Ten things we’ve learned on Jones Street in ten days

By Chris Fitzsimon | Jun 14, 2013

The last 10 days at the General Assembly have been some of the busiest of the session, with debates on the House budget, taxes, schools voucher schemes, gun laws, and more. The dizzying pace has made things almost impossible to follow for legislative insiders, much less the folks across the state who lawmakers are supposed to represent.

Here then is a list of ten things we have learned from legislative leaders during this frenzied ten days at the General Assembly. There are many more but this, sadly, is a representative sample.

1) The House majority, like their Senate counterparts, believes that we currently spend too much money on education at all levels, including public schools—even after the devastating cuts of the last four years. The state currently ranks 48th in both per pupil spending and teacher pay but the House and Senate budgets make more cuts to education funding.

Apparently 48th is not low enough for the folks currently in charge on Jones Street.

2) Senate leaders seemed determined to send hundreds of millions of dollars of state revenue to out-of-state and multinational corporations and their shareholders. The latest Senate tax plan would eventually abolish the corporate income tax, supposedly to create jobs in North Carolina.

But the N.C. Budget & Tax Center reports that 90 percent of the tax cut will go to shareholders of large out-of-state companies that pay the vast majority of the state corporate income tax. Corporations will put only 10 percent of the tax cut they receive back into the state.

The BTC also reports that state and local taxes are generally only two percent or less of business costs and that states with the highest corporate income taxes are actually performing better than the states with the lowest income taxes on business. Senate leaders were not about to let those pesky facts get in their way of their ideology.

3) Legislative leaders don’t seem to be too worried about what Governor Pat McCrory thinks of their tax plans. McCrory has said repeatedly that he wants any tax reform changes to be revenue neutral so they wouldn’t force more cuts to education and human service programs.

The House plan would cost the state more than $500 million a year and the latest Senate version would cost more than $1 billion a year when fully implemented. The plans are a lot of things—regressive, ill-advised, and poorly designed— but they are not anywhere near revenue neutral. Wonder what McCrory will do about it?

4) Governor McCrory and some legislators can’t seem to decide what they think of outsiders. McCrory and Senate Majority Leader Harry Brown alleged that the demonstrators filling the legislative halls during the Moral Monday protests were “outside agitators.”

But WRAL-TV reported that 98 percent of the people arrested during the protests were from North Carolina.

Outsiders did have a major impact on important state policy this week, one outsider anyway. The key “expert” supporting the latest tax cut plan from the Senate leadership was Scott Drenkard, a recent college graduate and Koch Brothers fellow now working as an economist at the right-wing Tax Foundation in Washington.

Drenkard, who was escorted around the Legislative Building by folks from the tea party group Americans for Prosperity, testified before the Senate Finance Committee in favor of the plan that would cost the state more than $4 billion over the next few years.

Committee members also heard from four long-time North Carolina PhD economists, who were much more cautious about the plan. But the radical and misinformed views of the outsider carried the day.

5) Legislative leaders are not too concerned about the 70,000 long-term unemployed workers who will lose their federal emergency unemployment benefits July 1 unless the General Assembly acts.

Senate leaders refused to allow a vote on an amendment to another bill on the Senate floor that would delay the effective date of changes to state unemployment law until January 1 and allow the long-term unemployed to receive their emergency federal benefits for another six months while they look for a job.

6) The legislative majority does not seem to care about the compelling evidence of racial bias in the state’s capital punishment system, giving final approval this week to a bill that would repeal the Racial Justice Act that provides safeguards against race playing a role in someone being sentenced to death.

7) House and Senate leaders would rather allow wealthy special interests decide who sits on the state’s appellate courts rather than the people of North Carolina. Both the House and Senate budgets abolish the state’s judicial public financing program that is supported by Republican and Democratic judges and the majority of the state’s voters.

That means that judicial candidates will have to rely on wealthy individual donors and outside special interest money to run their campaigns. The Institute for Southern Studies reports that a last-minute effort by a Republican member of the House to save the program was stopped by none other than State Budget Director and Republican mega-funder Art Pope himself, who appeared at the Legislative Building to squash the attempt.

8) The folks running the Senate want to make easier for people to buy handguns without any background checks and to carry hidden and loaded handguns into bars and restaurants and on college campuses and local greenways, even if city officials would rather ban them.

More guns for more people in more places seems to be the mantra, and no worry about who is actually buying them or bringing them to a restaurant booth near you and your children.

9) The Republican majority is determined to thwart the will of the voters in Wake County in school board elections. The Senate voted this week to give final approval to legislation that would changes the district boundaries of the board members, just two years after they were redrawn by a prominent Republican law firm after the 2010 census.

But Democrats recaptured a majority in the board in the 2011 elections and Republicans simply can’t stand for that.

10) House leaders think it’s a good idea for taxpayer money to go to almost completely unaccountable private schools and religious academies, regardless of what they teach their students.

The school voucher scheme included in the House budget makes any school that has been accredited by any agency eligible for participation on the program. That means the “Acme Accreditation Agency” would do and means that there is zero accountability in how state tax dollars are spent.

Similar voucher schemes in other states have diverted public money to schools that teach students that dinosaurs once roamed the earth with humans.

11) (Bonus item) And we learned that Governor McCrory likes to play catch during his workday, even if people he represents are waiting to see him.

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