RALEIGH – The General Assembly of North Carolina returns to session on Tuesday, and the agenda is full of legislation none would have predicted when they last convened in January. The Wuhan virus, and the colossal damages caused by the reactionary shutdown orders from the governor, will be front and center, with bills focused on helping students, families, workers, and businesses, in addition to research and testing programs.
Though lawmakers would do well to sponsor a massive deregulation effort that addresses the useless burden on businesses this crisis has exposed so many regulations to be, money will be the common denominator among most legislation.
Unfortunately, the massive and artificial suppression of commerce has also resulted in big drop off in tax revenues. Fortunately, responsible fiscal management over the last decade has left the state government’s reserve funds robust. You may remember Democrats like Governor Roy Cooper blasting Republicans for saving too much money in the rainy day fund; you won’t hear him say any such thing nowadays.
Legislative proposals expected to come before the N.C. House and Senate are products of working groups, or subcommittees, of the 76-member bipartisan Select Committee on COVID-19. The primary proposals from the committee’s working groups will be bridge-loan funding for businesses ($75 million), waiving late penalties for tax filings, and waiving testing requirements for public schools being that schools are canceled for the remainder of the calendar year.
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The bridge loans were initiate first by the Golden Leaf Foundation, offering $50,000 bridge loans to small businesses with $15 million injection. They money was exhausted quickly after more than 4,000 applicants requested the loans totaling almost $140 million. Legislation will inject $75 million more into that program.
There will by multiple bills tweaking deadlines for taxes, tests, license renewals and the like, extending more time due to the extraordinary circumstances.
As far as addressing the viral pathogen itself, there will be a bill to establish a COVID-19 Response Research Fund fueled with $110 million for community testing, the development of antibody therapies, and other research. These funds are divided among medical and public health research institutions at premier universities across North Carolina.
There will be another $25 million allocated to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services for testing, tracing, and tracking (which is bound to arouse ‘Big Brother’ concerns).
Hospitals will also be a target for relief, with $100 million expected to be allocated to small and rural hospitals, and another $50 million for teaching/large hospitals. This is ostensibly the help hospitals cover costs for treating people with COVID-19, except that is not why most of these small and rural hospitals are hurting. To be sure, hospitals are suffering now for the same reasons businesses are (it’s a business after all). They are suffering because revenues from elective procedures dried up on account of executive decree. This money is not needed to help treat COVID-19 patients; it’s needed to help blunt the pain caused by public policy.
Medicaid is proposed to receive a $40 million injection for testing. There will also be about $35 million for food charities, foster care programs, adult and child protective services response, homeless and domestic violence shelters, housing security, child care response, and technology modifications to support COVID-19 emergency relief beneficiaries.
Over the next two to three weeks, an entire new spending regime will be constructed around COVID-19. The state currently has an unreserved balance of $1.79 billion, which is $1 billion MORE than the state had this time last year, but we know that lawmakers can spend other people’s money very, very quickly during a crisis.
As such, it is absolutely vital that the economy reopen as quickly as possible; that business owners are allowed to resume operations; and, that the inherent liberty guaranteed citizens is restored.