Looking for a new normal

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 27, 2013

The year 2013 saw the greatest changes in state government in the past 50 years. With the inauguration of Gov. Pat McCrory, two of the three branches of state government were controlled by Republicans and, whether you like the outcomes or not, they did exactly what they promised in their election campaigns, namely changing the way the state was operating. The mantra for 2013 was reform.
Health care occupied much of our attention. The new leadership came out of the chute reversing Governor Perdue’s decision to operate a joint federal-state health care exchange in favor of deferring to the federal option only. Leadership refused to open the Medicaid rolls to some 500,000 new recipients on the grounds that our current program wasn’t operating effectively and they didn’t want to increase the $3.5 billion our state was already spending.
The Department of Health and Human Services drew a great deal of attention. Some got wrapped around the axle over pay packages and personnel decisions, but DHHS rightly drew criticism for two new IT systems — one for food stamp recipients and the other to reimburse doctors and Medicaid care providers. When these programs didn’t work well, the new leadership was slow to accept responsibility or tell us how problems were being addressed. Promised Medicaid reforms were not properly vetted or conceived, leaving the administration to retreat and consider new approaches. Let it be agreed this complex agency has more moving parts and regulations than any imaginable. It is nigh unto impossible to understand, much less to manage.
The changes in voting laws, public education and the Racial Justice Act were as much attacks on Democrats and the organizations that traditionally support them as they were sincere efforts for improvements. The much-ballyhooed tax reform legislation was little more than tax cuts to citizens and corporations, especially benefitting those in higher brackets. The accompanying sales tax increases will disproportionately impact middle to lower income citizens.
Transportation funding is decreasing while demands are escalating. This administration decoupled the funding formula established in the Highway Trust Fund, allocating funds to higher priority projects rather than just evenly distributing dollars throughout the state. There was admittedly too much bureaucracy in environmental permitting but whether “customer friendly” reforms have swung too far in in the opposite direction is yet to be determined.
Commerce reforms were also needed, especially in the generally unsuccessful regional economic development partnerships, but we need more transparency to determine whether the privatization of Commerce functions is ultimately beneficial to our economy.
Our new leadership inherited many problems and challenges unaddressed or unresolved in recent years. Changes were clearly called for and change we got. It will be some years before we will know whether all these changes are positive or negative, but in roughly 50 years of covering, reporting and opining on affairs of state, I have never witnessed such immediate and vehement attacks on a sitting governor or legislature.
When Democrats ran state government we pretty much knew what to expect. Now Republicans “own” state government, and with so many big changes we long for things to settle down, and we find ourselves searching for a new normal in our state. Let us hope 2014 will be just that.
Tom Campbell, former assistant state treasurer, hosts NC SPIN, airing on WFMY-TV on Sundays at 5:30 a.m. and Saturdays at 7 a.m. and 9 a.m., as well as on WGSR Sundays at noon and 10:30 p.m. Contact him at www.ncspin.com