Amid 'blackmail,' 'extortion,' finally progress from NC lawmakers

08/21/2014 4:53 PM

08/22/2014 4:43 AM

The following editorial appeared in the Greensboro News & Record:

Fifty-four state representatives said no to lousy lawmaking Tuesday, taking a stand that ought to please voters of both parties. Twenty-eight of the 54 are Republicans, including John Blust and Jon Hardister of Greensboro; 26 are Democrats, including Greensboro’s Alma Adams and Pricey Harrison.

The bill they voted down in the House, 54-47, covered two unrelated issues and was linked to a third. It created a bitter pill too big to swallow.

Yet it was supported by Gov. Pat McCrory, Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate leader Phil Berger.

House Bill 1224, 21 pages long, contained provisions from the Senate allowing counties to raise local sales-tax rates to help pay for schools, transportation or other needs, but also setting a 2.5-cent cap that would restrict counties at the same time. The measure was strongly opposed by leaders from Wake and Mecklenburg counties.

The bill also included a package of economic incentives sought by the administration, including what was referred to as a “closing fund” – essentially cash grants that could be awarded by the secretary of commerce to companies agreeing to invest and create jobs in the state.

This clashed with some Republicans’ principles. In fact, Republicans blocked the practice during the last two years of Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue’s administration, which might have led a tire manufacturer to choose a South Carolina location.

What also jarred many House Republicans was a strong-arm tactic attempted by the Senate. Senators last week approved a measure, sought by legislators of both parties, allowing local school districts more flexibility to fund teacher assistant positions. But the Senate added a caveat: “This act becomes effective only if House Bill 1224 becomes law.”

In other words, if you want to pass the bill you like, you also have to pass the bill we like but you don’t.

The words “blackmail” and “extortion” were used during floor debate in the House.

Blust had already decried the effort to “force a link through maneuvering between unrelated things.” He voiced this complaint often when Democrats ran the legislature and used similar tricks to get their way; he is ethically consistent to call out Republican leaders for doing the same thing.

Frustrations mounted in the General Assembly as legislators were kept in session to wrestle with business that either should have been completed weeks ago or ought to have been dropped. Their leaders failed them and the people of the state.

School funding was left in a confusing tangle. There’s been too much meddling into matters that should be left to local governments, or the courts, or the executive branch. And rifts between the Senate and House boiled over into the House, where many Republicans were apparently no longer willing to stay in their prescribed ranks every time their leaders bid them.

Republicans have held legislative power for less than four years, so it’s understandable they want to change the state’s direction as dramatically as they can. But they’ve tried to do too much and too often try to pass poor legislation. Now some are willing to say no to crummy lawmaking. It took them long enough.

MCT Information Services

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