Hood column: Conservatives made some gains
RALEIGH ó It’s no secret that fiscal conservatives in North Carolina are angry. They have ample reason to be.
In Raleigh, the General Assembly has just adjourned for the year after enacting a tax increase exceeding $1 billion (when fully implemented), including hikes in marginal rates for both the sales and income tax. Legislators also refused to consider substantive protections of property rights against government encroachment via eminent domain or forced annexation, while weakening property rights for restaurant owners who wanted to attract smokers.
In Washington, a bipartisan coalition of foolish politicians spent much of the past year enacting trillions of dollars in bailouts, deficits and ineffective “stimulus.” Now, Congress and the Obama administration are planning new trillion-dollar federal takeovers of the nation’s health insurance and energy industries, imposing unprecedented levels of intrusive regulation and costly taxation.
And in many communities across North Carolina, taxpayers are being hit not just with higher state taxes but also increases in property tax ó as well as the prospect of another half-cent sales tax increase to fund transit projects that will move few commuters.
Still, consider three recent cases in which the conservative position prevailed in 2009.
– First, the Left tried to expand government financing of North Carolina political candidates. Currently, taxpayers are forced to pay for the campaigns of candidates running for state superintendent of public instruction, state insurance commissioner, state labor commissioner, and the appellate courts.
Bills introduced this year would have expanded the concept to include candidates for state treasurer as well as local elective office. But the General Assembly adjourned without either bill becoming law, thank goodness.
– Even more significant was a victory in the courts. The N.C. Institute for Constitutional Law represented two Mecklenburg County attorneys who objected to the current funding system for judicial candidates. One source of revenue is an annual $50 fee that all members of the State Bar were required to pay into the campaign fund. NCICL argued that forcing its clients to fund judicial candidates was a violation of the attorneys’ First Amendment rights.
In a ruling released Tuesday, Wake Superior Court Judge Howdy Manning said that the fee itself was permissible but that it was unconstitutional to use the fee to fund judicial campaigns against the wishes of the attorneys paying it. Manning ordered the state to allow attorneys to designate their fees to fund a voter’s guide instead. While some are spinning the judge’s order as a win for government financing, it is really a loss ó that is, it is a win for those who advocate political freedom of speech and oppose a purely voluntary system of campaign finance.
That group compromises conservatives, libertarians and a few intellectually honest liberals.
– Finally, the corporate-welfare lobby tried to create yet another dubious scheme this year to coerce taxpayers into subsidizing speculative private ventures.
In this case, the avenue would have been a newly created Life Sciences Development Corp. empowered to make loans to pharmaceutical, medical-device or biotechnology startups. If the startup succeeded, private investors would have stood to make lots of money. If the startup failed, state taxpayers could have been forced to cover the loss.
Supporters erred by trying to advance the bill late in the session without offering an adequate explanation of its more bizarre features or an adequate answer to serious concerns about its constitutionality. Again, the General Assembly adjourned without passing this “biotech bailout bill,” though it remains live for the 2010 session.
So there was at least a little good news this year. North Carolina attorneys will no longer be forced to subsidize the campaigns of judicial candidates with whom they may strongly disagree. And while North Carolina taxpayers will have to fork over more money to the state treasury, at least the money won’t be used to expand the state’s welfare programs for politicians and politically connected biotech businesses.
Not this year, anyway. Sometimes you have to take good news wherever you can find it.
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John Hood is president of the John Locke Foundation.