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.
Bert Jones, Independent-District 65
Via NC Assoc. County Commissioners
The budget proposal unveiled by Governor Beverly Perdue on Thursday would cause a major shift in how the state’s public education system is funded, with the state forcing more responsibilities to county governments to help balance the state budget, said NCACC Executive Director David F. Thompson.
Not only does the proposed budget shift responsibility to pay for replacement school buses ($56.9 million), it also takes the unprecedented step of forcing counties to assume the workers’ compensation costs for state-paid public school employees ($34.6 million) and community college employees ($1.7 million). The proposal also reduces state-funded positions in the local public school systems for administration, academic support and other non-instructional support areas, which will put additional pressure on counties to fund these positions.
“Counties have been assured by lawmakers that the state will not attempt to balance its budget by pushing down unfunded mandates and additional responsibilities to counties or by taking county revenues,” said Thompson. “The current budget proposal does both, and we will be working with the House and Senate to address our concerns.”
Statutorily, counties are supposed to receive 40 percent of lottery proceeds for school capital needs. The proposed budget uses most of the county share of lottery proceeds for state education expenses and eliminates the county share of the corporate income tax dedicated to the Public School Building Capital Fund. These moves add up to a loss for counties of almost $200 million per year in much-needed school construction funds.
Many counties rely on the lottery proceeds and corporate income tax revenues to pay existing debt service on recently built or renovated schools. Losing this revenue will cause a direct hole in county budgets that must be filled with other county revenues or additional cuts in services.
“We understand the state is facing a significant budget gap, but pushing down unfunded mandates to county taxpayers and taking county revenues is not the best solution,” said NCACC President Joe Bryan, a Wake County Commissioner. “It might ease the pressure on the state budget, but it will put undue strain on 100 county budgets and force many counties to consider property tax increases to make up for the lost revenue. Wake County could lose as much as $10 million in lottery revenues.”
Johnston County, one of the fastest-growing counties in the state, uses its lottery and ADM funds to help pay down more than $30 million of existing debt service for public schools each year. In 2009, the county received more than $5 million as its share of lottery funds. Under the current budget proposal, the NCACC estimates the county will receive less than $1 million for public school construction in 2011-12.
“We have had an aggressive building program in recent years to keep up with our rapidly growing population,” said Johnston County manager Rick Hester. “We are counting on those lottery funds that were promised to counties to help us pay our debt service. We lost almost half of what we had budgeted for this year when the state reduced the lottery appropriation, and this proposal could cost us $3.5 million next year.”
“We know that the state is faced with some difficult choices, and we hope the governor and General Assembly will take into consideration our concerns as they craft the final state budget,” said Thompson.
Raleigh – Gov. Beverly Perdue is breaking her promise to North Carolina’s taxpayers by proposing more than $1 billion in new taxes in the next two years.
Below is a statement from Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger (R-Rockingham):
“Instead of making tough choices to tighten the state’s belt, Gov. Perdue is balancing the budget on the backs of North Carolina taxpayers and local governments. She is breaking her promise to end the taxes she raised, she is underfunding our retirement system and she is saddling local governments with hundreds of millions in additional expenses. This is not how to get North Carolina back on track.”
Raleigh – Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) and Speaker of the House Thom Tillis (R-Mecklenburg) delivered the Republican response to Gov. Beverly Perdue’s State of the State address on Monday night. Below are Sen. Berger’s remarks as prepared:
“Good evening. We want to thank Governor Perdue for sharing her vision on the State of the State.
“There are new majorities and 43 new lawmakers in this General Assembly. We all look forward to partnering with the governor in the coming weeks.
“The state of our economy is grim. And North Carolina faces serious challenges.
“These demand our undivided attention – and Senate and House Republicans already have taken steps to get our state back on track.
“But instead of maintaining the status quo, and continuing the failed policies that got us in this mess, we’re working to usher in a new era of government responsibility and accountability.
“For far too long, decision-making in these halls has been driven by the belief that government has all the answers. Over the past decade, Democratic officials insisted government incentives and programs create jobs better than the private sector. They said government knows what’s best for our kids, government should provide your health care, and government can fix almost any problem.
“And though the policies championed by the governor and Democratic lawmakers may sound appealing, they have proven ineffective, irresponsible, and costly. The result – North Carolina has the highest taxes in the southeast, nearly 10 percent unemployment, and a record-high, multi-billion dollar deficit.
“Republicans have a better plan. While Democrats think government is the answer, we think it’s largely the problem.
“We heard the voters last November. Government must get out of the way if the private sector is to prosper. And government simply can’t continue spending beyond its means and expect a different result.
“Instead, House and Senate Republicans are passing legislation that empowers citizens to make their own decisions about health care, create their own wealth, control their own education, and pave their own way to a brighter future.
“To help foster an environment favorable to job-creation, we have taken steps to scrutinize outdated rules and regulations that unelected bureaucrats impose on our businesses. Those businesses need and deserve the freedom to innovate, and profit.
“To attract the best and brightest doctors and give citizens the ability to access quality health care, we have started crafting common-sense medical malpractice reform.
“To help you protect your property rights, we will pass a moratorium on forced annexations.
“To give parents more of a choice in their children’s public education, we will pass a bill to eliminate an arbitrary cap on public charter schools.
“Governor Perdue promised the tax hikes passed two years ago would be temporary. We will keep her promise, because the best economic stimulus we can provide is letting people and businesses keep more of their own money. Reducing these taxes will help us compete with surrounding states for much-needed new jobs.
“Finally, we have begun tackling next year’s budget gap by targeting hundreds of millions of dollars in savings — now. And we have given the governor the power she requested to make additional cuts that will carry over into next year. These savings help ease the pain ahead, while protecting the jobs of school teachers and state employees.
