The General Assembly violated its own rules more than 100 times when it passed the budget last week. At the eleventh hour, legislators added new pork projects that had not been debated on the floor, made major changes to budget provisions, and inserted new laws into the budget bill. While some of these provisions are unquestionably pork for legislators, other insertions may even be good public policy. But to create laws in such a haphazard manner – without formal review or public debate – is a violation of the public trust.
A North Carolina moratorium on the construction of new landfills expired on August 1, 2007. With the moratorium’s expiration, state legislators are now proposing the Solid Waste Management Act of 2007 (SB 1492), a bill that would not only deny counties the right to approve their own landfill construction projects, but also mandate additional landfill fees and a $2 per ton state tax on waste. Revenue from the legislation would go to recycling programs and cleaning up old and abandoned landfills. SB 1492 would also require counties to seek state-issued permits for new landfill construction – introducing yet another layer of waste management oversight in a regulatory area already supervised by counties.
HB 1517, the “Voter-Owned Elections Pilot” bill, was approved by a 53-51 margin today in its second reading on the House floor. The legislation is scheduled to come up for its third and final reading this Monday. While Civitas’ polling has shown that a majority of North Carolina voters oppose HB 1517, this bill is part of a larger agenda at both the state and national level. As laid out during the 2001 legislative session (cf. HB1410 and S1054), the ultimate plan is to phase in taxpayer-financed elections for all statewide races in North Carolina.
Revenue from the North Carolina Education Lottery has fallen short of initial estimates, with the inevitable result that the Legislature has had to provide public tax dollars to “backfill” pre-kindergarten and other programs that were to be financed with lottery revenue. For example, more than half ($37.5 million) of the proposed budgetary increase of $56 million for Governor Easley’s More-At-Four program is to make up for the difference between projected ($425 million) and actual Education Lottery revenue receipts ($350 million). In hopes of remedying this problem, the conference committee budget reportedly includes provisions to change how revenue from the North Carolina Education Lottery is to be distributed. The new formula, however, does not address the root causes of the shortfall and further removes operation of the lottery from public accountability. The new legislation would make the following changes:
As part of the “Medicaid Swap” plan the budget conference committee is reportedly considering, the General Assembly would give counties the authority, with voter approval, to triple the land transfer tax from 0.2 percent to 0.6 percent. Alternatively, counties would have the option of increasing their local sales tax rate by 1⁄4 cent. At the same time, legislative leaders hope to make the “temporary” sales tax increase of 1⁄4 cent permanent. The choice, then, would be between a tax increase on selling a home or a tax increase on consumer goods. Either way, North Carolina’s poorest citizens will suffer most.
Civitas Institute's 2007 DecisionMaker Poll results.
The General Assembly and the Governor have gleefully trumpeted the passage of “Jessica’s Law” (HB 933) in the final weeks of the legislative session. What they aren’t talking about – and don’t want anyone to know – is that what North Carolina now calls Jessica’s Law is a far cry from the original Florida law passed in memorial to nine-year-old Jessica Lunsford. Under this partial enactment of “Jessica’s Law,” an adult who takes advantage of a young child’s innocence to grope, fondle, and inappropriately touch them still gets a mere slap on the wrist.
Senate Bill 954, sponsored by Senator Daniel Clodfelter (D-Mecklenburg), proposes entangling North Carolina in an interstate compact that instructs the state’s presidential electors to vote for the candidate that wins a plurality of the national popular vote. This proposal has been introduced nationally, and to date only Maryland has joined the compact.1 Currently, our state’s presidential electors are assigned by unit rule to the candidate that garners a plurality of the vote in North Carolina. This procedure ensures the presidential candidate chosen by the most North Carolinians receives the state’s presidential electors, thus ensuring North Carolina’s choice for the presidency is represented. The interstate compact will result in the cessation of North Carolina’s right to participate in the election of the president through the Electoral College, and the majority of our state’s voters will have their influence undermined by the emergence of a metropolitan focus in presidential campaigns.
A coverage mandate is a legal requirement that dictates that all health insurance policies sold in North Carolina cover certain services, providers, and groups of people. Mandates are the result of laws passed by the General Assembly as a means of regulating the insurance market. Insurance buyers pay for coverage mandates through higher insurance premiums. While some mandates do not affect the price of insurance by very much, others are more costly. North Carolina has 46 mandates, which together have increased the price of health insurance an estimated 41 percent.
Civitas Institute's July 2007 DecisionMaker poll.
The first full glimpse of the N.C. House version of the 2007-2009 budget was released late Monday afternoon. What did it contain? More of the same: increased spending and higher taxes. In spite of an estimated budget surplus of $1.135 billion for the year, House leaders increased tax revenues by more than $300 million. Much of this new revenue will come from reinstating the so-called temporary tax increases that were passed in 2001. The “temporary” taxes were lowered last year with the promise that they would finally be allowed to expire on July 1, 2007. If the House budget passes, North Carolina taxpayers will again see what, in effect, has become a biennial tax increase that would keep the state sales tax rate at 4.25 percent and the upper-level income tax rate at 8 percent for another two years.
Civitas Institute's September 2007 DecisionMaker Poll
A coverage mandate is a legal requirement that dictates that all health insurance policies sold in North Carolina cover certain services, providers, and groups of people. Mandates are the result of laws passed by the General Assembly as a means of regulating the insurance market. Insurance buyers pay for coverage mandates through higher insurance premiums. While some mandates do not affect the price of insurance by very much, others are more costly. North Carolina has 46 mandates, which together have increased the price of health insurance an estimated 29 percent.
In terms of job creation, state government is growing much faster than the state’s private economy.
Education, jobs and good government are the values legislators claim have guided their work this past session and will guide their work after the next election. If we look more closely at what the Democrat majorities in the House and the Senate have actually done these past two years, it becomes clear that things are not what they seem.