For the first time in over 100 years, the GOP controls the legislative and executive branches of North Carolinas state government. But the new leaders will be deemed successful only if the states unemployment rate continues to fall and betters the rates of neighboring states.
North Carolinas unemployment rate is now the 48th highest in that nation, including the District of Columbia. We are unlikely to catch up to Virginia, which is ranked 13th with an unemployment rate of 5.7 percent. However, Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee are all within reach
North Carolinas rate shrank from 9.5 percent to 8.9 percent between January and July of this year. Inasmuch as our neighbors saw similar reductions, North Carolinas Republican government has had no measurable effect, and it would be premature to judge what the longer term effect will be on the numbers.
Republicans expect that that the recently approved state budget and budgets to come will set the climate for economic recovery. Budgeted spending for the fiscal year will be $20.6 billion, a 2.5 percent increase over the previous year. The budget reduces projected spending and cuts personal and corporate tax rates.
If you look at a pie chart of the state budget, by far the largest piece is for public schools. While the Perdue administration cut spending for public schools between 2009 and 2011, the current budget actually increases school spending by $391 million to just below pre-recession levels. Most of us agree that our teachers should be paid more, and the government claims that it will address this issue as the economy recovers. (As a substitute teacher in Wake County, I have a personal stake in education funding. My last salary increase came two years ago and was $1 a day not a typo.)
The Affordable Care Act gave states the option of expanding Medicaid coverage with Washington picking up the tab for three years. When I read of this proposal, I could not help but think of drug pushers who will give free or cheap drugs to a user hoping to add one more addict to their customer base.
The state currently pays a third of the cost of Medicaid, and actual spending for each of the past three years has exceeded the budget by hundreds of millions of dollars. Those shortfalls have to be made up somewhere, and the state is right not to allow Washington to further dictate its spending priorities. It was in the states long-term best interest for the GOP to say no to Washington on Medicaid expansion.
The Voter ID law also has created a lot of controversy. After January 2016, voters will have to prove their identities with government-issued forms of identification. The law also provides a mechanism for voters without IDs to obtain one without cost.
I am not impressed with the argument that there are citizens who are too indolent to get IDs within the next two years and who may therefore be denied the right to vote. It is far more important that, whatever the outcome, elections are decided by citizens who went to the polls and demonstrated that they were lawful electors.
As happens with most new administrations, the Republicans in Raleigh tackled a number of difficult issues in McCrorys first year and likely expect to concentrate on the economy and job creation in the future. It will definitely take more time before we know whether the electorate got it right in the last election.
I can think of no surer sign that the GOP should stay the course, however, than the reaction of the NAACP in organizing the Moral Monday spectacles and the vitriol in the liberal media. That liberals have felt compelled to have hundreds of their own break the law and get arrested tells me that they are very concerned that Republicans are planning to govern on the platform that got them elected and that the time for change is now.
After 100 years, I say that its about time.
Contributing columnist Marc Landry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.