was by the Congressional Research Office last fall that was buried by Senator McConnell before the election. A recent informal poll by the Business Journal shows its more conservative readers judge this tax change as a positive by only 44% to a negative view of 43%, the rest undecided. Note, this is a tax cut, mind you these readers are not supporting overwhelmingly.
- Funding for environmental protection continues to get cut and oversight committees either disbanded or replaced by business friendly members. The NC Biofuels group that I touted only a few weeks ago for creating a new source of ethanol with reed grasses, will have to shut its doors. We are investigating ways to allow fracking and it took a lot of effort that showed even conservative legislators to not derail an admired law put in place in 2007 to require utilities to provide 15% of their power by alternative energy (or be responsible for the perpetuation if in another state) by 2021. This repeal effort was fortunately defeated by some saner heads.
- The General Assembly has just passed a restrictive abortion rights bill that copy cats other states’ laws like that which was signed in Texas after the famous filibuster. They are about to pass concealed gun laws which will allow guns in restaurants and bars with a permit and alow them on college campuses, if locked in a car. Plus, some of the licensing is being changed over the objection of law enforcement, which is a group you would not typically want to ignore on crime issues. And, they are about to pass a Voter ID law which will reduce early voting, making it harder for college students to vote, eliminate same day registration and require photo IDs. As I have noted, the problem in our country is not enough people voting, not voter fraud, yet this law’s unstated purpose is to make it harder for people to vote and impact typically non-Republican voters more.
- If that were not enough, the state legislature initiated a spitting contest with the City of Charlotte over a city run airport that has been well run by the state’s own admission. Back in February, the legislature proposed a bill to yank control from the City and place it with a regional authority. This was without previous discussion with the City. Whether this is a good idea or not, it was extremely poor form to pose this without detailed conversation with stakeholders before unleashing the news. As of this writing the City of Charlotte has an injunction against the state to cease and desist. Note, this is after the state started down the path of yanking the control over water and sewage resources from the City of Asheville. I believe this is being decided in the courts as well.
My friend Amaya who blogs on www.thebrabblerabble,wordpress.com from another part of our state has written several similar posts. We both are pulling our hair out over this sad group of people. The litany of changes that will harm people, harm the economy, harm the environment, increase gun deaths and make it easier to win elections just boggles the mind. The last point about the airport and water fights with two of its cities show lack of good faith negotiation. These may be the right courses of action to take, but the process to get there showed that the General Assembly has not been very trustworthy. Maybe that is the best way to leave this. They have breached our trust on almost every front. They have been more concerned with the business interests of wealthy donors than its own citizens. The unfortunate part is with the gerrymandered districts from last year, we are likely stuck with this untrustworthy lot. And, that leaves the NC citizens with being sad for this body’s actions.