Decisions made by the North Carolina General Assembly over the next two weeks will likely determine not only the political fate of its Republican majority but also how the core functions of state government will operate for years to come.
Some analysts have chosen not to wait to assess these matters. Liberal critics, biased media outlets, and Democrats desperate to reestablish their relevance have already declared the GOP-run legislature and McCrory administration to be failures despite the fact that most of the major issues of the session have yet to be decided.
Sorry, folks, but hysterical claims about Republican theocracy and voter suppression do not constitute a serious assessment. Whatever you think of the merits of parental-consent laws for abortion or IDs for voting, for example, both ideas are broadly popular among North Carolina voters. Enacting them won’t hurt Republicans in 2014.
Nor did “the Republicans” try to establish Christianity as the state religion, as has been foolishly alleged. Instead, a few misguided House members introduced a nonbinding resolution in defense of Rowan county commissioners who want to begin their meetings with explicitly Christian prayer. While perhaps well-intentioned, the resolution was imprudent and incorrect in its assertion of local policy over state and federal protections of religious liberty. Most members of the General Assembly, including most Republicans, disagreed with the resolution and it quickly disappeared from view.
By the way, shouldn’t all those newly discovered Democratic believers in local control have supported the resolution? It seems that localities are only to be trusted when they do things that liberals like, such as raising taxes, issuing debt, or forcing county residents into cities against their will.
As for the two major issues already resolved, unemployment insurance and Obamacare, the legislature’s actions were both wise and, in the end, unexceptional. Before the 2013 reform bill, North Carolina had relatively generous UI benefits. Now our UI costs are similar to that of our neighbors.
As for Medicaid expansion, the legislature’s rejection of the idea did not, as commonly claimed, deprive 500,000 North Carolinians of health care. In reality, about a third of this group will be eligible for the new federally subsidized insurance exchanges and most of the remaining individuals will continue to receive critical services through a combination of subsidized clinics, charity care by hospitals, and out-of-pocket spending. Although the problem of the uninsured still merits a better long-term solution, rejecting Medicaid expansion was the right decision for now. Again, contrary to popular myth, at least half the states have made or are likely to make the same decision about Medicaid expansion that North Carolina did — including the Republican-led states of Florida, Virginia, and Michigan, and possibly Ohio and Arizona.
Here are the major outstanding issues about which we will know much more about within the next couple of weeks. Their disposition will truly determine the effects of the 2013 legislative session on state politics and public policy:
• Since Gov. McCrory introduced his spending plan in March, state officials have discovered a larger-than-projected hole in the state Medicaid budget as well as some additional one-time revenue. Will the Senate and House fashion a budget that funds necessary services and rebuilds state government’s physical and financial capital while devoting some fiscal capacity to tax reform?
• The Senate’s tax reform, while praiseworthy in some respects, would increase the tax burden on some families of low-to-moderate incomes. Will the House and McCrory administration preserve the essence of the Senate approach — reducing North Carolina’s punitive tax rates on savings, investment, and job creation — while avoiding its disadvantages?
• The Senate and House have passed different versions of public-school reforms that would alter school assessment and teacher tenure. Can they produce a compromise bill and supplement it with broader school choice for families of low-to-moderate incomes whose needs aren’t being met by district-run schools?
If lawmakers can work these issues out, their session will be successful in practical and electoral terms — all the political noise to the contrary notwithstanding.
Hood is president of the John Locke Foundation.