Some bad bills gone, some survive

May 17, 2013 

This session of the North Carolina General Assembly won’t remind anyone of Jimmy Stewart in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” Thus far, Republicans running the show have passed some downright mean bills cutting unemployment benefits (though the federal government would have paid for an extension), not allowing more working-class people to join Medicaid, the federal/state health insurance program for the poor – the feds would have covered that, too – and appear poised to punish the middle-class with so-called tax reform.

Even House Speaker Thom Tillis, who has visions of becoming a United States senator, has cautioned some of his more enthusiastic tea party friends to pull the reins some.

But so far, it’s been quite a show. This week, that moment known as the “crossover deadline,” wherein a bill must have passed one chamber to stay alive, came and went.

There are reasons to rejoice, and others to worry. Most of the good news has to do not with progressive legislation that advanced, but with bills that didn’t cross over. Among those that failed:

•  A silly attempt to repeal a common-sense requirement that motorcycle riders wear helmets.

• A move to allow lobbyists to again shower lawmakers with gifts.

•  A preposterous attempt to have the legislature overturn local bans on smoking in public.

Alas, there are some bad ideas still alive, from a bill that would allow concealed-carry gun permit-holders to take their weapons into bars and restaurants with liquor and onto college campuses to another to replace incumbents on various state board with Republicans to curbs on water-quality rules for Jordan Lake. And nixing the city of Raleigh’s contract to lease Dix Hospital property for a park is still in a bill on Jones Street.

Meantime, both chambers have tax reform plans that would reduce state revenue by $1 billion or more. And naturally, the tax burden on the middle class would grow while the wealthy would enjoy more relief. Sen. Phil Berger, Republican and president pro-tem of his chamber, even had a visit from Grover Norquist, the hard-right ideologue who wanted to endorse Berger’s radical tax reform plan, which he rolled out along with a “calculator” whereby people could figure out how much his tax plan would help them.

Turned out, if you were in the middle class or a person of lower income, the answer to the “how much will I save” question was “nothing” or “Holy cow, it’s more.”

Before members of the House and Senate engage in radical tax reform that could dramatically reduce state revenues and perhaps increase the tax burden on average people, they might consider a pause. A long pause. Such as one that would delay any such action until the even-year short session and given lawmakers who are at this point facing many more bills than they have time to really consider a chance to catch their breath.

Tax reform once done is hard to correct. Revenue lost is hard to regain. A delay of a few months will be no threat to the republic.

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