“We are making all of these efforts, because we understand what government should do – provide the basics, like roads, schools, and public safety. And we understand what government should not do – tread on your personal freedoms.
“Government should help foster a business climate that helps the private sector create jobs. But government cannot create jobs in the private sector.
“And though government should applaud innovation and prosperity, it can’t force it.
“Our plan right-sizes state government – it reduces its size and scope.
“To this end, we welcome the ideas of the governor, our colleagues across the aisle, and citizens. We want constructive suggestions on how to make government more responsible, and less intrusive. Leadership means providing real solutions, not just sitting back and saying ‘no’.
“Together, we can make government smaller, smarter and more efficient. We can pass policies consistent with the limited-government views held our country’s founders, and still held by you.
“We must restore North Carolina to its rightful place as the South’s leader in job creation, education, and quality of life.
“Thank you. God bless. Good night.”
John Hood takes the NC House Republican Caucus to task for holding closed door briefings with lobbyists from the video poker industry, among other things:
• Good idea: Talking to the press, and thus to the electorate, about legislative issues and personal business related to legislative issues.
• Bad idea: Ejecting the News & Observer’s Andy Curliss from last week’s caucus meeting, then giving him poorly reasoned responses to his legitimate questions and expecting the experienced reporter not to follow up with well-researched, hard-hitting articles.
Book Review by Charles Davenport Jr.
A few months ago, I experienced a “Chris Matthews moment” of my own. A giddy
Matthews, you’ll recall, informed a television audience during post-speech analysis
that Barack Obama’s remarks sent a chill up his leg. The source of my spine-tingling
sensation was not President Obama, but the Pledge of Allegiance, recited in unison and
with uncommon zeal in a unique forum: a public school. Not just any public school, mind
you, but a school which takes in newly-arrived immigrants from all over the world and
teaches them to speak English.
I arrived at the Newcomers School in Greensboro, North Carolina early in the day,
and as I waited in the main office for Principal Jake Henry, a couple of young girls
carried on a conversation in Spanish. Moments later, the younger of the two took to the
PA system and led the entire school in the Pledge of Allegiance—in English. Echoing
through the halls was the collective voice of the student body, flawlessly reciting the
flag salute that quickens the pulse of patriots. As a long-time champion of assimilation, I
reveled in the sound of newcomers speaking, in my native tongue, one of the most often-
repeated and patriotic sentences ever written. This was my Chris Matthews moment.
Of course, to many of us, the Pledge is inspirational in every setting. Like-minded
readers—those who do not shrink from public displays of affection for their country–will
thoroughly enjoy The Pledge: A History of the Pledge of Allegiance, by Jeffrey Owen
Jones and Peter Meyer. From this volume we learn surprising facts about the author of
the Pledge; about the forces that inspired the writing of a new salute; and of course, about
the many controversies the Pledge has spawned, from local school boards to the U.S.
The authors take us on a journey that begins in Boston, on a sweltering August evening
in 1892. Francis Bellamy, a writer for a wildly-popular periodical called the Youth’s
Companion, raced a deadline of the following morning, before which he was obligated to
pen a new salute. The Pledge was to be utilized at the Chicago World’s Fair in October,
as part of a national celebration of Columbus Day. Bellamy, a former clergyman and self-
proclaimed socialist, submitted the following, which was published in the Companion on
September 8: “I pledge allegiance to my flag and the republic for which it stands—one
nation indivisible—with liberty and justice for all.” (Bellamy would be haunted by the
fact that much of the writing contributed by Companion staff, including the Pledge, was
published without attribution to the writer: for several years, others claimed authorship of
Jones and Meyer have written a volume bursting at the seams with historical facts,
many of which, I suspect, are unknown to the average citizen. For several years, for
instance, recitation of the Pledge was accompanied by a Nazi-like, raised-arm salute
which became highly controversial in the 1940s. Readers will also discover that, prior to
Bellamy’s Pledge, there was another commonly used salute—a shorter tribute by Colonel
George Balch, a Civil War veteran and New York City teacher: “I give my heart and my
hand to my country—one country, one language, one flag.”
Conservative readers, however, should be forewarned that Jones and Meyer frequently
indulge in political asides—most of them irrelevant to the Pledge–which reveal their
liberal perspective. Here is their take, for example, on the addition of “under God” to the
Pledge in the 1950s: “Anticommunism had become a national obsession, and vestiges of
the paranoia stoked by Senator Joseph McCarthy still lingered.”
Liberals have assured us for decades that “McCarthyism” was nothing more than
a “witch hunt,” but if so, it was a very successful quest for witches: according to “Venona
project” documents released in 1995, approximately 349 Americans were actively
engaged in espionage in the 1950s. The Venona project began in 1943, when the Army’s
Signal Intelligence Service began intercepting and decoding messages between Moscow
and its agents inside the U.S. McCarthyism, then, was actually quite effective.
The authors also write that there is a “general phenomenon” of citizens who may or
may not recite the Pledge, “depending on [their] feelings about the political situation
at the moment.” This may be true among progressives and socialists, but conservatives
proudly recite the Pledge at every opportunity, regardless of the political situation.
Despite these unfortunate blemishes, The Pledge is an informative and entertaining
volume, one that I highly recommend.
The Pledge: A History of the Pledge of Allegiance
by Jeffrey Owen Jones and Peter Meyer
St. Martin’s Press/188 pages/$23.99
Charles Davenport Jr. is a freelance writer in Greensboro, NC. Contact him via e-mail:
Brock, a Davie County Republican, is one of the young legislators I have kept my eye on in the last several years. He comes from a family of public servants and appears to have a bright future as a state leader.