In search of middle ground


Opening day of the 2017-18 General Assembly was filled with warm greetings, friendly exchanges, and promises of compromise. After a short break, lawmakers have returned to get down to the real work of the session.

It’s time to govern. But can lawmakers find common ground?

Some areas of common interest may be found in education funding. Both the General Assembly and Gov. Roy Cooper have cited a desire to increase teacher pay. Cooper wants to raise it to the national average, and a merit pay system has been discussed. Cooper has said he’ll fight school choice, but legislative leaders will fight back to keep it.

We all agree economic growth brings jobs, yet economic growth happens when property rights are secure. North Carolina could employ a constitutional amendment to protect property owners from governments using eminent domain. Though introduced every session since the U.S. Supreme Court’s Kelo decision, a bill has not yet passed. Will this be the year we finally secure eminent domain protections in the state Constitution?

Saving for the future is fiscally responsible, no matter your political party, right? The General Assembly in December voted unanimously to use money from the “rainy day” fund for victims of Hurricane Matthew and the western wildfires. Thank goodness money was set aside, which surely everyone agrees is a good idea.

Chief Justice Mark Martin and folks from the left and the right, after several studies, agree lawmakers should raise the age juveniles convicted of nonviolent crimes are considered adults by the criminal justice system. When juveniles are housed with adults, they are more likely to be victims of sexual and physical violence and have less access to education. Most states keep 16- and 17-year-olds in separate facilities through the juvenile justice system. Recidivism rates are lower, and cost savings are significant.

The General Assembly created a Strategic Investment Plan for transportation funding that takes out politics, basing decisions on data. This enabled lawmakers to think strategically and long-term about infrastructure planning and funding, and Cooper has talked about a transportation bond. With $160 billion in projected needs over the next 30 years, lawmakers widely agree funding for transportation and infrastructure must be addressed in a comprehensive, long-term plan. Let’s make one now.

Can we expect everyone to reasonably work through issues, look for common ground, focus on solving problems? Govern without politics?

The power struggle between the executive and legislative branches began before Cooper was sworn in. During several contentious special sessions in December, the General Assembly stripped power from the governor, required Senate approval for his cabinet appointments, and changed the makeup of the State Board of Elections. Cooper struck back with lawsuits.

Legislative leaders believed they were double-crossed over House Bill 2 repeal. Cooper accused lawmakers of changing the deal, and any trust that existed between Cooper and the General Assembly was gone.

Cooper used his first public speech after his swearing in to propose Medicaid expansion, which legislative leaders adamantly oppose. Cooper proceeded in spite of a state law saying only the General Assembly could expand Medicaid and a Constitution that says a governor must uphold state laws. Cooper claimed he was just going after federal money, but the General Assembly reminded him expansion would cost state taxpayers upward of $600 million, and only legislators were authorized to appropriate state funds under the state Constitution. Cooper asked the Obama administration for a waiver, and the General Assembly asked the courts to stop him.

Cooper has overstepped his authority and unnecessarily caused more animosity, hard feelings and mistrust. The power struggle isn’t over. Cooper has the veto, but Republicans in the General Assembly have supermajorities.

Most of us are looking for good ideas, reasonable debate, and sensible solutions to challenges facing our state, but so far we’ve seen brawls, backbiting and stalemates.

But it’s early, right?

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Becki Gray is senior vice president of the John Locke Foundation.

Becki Gray is senior vice president of the John Locke Foundation.

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