The halfway mark of this event-filled year is a good time to reflect on the first six months in North Carolina. We would say the year’s theme to date has been protest.
North Carolina’s economy has outperformed our neighboring states (and much of the nation) for the past several years, fueled by business relocations and expansions, new jobs and new people moving here, but NC State economist Mike Walden says there are warning signs. “Most jobs that are expanding are higher-paying ones in analytical and problem-solving occupations or lower-paying personal service occupations that cannot yet be duplicated by machines. Middle income jobs are a shrinking part of the economy.” While urban counties are improving, rural areas continue their decline. Employers report a gap of needed worker skills to fill available jobs. The Middle class continues to be squeezed and poverty is unabated. Further, our strong population growth is slowing, meaning fewer new people to take jobs, produce and spend.
Nobody could have predicted such a contentious political climate, starting with HB2. This lightning-rod legislation brought attention to our state like none we’ve seen recently, with economic, corporate and political protests costing our state dollars and stature. Our angst is manifested in protests from Moral Monday, LGBT, teachers and racial groups fueling increased partisanship and unrest. Overlay these protests with the controversial Trump-Clinton presidential battle and what is already shaping up to be ugly and contentious races for U.S. Senator, governor and other down ballot races and you can understand the protests of average citizens. They are fed up, have turned off and tuned out before the main election contests really begin.
Court battles and verdicts on separation of powers, voter ID and election laws, redistricting, teacher tenure, judicial retention, cyber-bullying and eminent domain, among others, further demonstrate widespread protests and demonstrate the courts’ increasing role in our lives.
Our General Assembly’s “short session” passed a record state budget but likely will be remembered by what didn’t pass. Lawmakers continued the fundamental shift in state tax policy away from taxing income to sales taxes, a scheme that disproportionately impacts lower and middle-income earners. They continued an obvious movement toward school choice by increasing vouchers for private schools while capping tuition at public universities. After a sit-in at the state capitol the legislature gave teachers needed pay raises and rank and file state employees received overdue raises.
But since most legislative business is done behind closed doors most of us were unaware of growing dissension between our House and Senate, a schism that brought some good news. They failed to reach agreement to put on November’s ballot some unwise and unnecessary proposed constitutional amendments. They were unable to pass a poorly designed mandate regarding the teaching of math in public schools or more regulatory or environmental reforms. While stashing more in reserves for the next economic downturn, they diverted $500,000 of those dollars to defend HB2 in court and then allocated $47 million for pork-barrel projects for their leadership.
The first six months have left us somewhat shell-shocked and we find ourselves protesting the prospect of more of the same. We long for more civil discussions, better understandings, increased unity and a renewed purpose to work for the common good. We especially pray for honorable and trustworthy leaders.
Tom Campbell is the Executive Producer and Moderator of NC Spin.