Revolving door still spinning.
More evidence this week of the cozy relationship between lobbyists, politicians and legislative staff that gives folks with money more access, influence and power over vital decisions about state policy that affects our lives. First, news that North Carolina Citizens for Business and Industry has hired Rolf Blizzard as its new lobbyist at the General Assembly. Blizzard is the Chief of Staff to Senate President Pro Tem Marc Basnight. That means he is not only close to Basnight and the rest of his staff, but has also worked closely with key Senators for the last several years.
People, polls and politicians
A lot of politicians are criticized for voting with both eyes on the polls, more worried about their reelection than standing up for their convictions or philosophy. The criticism is often justified, especially close to an election when some political consultants use polls to find an issue that divides the voters, something the candidate can demagogue in 30-second commercials and political mailings.
Basnight starts the right conversation.
Good for Senate President Pro Tem Marc Basnight. After an election season that brought us politicians of both parties promising to cut taxes and signing an absurd pledge to never vote for any tax increase, Basnight offered an all too rare dose of common sense recently about the budget crisis facing state lawmakers.
The other two North Carolinas
One of the most often quoted phrases from Senator John Edwards' bid for the presidency this past year was his talk of "two Americas," the wealthy, successful part of the nation and the rest of us, struggling to find health care, send a kid to college, or even make ends meet. Governor Mike Easley used the same thought four years ago in his inauguration speech, describing "two North Carolinas," the rich and poor, the urban and rural, the prosperous and poor.
But Mr. Berger, what are you for?
In just over a month, the General Assembly will come to town. This week, one of the legislative leaders offered his take on what he hopes the session will NOT accomplish. Senate Minority Phil Berger says the budget shortfall will be the big issue and that he and his fellow Senate Republicans will work to stop any tax increases and to defeat the lottery. That pretty sums up his plan for the budget, though he also wants to pass the absurdly-named Taxpayer Protection Act, which would make it difficult for lawmakers to even pay for increased enrollments in schools and inflationary increases in current state programs.
Serious Tobacco Tax Talk in Raleigh
After years of trying, health advocates appear on the verge of convincing the General Assembly to raise the stateâ€™s five-cents-a-pack tax on cigarettes. The fight this session may be about how much to raise it and where the money should go. The proposed increase of 75 cents would raise almost $400 million. Several factors make this the year. Public opinion is overwhelmingly in support of a tax increase, thanks to a lot of hard work by health professionals and anti-smoking advocates.
Friday’s Follies—awards, oddities, and outrages from the week
Governor Mike Easley gets the it's not my problem award for standing by and watching local governments in the Triad lose their minds trying to outbid each other for the Dell plant that is coming to the area. Easley convinced the General Assembly to pass a $242 million incentive package for the company, but as it turns out, that was just the beginning. In past incentive deals, the state and local offers have been combined in the negotiations that have generally also included a specific site for the new plant.
Letâ€™s hope part of history repeats itself
The state faces a big budget shortfall and the General Assembly is bitterly divided. The schools desperately need more money, human services programs are struggling and lawmakers are being bombarded with absurd calls for slashing services, cutting state workers benefits, and sharply reducing funding to vital institutions of the state. Some Republicans vow they will never voter for any tax increase. If you think you have heard and read this before, youâ€™d be right. But not just this year. That also describes the state budget situation in 1989 and 1991. Republican Governor Jim Martin campaigned for office in 1984 promising big tax cuts for business and he delivered. The General Assembly cut hundreds of millions of dollars of taxes during Martinâ€™s first term.
Status quo in line to win again.
Now we know almost all the key players for Republicans and Democrats in upcoming General Assembly session. The last remaining question is what role Rep. Richard Morgan will play in the House. The meeting of the party caucuses in the House and Senate this week spawned many rumors and elicited some public comments by legislative leaders about the upcoming session. Here is a rundown of what we know so far. Lobbyists will still play a major role as they continue to buy access. Smithfield Foods held a private reception for House Democrats the night before the group held its caucus meeting.
Time for the state to step in and run elections
The General Assembly will be in Raleigh before you know it, just a few weeks after the holiday season. There are plenty of contentious issues facing state lawmakers, from the lottery to the tobacco tax to video poker.
It is about morality—of the politicians
A town hall meeting in Charlotte this weekend held to create an agenda to help children in Mecklenburg County ought to start a discussion about more than the important policy directions the participants agreed on.