July 25, 2012

Much Accomplished, Much More to Do

The 2011-12 session of the General Assembly has come to a close. The second year of the session (called the "short session") is traditionally the year when the budget passed in the "long session" is tweaked, and unfinished business from the first year is completed. This session was historic for multiple reasons. It was the first time in 140 years that Republicans had majorities in both the House and Senate. The challenges were exceedingly abundant, but there were significant accomplishments on behalf of the citizens of North Carolina.

The new leadership inherited a massive $3 billion deficit, the largest in state history and among the nation's largest in 2011. However, the Republicans (68 in the House, 31 in the Senate) were joined by five moderate House Democrats and balanced the state budget without repeating the tax increases of the past. In fact, taxes were reduced by eliminating the $ 1 billion "temporary tax" imposed by Gov. Perdue and legislative Democrats that they wanted to continue indefinitely. With more tax relief for businesses scheduled for 2012, it is believed these efforts will help restore our economy and create long-term jobs in our state. However, for significant improvements to occur, we need to elect a new President and a conservative Governor in 2012. The state legislature cannot by itself fix the problems with this economy.

With a liberal governor and a conservative legislature, North Carolina had deeply divided government in 2011-12. Yet, with the help of a few moderate Democrats, the legislature achieved some significant improvements as the state's finances were put on better footing… certainly a good step in the right direction. Budget reforms were incremental rather than dramatic, but the growth rate of state spending was curbed significantly.

In the area of education, reforms were implemented to strengthen student literacy, encourage effective teachers, and improve graduation rates. Last year, legislators were also able to remove the cap on charter schools in response to parents and students that want opportunity to make the best educational decisions for their families. Over 20,000 students had been on charter school waiting lists. However, a tax credit allowing businesses to provide scholarships to low-income children attending private schools did not garner approval. This program and others have been successful in other states where educational performance is on the rise. Many parents are pleading for such opportunities in our state, as we have been flooded with letters and emails. Some even testified recently to our House Education committee on which I serve. As our state considers tax reform and education reform next year, we should step up our efforts to ensure children with special needs and those from low-income families have better access to quality education opportunities under the new system.

The energy sector was also revived through actions at the General Assembly as bipartisan legislation was passed to create jobs and attract businesses to North Carolina. The new law, the Clean Energy and Economic Security Act, will hopefully begin to lower energy prices as alternative sources are found and ultimately generate more revenue and jobs for our state. After years of stagnation in this area, our state has finally taken the first step to create a commission to ensure that any such activities emphasize safety first, while potentially making our state a leader in the production of much needed domestic energy.

An extremely popular measure statewide was the effort to protect citizens' property rights by reforming our archaic anti-citizen annexation laws. Gone is forced annexation as we knew it. Going forward, a referendum vote will be required by the area’s registered voters before that area can be annexed by a municipality. Lawmakers also de-annexed several towns that were involuntarily annexed and these towns may not be re-annexed for the next 12 years.

While there were several successes, a big disappointment was that we were unable to bring true election reform to our state. Every Republican in the General Assembly passed HB 351, the Restore Confidence in Government Act, which would have implemented a free photo voter ID for all voters to ensure integrity in our elections and decrease voter fraud. However, Gov. Perdue vetoed the bill, and no Democrats would help override that veto. About 80% of our state favors this measure, which other states have passed and has been upheld by the Supreme Court. It is unfortunate that it is a partisan issue in Raleigh. It will happen next year if we elect Pat McCrory governor and maintain Republican majorities in the House and Senate.

The realm of health care was also positively affected, but more could have been done with bipartisan help. The legislature passed tort reform and medical malpractice reform that will have a positive effect on lowering health costs and maintaining high quality of care. But, the bad news of Obamacare continues to keeping businesses from hiring and is a specter that will hurt the quality of care while increasing costs. The legislature passed the Protect Healthcare Freedom Act, HB 2, but it was vetoed by Gov. Perdue with no Democratic help for an override. The Freedom Act would have provided some protection for North Carolinians from the intrusive individual mandate. The majority of states had passed such legislation. Now, it appears the 2012 presidential election will decide our fate on Obamacare. While there may be a few decent provisions within the 2700 pages of this sweeping government intrusion of health care, the vast majority of this law will help bankrupt our country and destroy the health care system.

In May, voters were given the choice on a Constitutional Marriage Amendment. North Carolina joined 30 other states by affirming the definition of marriage as one man and one woman. Despite the huge influx of money and distorted presentations by nationwide anti-marriage groups, a large 61% supermajority voted for marriage. This included a whopping 75% in our House District. Clearly, North Carolinians support the traditional values of marriage. Every age group, political party, gender and race voted for marriage… a measure opposed by Gov. Perdue, Democrat gubernatorial candidate Dalton, and at least 62 of the 71 Democrats in the legislature. It is clear that whether the issues are taxes and spending, annexation reform, voter ID, or even marriage, the Democratic leadership is way out of touch with the majority in North Carolina.

The legislature also reformed a law that allowed convicted murderers on death row to appeal their sentence using arbitrary statistics to attempt to prove racial bias. The law had been an effective moratorium of the death penalty, as anyone and everyone could make such a claim… it had nothing to do with their race. In order to prevent criminals from abusing the law, the legislature limited the statistical analysis to the county or prosecutorial district where the sentence was imposed as opposed to using statewide and irrelevant statistics.

In short, the new legislative leadership had a successful two-year beginning. Many good changes were accomplished, but only a step toward much that needs to be done. There are still several opportunities to bring government back within its original authority. No doubt after many decades of progressive liberal policies, runaway taxes, spending and debt, the fixes will not come overnight.