Chris Fitzsimon: Actually far less than fair

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 12, 2015

From a column by Chris Fitzsimon of N.C. Policy Watch:

During Monday night’s brief Senate debate over a proposed change by Sen. Brent Jackson to a package of constitutional amendments that would hamstring future legislatures and threaten public education funding, Sen. Josh Stein asked what seemed like a reasonable question.

Could senators have another day to consider the proposal since the main debate on the three amendments had already been rescheduled for the next day?

Senators were talking about changing the state constitution, after all, and the process used to introduce and pass the amendments out of committee hadn’t been exactly open and transparent.

Senate Rules Chair and enforcer-in-chief Tom Apodaca bristled at the suggestion and said Stein would have overnight to “come up with reasons to vote against the amendments.”

Then Apodaca told the Senate the process to introduce the amendments and bring them to Senate floor was “more than fair.”

Every once in while a phrase uttered by a legislative leader stands out as a perfect summary of what is wrong with the General Assembly and Apodaca’s appallingly hypocritical claim of “more than fair” fits the bill, especially when you consider what’s at stake for North Carolina in the legislation he was defending.

It’s a package of three constitutional amendments. One would force the General Assembly to put 2 percent of the previous year’s budget into the state savings account every year that could not be accessed without approval of a supermajority vote.

Another would slash personal income tax rates to 5 percent and forbid the General Assembly from ever raising the personal or corporate income tax rates above that level.

And the third and most dangerous would be to limit state spending based on an arbitrary and flawed formula involving the inflation rate and population growth. That amendment is commonly referred to with the misleading name, the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, or TABOR. 

If TABOR was in effect this year, merely funding the increased education enrollment, the increased costs in Medicaid, and other inflationary adjustments would leave next to nothing for teacher raises or new investments in early childhood programs or any other pressing state priorities.

There’s a reason 30 states have rejected the arbitrary and restrictive TABOR amendment. Their leaders, including many top business men and women, realized the damage the proposal could do to their states and testified against it.

Business leaders and opponents of the plan didn’t have a chance to talk about that in a committee meeting of the North Carolina Senate.

That’s not more than fair. That’s dangerous and appalling. But that’s the way the Senate works these days, no matter how hard Sen. Apodaca and his colleagues try to claim otherwise.