The best word to describe the year 2016 is unsettling. We barely had time to break our New Year’s resolutions before the year crashed down on us.
We knew it was going to be unusual when the General Assembly, hoping that our state could play a larger role in naming the presidential nominees, moved Primary Elections to March 15th, but things started unraveling on February 5th, when a federal court ruled that North Carolina’s Congressional districts were racially gerrymandered and new districts must be drawn. Two weeks later Charlotte passed the LGBT ordinance that triggered a special March legislative session and HB2.
Rapidly following were a plethora of court decisions, reactions from HB2, divisive and ugly elections, Hurricane Matthew, western wildfires, a spate of special and controversial legislative sessions and seemingly endless protests, all causing disequilibrium and preventing us from finding a new normalcy.
There were bright spots, namely the passage of a statewide $2 billion Connect NC Bond referendum and an improving economy, but few will mourn the end of 2016.
So let’s look to 2017. Republicans hold political control of our state and will continue to flex their muscles. Look for frequent disagreements between the legislature and Governor Roy Cooper but lawmakers will override gubernatorial vetoes. We do expect some compromise on HB2, likely not a full repeal, but an attempt to stem the economic and image damage done our state. The legislative session will feature drawing new legislative districts, regulatory reforms, perhaps some minor tweaking to tax codes and putting more money into reserves to stave off the next recessionary period.
Governor Cooper will push for Medicaid expansion but the legislature will balk. He will urge more increases in teacher pay but don’t expect big movement; instead pay increases for principals will be enacted. Cooper will also advocate for a large Transportation bond package. It has some legislative support but is problematic for a referendum in 2017.
Newly elected Republican Council of State members will assert themselves. Treasurer Dale Folwell will move quickly to reduce management fees and improve earnings on public investments. His biggest challenge is the state health plan, particularly the $30 billion unfunded liability and rising premiums. New Commissioner of Insurance Wayne Causey will face pressure from insurance companies to allow more flexibility and profitability. Most will be watching newly elected Superintendent of Public Instruction, Mark Johnson, armed with more powers than has been seen since “education czar” Craig Phillips.
Court decisions will be prominent. Appeals courts will likely uphold the redrawing of legislative districts, however they might back away from requiring new legislative elections this coming fall. We will also see further actions on elections laws and separations of power cases. Court reform will become a big topic; expect legislative action.
Look for big changes in Healthcare. The Trump administration and Congress are determined to repeal and reform Obamacare and federal changes will require state responses. The legislature is likely to ease Certificate of Need laws and relax regulations on Direct Primary Care, nurse practitioners and physician assistants.
Our economy will continue improving, but gaps between urban-rural areas and among some demographic groups will grow wider. North Carolinians, wanting some respite from the tribal politics and ugly, partisan rhetoric, may find little relief in 2017. At the least we hope it will not be a repeat of 2016.
Tom Campbell is the Executive Producer and Moderator of NC Spin.