Speakers at this morning's Common Sense Foundation "Legislative Preview Breakfast" in Raleigh dished out some decent helpings of common sense to the 40 or so folks in attendance. Senator Janet Cowell (who had to leave early to attend a mandatory ethics session for all members of the Senate) and Rep. Alice Graham Underhill offered their takes on any number of issues — from lobbying reform to mental health to the environment to waste in government.
Cowell shared a flow-chart that legislative staff have prepared to help members determine if particular freebies are okay (Question 1: Are you a legislator?). Underhill noted that most of the ethics and lobbying reform controversy seemed to be about "golf and games" — something she reported that she had never been much interested in. The daughter of long-time Ag Commish and tobacco champion, the late Jim Graham, also spoke with some enthusiasm about the idea of a new statewide ban on smoking in the workplace as advocated by groups like the Alliance for Health. Good for her!
One issue that deserved more attention than it got was the revenue shortfall that continues to plague the state as a result of its obsolete tax system. Given the fact that North Carolina is spending less per capita than it did at the beginning of the decade, it would have been nice to hear either of the lawmakers take on the issue of closing tax loopholes for corporations and the wealthy and, more generally, the issue of fiscal modernization (something that's currently before a fairly high powered study commission). Looks as if it will be up to progressive advocates to keep pounding on lawmakers on these issues throughout the upcoming session.
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