Cost of misleading rhetoric

By: - July 11, 2005 5:28 am

If there is one refrain heard in the halls of the General Assembly every session, it is the chorus of constant complaints by corporate lobbyists that the state is unfriendly to business, that taxes on corporations and CEOs are too high, that worker’s compensation benefits are too generous, and that state regulations are too burdensome.

Can’t raise the minimum wage because it will cost the state jobs. Have to cutoff benefits after a few years to workers severely injured on the job because it is too expensive for the worker’s compensation system. Let the state human service programs take care of disabled workers, you know, the programs that business lobbyists want to cut so corporate taxes can be reduced.

Banning smoking in restaurants to save lives is government interference in the sacred marketplace. A scaled down version of the smoking ban simply requiring restaurants to have separate rooms for smokers is too burdensome and will cost the state jobs.

Most clean air legislation is too restrictive, most clean water regulation too expensive for businesses to implement.  Mild cost controls on drugs for patients on Medicaid that would save money to expand coverage to help more people without health care, that’s unacceptable to the wildly profitable pharmaceutical companies.

The litany of complaints is long and presented in virtually every committee room in the legislative building every session. It has reached an absurd crescendo this year and is playing a major role in the budget debate about tax rates and human service funding.

There are plenty of industry-funded pseudo think-tanks adept at twisting numbers in slickly produced research reports handed to lawmakers the morning after an evening reception where lawmakers and lobbyists strengthen their relationships in line at the open bar.

The reports are only there in the unlikely event that the conventional wisdom about the sanctity of the market is questioned, or the claim that a tax or safety regulation will cost the state jobs is challenged. Usually the platitudes are enough, the statement that a proposal will hurt economic development often begins and ends the debate.

Not surprising then that the anti-government crowd has been largely silent about a recent report about state taxes and regulation put out by one of their own backward thinking tanks, the misnamed Americans for Tax Reform, a group that has as part of its mission to oppose all tax increases at the federal, state and local level.

The group recently released its questionable “Cost of Government Day” report, which included a ranking of each state based on the combined cost in each state of taxes and government regulation. The formula is bizarre, but the group’s research is quoted often in the mainstream media, primarily because it was founded by conservative icon Grover Norquist.

The survey ranks North Carolina 19th best state in the country, ahead of states routinely held up as chief competitors in for recruiting business, states like Georgia, Texas, Florida, and Virginia.

The ATR report is just the latest data that contradicts many of the corporate lobbyists economic fear mongering.  Recently, two separate business publications ranked North Carolina at the top of the region in pro-business states.

How many children are still waiting for day care subsidies because lawmakers bought the business lobbyists claims that taxes are too high and cut human service funding? How many families are struggling because too many members of the House and Senate swallowed the lobbyists lines about the minimum wage, how many folks will lost their Medicaid benefits this year because the Senate insists that CEOs won’t come to North Carolina if we keep our current income tax rates?

Sounds like what we need is a device to even the debate, a way to call the business lobbyists on their cries of wolf. Maybe a “Cost of Misleading Rhetoric Index” to see how many people could have been helped and how far the state could have moved forward if the battalion of lobbyists had not played so loosely with the truth.

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Chris Fitzsimon

Chris Fitzsimon, Founder and Executive Director of N.C. Policy Watch, writes the Fitzsimon File, delivers a radio commentary broadcast on WRAL-FM and hosts "News and Views," a weekly radio news magazine that airs on multiple stations across North Carolina. [email protected] 919-861-2066