Patrick Gannon: Theme so far in Raleigh is ‘restoration’
RALEIGH — The theme of the first week of the General Assembly session could be summed up adequately with one word — “restoration.”
And not just because 170 legislators came back to town for the long legislative session, bringing the political divisiveness that is Jones Street with them.
“Restoration” was the theme of a number of bills filed during the week as the General Assembly returned to work. Many came from Democrats, who want to bring back laws nixed by the Republican-led General Assembly over the past four years. Republicans also want to restore some old ways of doing things that were changed when Democrats controlled the statehouse prior to 2011.
Democrats want to re-enact the state’s version of the earned income tax credit, a perk designed to help low- to moderate-income workers put a few extra bucks in their pockets at tax time. The credit cost the state about $60 million in tax revenue in the 2013-14 fiscal year, according to Department of Revenue estimates. It was repealed by the General Assembly, effective at the start of 2014, as part of Republican tax changes.
Democrats also filed legislation to restore the Teaching Fellows program, which the General Assembly has phased out over the past few years. Created in 1986, the program recruited high-achieving high school graduates to become teachers and awarded them college scholarships if they agreed to teach in the state for at least four years.
Members of the minority party also want to bring back the educational sales tax holiday, when residents could purchase school supplies, clothing and computers free of sales taxes. The General Assembly repealed the holiday, effective July 1, 2014. Republicans said it cost the state nearly $14 million in tax revenue in 2012, while proponents said it helped parents financially as their kids went back to school.
Republicans who hold large majorities in the House and Senate want to do some restoration of their own. They filed a bill this week to restore partisan elections for N.C. Supreme Court and Court of Appeals seats, meaning those judges and justices would run with party affiliations attached. Those races became nonpartisan back in 2004. Proponents of partisan judicial races say putting party affiliations on the ballot gives voters a little information about who they’re voting for and that voters often know little about judicial candidates. Opponents say the party affiliations of judges shouldn’t matter.
Republicans also filed a bill to give local school districts more flexibility on the start and end dates for the school year to meet educational objectives.
Gov. McCrory and others — Republicans and Democrats — also want to revive a historic preservation tax credit allowed to expire at the end of last year.
The GOP-sponsored judicial election measure and the historic preservation bill have a chance of passing this session. As for the Democrats’ bills, barring some major change in GOP philosophy, they probably will have to wait until if and when Democrats’ power is restored in Raleigh.
But that’s not going to keep them from trying.
Gannon writes for Capitol Press Association.