RALEIGH – State lawmakers ended the short legislative session Friday, adjourning until late November, with a bit of a bang. Overriding gubernatorial vetoes and placing multiple constitutional amendment proposals on November’s ballot, in addition to passing a budget over the objections of Gov. Roy Cooper, Republican majorities again ruled the day as it relates to successful legislative production.
The legislative ‘short session,’ as its name would imply, is designed as an off year session dedicated primarily to modifying the second year of a two-year budget. This year lawmakers were greeted by thousands of teachers and activists organized, and in some cases paid by, Leftist organizations to raise hell for more teacher and education funding.
The heavily hyped Democrat campaign event was endured, the headlines passes, and then lawmakers go on with the teacher raises they had already planned on appropriating in the budget.
And Republicans indicated they were serious about taking care of business when they brought up the budget bill as a conference report, meaning it was not subject to the amendment process.
The technical departure from custom was met with a lot of opposition from the Democrats, naturally, and even some Republicans. The purpose of organizing the budget adjustments expeditiously, and with out providing Democrats an excuse to grandstand via the amendment process, was borne out when the budget was passed after mere days of conferee dealing and floor debates.
The nearly $24 billion budget was passed just two weeks into the session, opening the full month of June up to other agenda items and housekeeping items.
Of course, it was vetoed by the governor, but Republican overrode him to pass the budget bill into law, something Republican lawmakers would do several more times before adjourning.
The spending plan included 2 percent raises for state employees; an average 6 percent raise for teachers (fifth teacher pay raise in as many years); another scheduled round of personal and corporate income tax rate cuts; and, $30 million in earmarks.
That last item is likely a result of the horsetrading that went on behind closed doors during the budget conference process. Lawmakers brought home the bacon with millions in taxpayer money for parks, community arts councils, and other inappropriate uses of taxpayer money.
The budget also included some education initiatives in the form of a provision allowing select towns found and run their own neighborhood charter schools. More educational choice, local control, and going to school where you live is good, right? Not according to Democrats, who smeared the mostly white towns wishes to strike out from the massive Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools district and offer a local education choice to their community as a return to segregation and the era of Jim Crow.
Despite the tired refrains from the Left, and their friends in the media, the budget – teacher raises, tax cuts, and educational choices and all – is the law.
Next up in the session came a bevy of constitutional amendment proposals Republican wished to have placed on the ballot in November for voters to weigh in on.
Voter ID, Capping State Income Tax Rates, and the Right to Hunt and Fish, are among those amendments that made it through the chambers and will be featured on the general election ballot.
Voter ID, long smeared as racist by the Left and activist judges, will be the mostly heavily watched decision by voters this fall. The Left, led by the NAACP, has announced plans to filed lawsuits over it already.
The Left is scared because it turns out that a healthy majority of voters support these amendment proposals, according to polls – even voter ID. Actually, one poll found nearly half of the Democrat respondents support voter ID.
That spells trouble for those hoping on a Blue Wave to make inroads into the Republican super-majority.
At least one of the amendments was altered, however, in what seems like a softening by Republicans in the face of political rhetoric from the Left.
The cap on state income tax amendment was initially set at 5.5 percent, just above the 5.49 percent current rate, and a notch higher than the 5.25 percent rate that will take effect next year.
Democrats argued that this cap dangerously tied the hands of future legislatures, hindering them from raising taxes in the case of revenue difficulty. They even pulled out the ‘What about the kids?’ lines, proclaiming it would harm education funding, along with the State’s credit rating.
That rhetoric may have resonated with enough Republicans to hinder the bill’s chances at passage, and the proposal was modified, raising the cap to 7 percent. That number is what will appear before voters in several months.
The other amendment proposals to feature on the ballot are questions concerning a Bipartisan Board of Elections, Merit Selection Commission for Judicial Vacancies, and an amendment defining crime victims’ rights.
All of them have a conservative flavor to them, some of them more overt than others. Interest in voter ID, right to hunt and fish, and capping taxes should entice voters to make their voices heard on election day.
We’ll cover more about the different amendments and their respective levels of support as the campaign season heats up.
So, that’s that. Six weeks, $24 billion, and six constitutional amendments heading to the ballot sums up a short session that packed a lot in.