February 17, 2011

Not "Business as Usual"

It is definitely not “business as usual” in Raleigh these days! Longtime observers of the General Assembly agree that the new majority has ‘hit the ground running’ at a pace not witnessed in recent years.

Our state has the highest tax burden in the Southeast, which has fueled the loss of jobs and a poor economy. It is reported that over 128,000 net jobs have been lost in our state since January 2009 alone. This reality and the necessity to address the inherited current budget crisis resulting from years of overspending are all related and are at the core of our efforts. However, the longer term situation is truly more alarming. Government spending has been growing at an unsustainable rate, and our state has fallen much deeper into debt. The estimated unfunded state debt obligations over the next 20 years cause the current dismal budget numbers to pale in comparison.

There are no “quick fixes”, but the new legislative majority has mapped out a bold ‘100 day agenda’ to begin to change the 'tax and spend' big government culture, and start the long process of changing North Carolina for the better. This newsletter simply hits some highlights of our very busy agenda to date.

This General Assembly is committed to making the tough spending priority choices necessary to balance our budget without raising taxes again. Billion dollar tax increases were enacted in 6 of the past 8 years, but more spending has still left a current budget deficit near $3 billion. The tax-and-spenders have admitted they knew this was coming, but to no avail. Some argue that our taxes are still relatively lower than some other societies. Apparently the job creators in our state are not impressed with that argument. It is reported that the state has lost over 128,000 jobs since January 2009 alone.

The Balanced Budget Act of 2011 is one attempt to begin to address the problem. It passed both the House and Senate. Many observers see this as relatively mild legislation to cut spending by a minor fraction of the needed reductions in the coming year. It represents the “low hanging fruit”, if you will. However, fierce opposition from the ‘old guard’ indicates their stance of “business as usual” in the face of this unprecedented economic crisis in our state. The needed reforms will not come easy.

I have co-sponsored several bills to help address these issues, including the aforementioned Balanced Budget Act and the Healthcare Protection Act. This bill enables North Carolina to join the majority of other states that have passed legislation designed to protect their citizens from the detrimental federal mandates. These mandates are already costing our state untold precious jobs, as new hiring is already being stifled. Some judges have already declared these mandates unconstitutional.

Another issue that has been in the forefront for many citizens is that of forced annexation. This has long been a grave concern of many, as our state’s archaic annexation laws are among the most ‘anti-citizen’ in the nation. I am a co-sponsor of the Moratorium on Forced Annexation, which would immediately stop this onerous practice while more permanent pro-citizen annexation laws can be enacted. We will also work for free and fair elections. To that end, I will co-sponsor a bill requiring photo identification to vote, as is done in many other states. I am also drafting other bills regarding fairer elections. It is a privilege to serve as Vice-Chairman of the Elections Committee among my appointments.

Education accounts for about 57% of the state budget. Many of us believe in prioritizing classroom education and local decision making, while cutting back on the expensive bureaucracy that has resulted in less input by parents, teachers, and local authorities. The decline in measurable achievement as system costs have skyrocketed speaks for itself. More parental choice and competition is essential to improve quality in education just as it does in everything else. To that end, our agenda includes eliminating the cap on charter schools to address the demand of families as about 20,000 students are currently on waiting lists. Another bill would extend modest tax credits to parents that choose private or home schools. This will have the practical effect of supporting parental choice while potentially saving the state billions of dollars in the next decade. Needless to say, those that support a government controlled monopoly in education have strongly opposed these efforts.

Many citizens are fed up with overreaching government that has grown too big in size, scope, and cost. We cannot overemphasize that the path of government spending is unsustainable. I remain committed to the work of reining in government back to its rightful role in our society. This will be a long, difficult process and many prevailing attitudes regarding entitlement and the “nanny state” will have to change. Our challenge is to transition back toward a more free-market oriented society where rights and responsibilities go together hand in hand. Most unfortunately, we now have a mind boggling government debt to address as well. It is an understatement to say this is easier said than done, and there is very fierce opposition. Please pray for those of us working to make strides toward fiscal responsibility and more citizen liberty during a very difficult time period in our state and nation.