Queen: First GOP control has created a disastrous legacy
The 2013-14 legislative session has finally wrapped up, and it is one State Rep. Joe Sam Queen predicts will go down in history the most disastrous in the state’s history.
Queen, a Waynesville Democrat, was part of the first legislative session in more than 150 years where the Republican Party was solidly in control of the House, Senate and the Governor’s office. Predictably, many changes were made from what was done in the past — changes Queen and other Democrats see as short-sighted and just ill-conceived.
“The absolute dumbest thing is not expanding Medicaid,” Queen said. This decision, along with the refusal extend unemployment benefits, cost the state 70,000 jobs and prevented $3.5 billion from entering the state’s economy.
“Just to give you an idea of how big $3.5 billion is,” Queen said, “it’s the complete budget of higher education for a year — all 15 campuses of the university system and all 54 campuses of community college system. That’s how much money isn’t coming into our state.”
Queen quoted Mike Walden, the NC State University extension economist, who said a rule of thumb is that one primary and one secondary job is created for every $100,000 of investment.
Couple that stance with actual cuts to public education, Queen said, which cost another 12,000 jobs, not counting the hit taken at the university level where funding was reduced by 28 percent at Western Carolina University, and about 40 percent at UNC’s chapel Hill medical school.
Equally as tragic is the total lack of any strategy for job creation, Queen said. The economic development strategies previously in place were dismantled as funding was jerked from regional agencies such as AdvantageWest and the Rural Center, two agencies that had worked hand-in-hand with WNC officials.
Economic development activities are now centered in the N.C. Department of Commerce under the leadership of a very competent person, but one who has no funds to work with.
“He doesn’t have a program,” Queen said of the governor. “He just wants us to give him some money so he can make a deal with his cronies. There are no boards where it’s vetted in the community, no oversight. That’s a big reason it failed. He couldn’t even get his own party to go along with that.”
Queen was pleased that during the final hours of the legislative session, the House approved a bill to provide $12 million to bring natural gas into Haywood County and, in the process, help Evergreen Packaging comply with federal air quality regulations.
“That was the only economic development we had going on down there,” Queen said. “They were going to privatize commerce, and we haven’t seen a thing. That amounts to asking existing businesses to support expanding their competition.”
Queen was equally upset with the tax decisions made in Raleigh — ones being billed as the largest tax cut in the state’s history.
He talked the study shared at a recent forum at A-B Tech showing that more than 80 percent of North Carolina residents will pay more taxes as a result of changes in the tax structure.
“They will say they cut every tax rate, and they did,” Queen said, “but for the first time in history, there is a full 7 percent sales tax on electricity and Duke just got a 10-percent rate hike approved. There are over 7,000 corporations in the state, and the top 20 largest ones get a $1 million tax break each.”
North Carolina’s economy has grown steadily, and sometimes exponentially, through the years because of its outstanding higher education system and its competitive advantage in energy, he said.
“This is a pretty disastrous legacy. It is injustice, pure and simple,” he said. “This is the most regressive tax structure in the South. Fairness of our tax structure has been sacrificed on the altar of partisan politics. Poor and working families pay more and the rich pay less of their fair share. This started because that’s where their heads are at. It is really about giving privilege for the wealthy and paying for their tab.”