What the GOP Does with a Supermajority
The ultimate party litmus test: given a veto-proof legislature, will Republicans finally start to reduce the scope and size of government? It looks like the answer is no.
In 2013, North Carolina was just one of 25 states where Republican governors were given historic opportunity to govern alongside Republican-controlled legislatures. Despite conservative voters’ best hopes, any sensible mandate to restore individual and economic freedom flew out the window when the FY 2013-14 budget was approved, reauthorizing the formerly Democratic state’s blueprint budget with a tragic 2.0-percent increase in general fund appropriations.
North Carolina’s state spending is increasing at a record pace, on both a per-capita and an inflation-adjusted basis. The total budget peaked in 2012 at $51.7 billion, and, according to Sarah Curry, director of fiscal policy studies at the John Locke foundation, this represents a per-capita financial obligation of $5,348. Incredibly, another compounding 2-percent increase was approved for FY 2014-15 in the biennial budget by a Republican government.
Lack of Fortitude
The inability of a state legislature to exercise self-discipline in budgetary matters is not a new phenomenon. However, if the NC GOP is not willing to buck special interest groups now, when they control all three branches of government, when will they have the fortitude?
North Carolina, like other red states, is awash in risk-averse career politicians who fear negative publicity. Legislators are not seriously motivated to reduce the public footprint, enabled by business leaders’ cowardly refusal to publicly call a spade a spade. Fear of attracting the big, bad liberal press is rampant.
Electing a majority of Republican state representatives does not necessarily equate to a vanquished Democratic agenda. Moreover, falsely claiming a conservative victory in North Carolina is dangerous.
In the twenty-first century, sheer fictional trumpeting of conservative stars from Texas, Massachusetts, and Florida led to a Republican president who facilitated a federal takeover of K-12 education, a Republican presidential nominee who abetted his state’s seizure of its health care industry, and a Republican senator who naively and egocentrically stumps for amnesty for illegal aliens.
The national congratulatory tone of the press heralding the economic reforms ushered in by North Carolina Republicans is disconcerting.
National Journal exults that the North Carolina GOP's wonderland is real. The American Legislative Exchange Council provides kudos for choosing more economic freedom through lower taxes. Civitas highlights a modest spending increase, and Townhall praises North Carolina for trying to get taxes down.
Tax Reform ?
Do Republican leaders actually believe that a reduction in North Carolina’s state income tax from 6.0% to 5.8% is going to change behavior? Alongside new sales taxes, gas taxes, and fees?
A bold retreat from the socialist cliff politicians seem to approach like lemmings requires meaningful tax reform, not a slow abatement to ensure a North Carolina jobs program consisting of state government employees and private-sector contractors.
A truly conservative approach requires real guts. Why not a minimal flat tax? A readable bill that could fit on two pages – a 2-percent tax on all revenue $1,000 or more from any single source, with zero exemptions. Imagine how that would revolutionize the IRS, with commensurate savings in compliance, enforcement, and education. Imagine a Republican Party with the integrity and political nerve to adopt this very reasonable and conservative approach.
Instead, the current approach is designed to restructure tax burdens so that future income tax reductions are predicated on future revenue increases. Economic growth, sales tax, and fees are intended to increase proportionately.
In his press conferences and releases, North Carolina Governor McCrory underscored his treatment of the budget and tax rates as economic tools to attract new business. However, the state budget and tax rates, more importantly, represent the hard-earned money of the citizens – not plunder for government agencies to exact “reasonable revenue growth every year to meet the state’s budget needs.”
The paramount needs of North Carolinians are restoration of individual freedom and respect for property rights. What do Republicans stand for if not limited government? If not equal protection?
Economic freedom is inextricably linked to the balance of wealth distributed between the public and private sectors. Likewise, its link to the culture, now deeply ingrained by the educational establishment, quite obviously and relentlessly supports socialist redistribution of wealth between the sectors.
Not only has the new North Carolina Republican majority not reined in the statist culture uniformly reinforced by educators, but these putative freedom-fighters have inarguably and perplexingly rewarded the education monopoly with more than half of all state general fund appropriations (56 percent), while exposing further socialistic support for the knowingly defective Common Core program. This left the Justice & Public Safety function, tasked with the protection of citizens’ personal and economic freedoms, with 12 percent, and Statewide Reserves at a paltry 1 percent.
What is the perennial excuse for states’ lack of budget cuts? Public pensions and Medicaid, as if legislators lack the authority to control this forever expanding claim on taxpayers’ earnings.
Is it really that difficult to see that Medicaid alone could be dramatically cut by decreasing the illegal alien population that feeds off North Carolina’s social services? If there were serious attempts to deny access to state-funded educational and social service benefits for illegal aliens, coupled with real deportation enforcement, the resultant diminishing presence of illegal aliens would be felt on a diminishing Medicaid budget.
Instead, the North Carolina GOP provided tacit support for illegal immigration when it approved the issuance of driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants in spring 2013.
Citizens are getting slaughtered financially by Affordable Healthcare Act premiums, 37.6-cents-per-gallon gas taxes, absurdly skyrocketing college tuition, and inflationary food prices. The North Carolina GOP surely has some moral obligation at this juncture in U.S. history to step up with creative reforms that encourage real economic growth.
Competent, focused government in limited areas of action is required. However, the current North Carolina Republican ruling majority appears quite comfortable managing existing liberal programs in an over-taxed and high-unemployment state.
Given the incredible fortune of having the Republican Party in control of all branches of government, the NC GOP has chosen to squander its power. Back-to-back annual increases in the state budget, following record spending in 2012, make for a straightforward capitulation to interest groups, state employees, and private contractors, at the expense of North Carolina's citizens.
North Carolinians can no longer continue the ghastly charade that citizens are gaining, not losing their freedom of choice in how they work, live, and play.
States with Republican-controlled executive and legislative branches, like North Carolina, must counter the national trend toward from entrenched socialistic policies. This trend will not reverse if conservative organizations remain complacent.
Dr. Marguerite Creel teaches public administration at UNC School of Government. She is the former political science coordinator for Peace College in downtown Raleigh, NC.