Friday Follies

Friday Follies

- in Fitzsimon File

The new lobby and ethics reforms haven’t even been in effect for a week and folks are already figuring out ways around the real intent of the restrictions on campaign contributions from lobbyists and wining and dining of legislators.

One of the provisions of the new law bans lobbyists from giving money to the political campaigns of state legislators, the people they are trying to influence. The ban does not apply to political action committees and the Committee to Elect Republican Women is one PAC is actively seeking money from folks registered to lobby the General Assembly.

The problem is that legislators and other elected officials are part of the organization asking for money. Rep. Linda Johnson is listed as one of the group’s treasurers. Newly elected Rep. Ruth Samuelson is on an invitation to an upcoming fundraising event.

If it is troubling for legislators to ask lobbyists for money for their campaigns, it is just as troubling for lawmakers to ask lobbyists for money for a PAC they are involved in. Campaign money and lobbyists don’t belong together in any form.

 

One bit of good news on the lobbying and ethics front. Outgoing House Speaker Jim Black has made both his appointments to the newly formed Ethics Commission. That means five of the eight members have been appointed. Senate President Pro Tem Marc Basnight still has not made either of his two appointments and Governor Mike Easley still has one to make. One of these days, state officials will take ethics seriously.

 

More confusion lately over the state budget picture. Revenues are running ahead of schedule this year and some state officials are saying that the surplus means the looming budget shortfall will be smaller than originally expected.  

That is not quite true. Money left over at the end of the current fiscal year doesn’t necessarily relate to how much revenue the state will have to spend next year on ongoing programs like teacher salary increases, increased enrollment in public schools, rising Medicaid costs, etc.

The year-end surplus means the state will have money left over that ought to be spent on one-time costs, building construction the most obvious example. The shortfall results from revenue estimates for the next fiscal year being less than needed to pay for spending commitments already made.

No family that has a few hundred dollars left over at the end of the year believes that it can increase its monthly expenses for next year because of the surplus. The state shouldn’t either.

It all speaks once again to the need for tax reform so state revenue grows with the economy. The first step ought to be to expand the sales tax to include most services while lowering the overall rate. Let’s hope the new tax reform commission makes that a priority.

 

Speaking of the state’s growing economy, the 2007 Economic Forecast Lunch this week sponsored by North Carolina Citizens for Business and Industry and the North Carolina Bankers Association presented some mixed messages.  The prediction from economists was that North Carolina’s economy would grow faster than the nation’s as a whole in 2007 and that the state’s rapid population growth would continue.

The state gained 133,000 jobs in 2006. Knight Kiplinger, one of the keynote speakers, told the crowd that North Carolina was one of 11 states that will grow more than 30 percent in jobs and population in the next 20 years. In other words, the state’s economy is faring well overall and future prospects look bright as well.

That surely must have disturbed some of the attendees and the leadership of NCCBI who keep telling us that the state’s tax rates on corporations and wealthy individuals are hurting economic development. Must not be hurting it too much, if the economists are forecasting strong job growth and that people will continue to flock to the state.

The right-wingers could find solace in the address by BB&T CEO John Allison however. The Wilson Times reports that Allison told the crowd that government regulation was the problem and that “80 percent of regulation was unnecessary and could be eliminated.”

Eighty percent? Wonder if that includes safety regulations or sanitation requirements or clean air and water standards?

Allison also had some advice about how to improve North Carolina schools, make them more private. Sounds like he has been spending too much time on the wrong websites.

 

About the author

Chris Fitzsimon, Founder and Executive Director of N.C. Policy Watch, writes the Fitzsimon File, delivers a radio commentary broadcast on WRAL-FM and hosts "News and Views," a weekly radio news magazine that airs on multiple stations across North Carolina.
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