This week’s “Daily Journal” guest columnist is Becki Gray, John Locke Foundation Vice President for Outreach.
RALEIGH — It’s been an interesting year. In January, a new General Assembly, with a Republican majority for the first time since 1870, was sworn in. Lawmakers promptly got to work.
They met for 101 legislative days. There were 1,731 bills filed, and 428 became law. Gov. Bev Perdue vetoed a record 15 bills; the legislature overrode her six times. Five vetoed bills remain eligible for an override.
The Republicans promised to pass a budget without tax increases and do it by July 4. They faced an anemic economy, the loss of $1.6 billion in federal stimulus money, and another $1.3 billion loss in expiring taxes. In the face of these challenges and unrelenting accusations from the Left that they were crippling state government, the majority passed a $19.7 billion budget that reduced the size and scope of government.
Perdue vetoed their budget (hers spent 5.5 percent more), but with the help of five House Democrats, the General Assembly was able to override Perdue’s veto and set a new fiscal path for North Carolina — one adhering more to the core government functions outlined in the N.C. Constitution.
Small businesses were offered help by exempting the first $50,000 of business income from taxation and repealing a local land transfer tax. In May, a shortfall in the State Health Plan was addressed, and further changes will ensure that it remains viable.
Tort reform passed in June will limit business liability by placing limits on attorney fees and allowing actual medical bills to be submitted to a jury. Medical malpractice reform passed in July caps noneconomic damages at $500,000 and sets a higher standard of clear and convincing evidence before malpractice can be proved. Passed in June, workers’ comp reform ensures North Carolina’s business climate is competitive.
Property-rights advocates won a major victory with annexation reform that’s more than 50 years overdue. Residents now have a voice in whether to be annexed, pay city taxes, and accept services they may neither need nor want.
Thirty percent of our high school students do not graduate. Of those who graduate and go on to community colleges or universities, 60 percent have to take remedial courses. And yet if your child is caught in a failing school, you have no choice to get them out. This year brought changes that begin to look at education in a new way.
A law passed in June lifted the cap of 100 charter schools in North Carolina. At least 27 applications for new schools already have been submitted for consideration. Pending approval from the State Board of Education, we’ll have more choices in more communities for more families soon. Competition is a good thing.
Fifty-six percent of our state budget goes to education. That’s a lot of money without great results. This General Assembly made cuts to school administration while funding student enrollment growth fully, reduced the class size for younger students, and added five extra instructional days to the school calendar.
Government has gotten too big, too burdensome, and too duplicative. This year we’ve seen efforts at consolidation and reorganization. The Department of Environment and
Natural Resources was modified with some divisions transferred and several programs eliminated completely. Three agencies for law enforcement have been consolidated into one Department of Public Safety.
Government will become more accountable and more transparent, and will save taxpayers millions of dollars.
What could be better? How about getting government out of the way and restoring the limitations set forth in the Constitution?
In addition to 21 volumes of statutes, there are 23,940 rules under the North Carolina Administrative Code. That’s a lot of rules and regulations. A comprehensive regulatory reform bill was introduced eliminating unnecessary permit rules, mandating that no state environmental rule can be stricter than its federal counterpart and requiring a cost-benefit analysis on all proposed new rules. The bill passed, the governor vetoed it, and the General Assembly overrode her veto.
In July, congressional and legislative maps were redrawn based on 2010 census data to ensure the constitutional principle of one man, one vote. The U.S. Department of Justice has given its OK. Barring successful lawsuits filed by disgruntled Democrats, most likely we’ll call them the maps for North Carolina for the next 10 years.
A balanced budget without tax increases; help for businesses; property rights protection; family-oriented, student-focused education; government consolidation and accountability; regulatory reform; and redistricting.
Not bad for the Republicans’ first year. Wonder what’s next?