The following article was written by Michael Jacobs and first appeared in the Raleigh News & Observer on October 17, 2015:
Regarding the NC legislative session, what we didn’t read
Thank goodness, the 2015 legislative session has finally ended and the members of North Carolina’s General Assembly have vacated the capital and returned home. If you read your local paper, you know that it cost us taxpayers $50,000 for every extra day the legislature was in session. For each man, woman and child in North Carolina that equates to half a penny a day. Seriously. And that was worth all the ink?
What you didn’t read was how much our elected officials lost in income from their primary careers during the extended session. I don’t know a single legislator whose preference was to spend more nights in Raleigh away from their families and income-producing careers. We don’t know what our lawmakers earn in their principal jobs, but if you assume the average full-time annual equivalent is $90,000, then it personally cost them 72,000 times what it cost each of us for an extra day in session.
Surely you read about the new taxes on repair and maintenance services performed on items that are taxable. But how many local media consumers could correctly answer a trivia question about the number of spots North Carolina has climbed in the nonpartisan Tax Foundation’s state rankings since 2012? Ranked 44th among the 50 states in the favorability of its tax code under the prior administration, North Carolina has leaped to No. 16 under its new leadership. Has any state ever climbed so far so fast? You would assume this is an every-day occurrence given how little media attention it garnered.
Stellar pension performance
As a board member of the $90 billion Teachers and State Employees’ pension fund, I am keenly aware that North Carolina’s pension obligations are 96 percent funded, third-highest in the nation. The national average is 71 percent. Some blue states such as Illinois and Connecticut have less than half the funds set aside that are needed to make good on the promises they have made to their state employees and educators. They have no prayer of fulfilling their commitments to provide a secure retirement. But all we read about was how little our stingy government leaders raised public sector pay.
Despite enacting what were characterized as irresponsible tax cuts over the past couple years, somehow North Carolina has managed to maintain its AAA credit rating, which only a handful of states enjoy. This allows us to borrow billions virtually interest free to fund transportation and education infrastructure through a bond offering that will position us to serve the next generation.
We read countless times that we were mortgaging our children’s future by perilously defunding education. As a part-time professor at UNC-Chapel, I know the tuition for those aspiring to obtain a college degree has outpaced the rate of inflation for decades, putting a college education out of reach for many of our youth. But I can’t recall reading an analysis of how much of this increase can be attributed to the ballooning cost from a combination of bloated university bureaucracy and faculty spending fewer hours in the classroom, as compared with the decrease in the growth of state funds allocated to education.
We were never spared for long from the tirades of UNC law professor Gene Nichol, who reminded us ad nauseam that our state’s elected leaders detest poor people and are unilaterally responsible for poverty in North Carolina. I don’t recall his analysis of the abysmal failure of our current president to improve the plight of the poor.
Nichol’s anti-poverty program?
Or a discussion of the highly successful anti-poverty program devised by his political bedfellows in Chapel Hill. Nichol has never mentioned how his hometown has solved poverty by pushing the poor out of the community. Chapel Hill has artfully established the highest property taxes, sales taxes and water rates in the state. These unmatched economic burdens are layered on top of the most dysfunctional process for building new housing, which produces the highest home prices and apartment rents in North Carolina. Add to that an effective ban on affordable retailers where low-income residents shop and work such as Wal-Mart, Costco and Home Depot, and, presto, you have a community with virtually no poor people. Problem solved!
In the past decade, only two significant counties in North Carolina saw a decline in black population: Orange (home to the state’s liberal flagship, Chapel Hill) and Buncombe (home to its progressive rival, Asheville). How many articles on diversity pointed out the undeniable correlation between “progressive” voters and a lack of economic and racial diversity?
Citizens have several ways to express our views. We can respond to polls, don bumper stickers and vote in elections. We can submit letters to the editor of the local paper. But the most authentic and sincere expression of where we stand is when we vote with our feet. During the political off-season, while there are not as many stories to be written about how conservatives are destroying our beloved North Carolina, perhaps local reporters could investigate why the populations of so many blue states are declining, and the population of North Carolina and many other red states is growing.