NC State experts offer their take on legislative session

June 22, 2011
By Bill Krueger
Photo by Roger Winstead

Photo by Roger Winstead

Republicans are in control of the state House and Senate in North Carolina for the first time in over a century. The governor is a Democrat with the power to veto any legislation she finds unacceptable.

That combination, along with a sputtering economy that forced cuts in government spending, led to a historic legislative session this year. The session is not technically over – legislators will return to Raleigh this summer to work on redistricting, constitutional amendments and other issues. But the passage of a state budget and several other pieces of legislation will change how things are done in North Carolina.

But what, specifically, will it mean for North Carolinians? How will they feel the impact of the decisions made by legislators?

We posed those questions to two NC State experts who follow government and politics in North Carolina. We spoke separately with Michael Walden, the William Neal Reynolds Distinguished Professor & Extension Economist, and Andrew Taylor, a professor of public and international affairs, and asked them what they considered to be substantial measures to come out of the legislature.

Both said the results may not be as severe as the heated rhetoric between Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue and Republican legislative leaders might indicate. They pointed out that government had already been absorbing spending cuts over the past year in response to declining revenues and that state and local governments will shuffle resources to mitigate the impact of smaller budgets.

“We’ve actually had to downsize the budget in a gradual way,” Walden said. “Now that downsizing has been codified, or ratified, in the budget.”

But Walden and Taylor also said the legislature made substantial changes, some of which may still be vetoed by Perdue. Taylor said the legislature clearly moved public policy in North Carolina in a more conservative direction.

Walden focused on the budget, noting that spending will be cut throughout government as overall state spending takes a rare dip. Walden pointed out a few specific areas where changes may be more obvious:

  • The N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources took a big hit, with many positions cut and others shifted to other state agencies. The result, Walden said, is that there will not be as much public oversight of the environment.  Taylor said that was part of a larger effort to roll back regulations on business.
  • Consumers will get some relief at the cash register after legislators declined to continue what was supposed to be a temporary one-cent increase in the sales tax. Perdue wanted to keep the tax increase to provide more money for education.
  • Capital spending – on buildings, roads, etc. – will be in short supply. With the state short of cash, legislators chose not to put a lot of money into construction projects.

Taylor talked about some non-budget items that will lead to big shifts in public policy in North Carolina:

  • The political process will undergo significant changes as the result of bills requiring voters to show identification, making judicial elections partisan and changing the time allowed for early voting.
  • Legislators made changes in abortion laws, requiring women to have an ultrasound and wait 24 hours after a counseling session before getting an abortion, and may ask North Carolina voters to weigh in on a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriages.

Taylor said divided government may become a fixture in North Carolina for years to come. He said North Carolina is not clearly a red state or a blue state.

“We’re very much a purple state, something we should get used to,” Taylor said.

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