By the time the current legislature had taken office in January, we had inherited the worst economic crisis in our state since the Great Depression, aside from our problems nationally. As state government spending had doubled in the past decade, we had the largest budget shortfall in state history even after huge billion-dollar tax increases in six of the past eight years.
The one-time federal “stimulus money” had been spent during the prior year to prop up the state budget for that year, rather than facing the difficult choices necessary to address a recurring, growing problem. Dedicated funds such as the state Rainy Day Fund and the Highway Trust Fund had been depleted to spend on other government expenses rather than cutting optional spending. The State Health Plan was insolvent with an actuarial shortfall exceeding $30 Billion.
The direction of the fiscal policy of our state simply had to change. Meanwhile as our state unemployment had risen to record levels, the nonpartisan Tax Foundation ranked our government policies among the worst ten business climates in the nation regarding taxes and regulations. Our state government needed to be more responsive and supportive for businesses to create jobs. More “borrow, tax and spend” was the problem, not the answer. We simply had to chart a better course for our state.
A report released this week by the nonpartisan North Carolina Free Enterprise Foundation says that the new majority kept their word and began a new direction that will help our state recover. The report says that the legislature was considerably more pro-jobs and business, and had successfully reversed the course of decline in this critical area over the past decade.
FROM THE REPORT… Representative Bert Jones (R-Rockingham) received a perfect score on the fourteen House Bills measured in the report. Every state legislator was evaluated based on their votes on these bills deemed most important to support businesses and jobs in our state. Over half the House members received favorable pro-business ratings (about 98% of Republicans and about 12% of Democrats), but only about ten percent of all members received a perfect (14 for 14) score. The foundation recognized Jones in their top category as a “consistent supporter” of these free enterprise positions.
Jones said he was honored to be recognized for his work on behalf of much-needed jobs in our state. “It was a team effort of people that were committed to making necessary changes to improve our state. There is still much work to do, but the new direction was needed and long overdue. More government, more taxes, more debt, and more spending are not the answer.”
The General Assembly passed new laws that limited huge subjective medical malpractice awards, established more balanced and fair workers' compensation rules, restricted how local governments could compete with private businesses, and pulled back the rule-making authority of environmental bureaucracies. Many of these laws were similar to those already in effect in other states whereby North Carolina had been at considerable competitive disadvantage. The recovery will not be immediate and there is much to be done on a national scale, but a better course has been charted in many areas for our state.
North Carolina lawmakers recognized that our businesses needed to be spurred on during an economic downturn, and that jobs and the economy are top concerns, said John Rustin, executive director of the nonpartisan foundation. "The legislature and the legislative leadership allowed significant business-related bills not only to come up for consideration but to be voted on," Rustin said. "The members of the legislature in large part understood the importance of those bills."
SOME FINAL COMMENTS… I am particularly pleased with the objective nature of the survey of votes on these important bills found in this nonpartisan report. This was not one of these rubber-stamp endorsements by some partisan group. The foundation is reporting on fourteen important bills that substantially improved the business climate in our state so that businesses can create and keep jobs… jobs our people desperately need. The nonprofit foundation has a bipartisan board of Republicans and Democrats, and its history shows it to be issue-oriented and nonpartisan.
I will continue to be in touch with and respond to the needs of our people. Most people just want an opportunity… a chance for a decent job. Our state government needs to encourage businesses and jobs, whereas too often government has been a jobs-killer in the past. There is still much to do, and we desperately need a new vision from Washington. But as long as I serve, I will work hand-in-hand together with our business community, including our locally owned small businesses that create the vast majority of jobs. Together we will work for the best, pro-business, pro-family state we can be.
Our next series of newsletters will highlight several of the important bills that were passed during the 2011 session… the “long session” of this biennium. The legislature is currently out of regular session until the “short session” which begins next May. In the meantime, we will only meet in Raleigh when our committees have meetings or when we are called for a special session, which may be just a day or two at a time as needed. Our legislative office remains open and my legislative assistant checks our messages, so do not hesitate to call (919-733-5779) if you need our assistance.
Take care and God bless, Bert