The General Assembly has still not finished its work

The General Assembly has still not finished its work

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It is the job of the North Carolina General Assembly to make the decisions that will help our state thrive and assure that all North Carolinians – Black, white or brown – have a real chance at prosperity.

It is also the General Assembly’s job to construct and pass the single most important law our state enacts every year – a budget that provides a blueprint for how those connections between people and opportunities will help our communities thrive.

Unfortunately, as lawmakers reconvene yet again tomorrow, they will have been in session in all 11 months of 2019 without finishing their job.

The failure of lawmakers to finalize a budget for the state was driven by the stubborn refusal of legislative leaders to prioritize the health and wellbeing of every North Carolinian. Not only did they refuse to close the coverage gap in health care, legislative leaders advanced no alternative solution that would both allow people to access the care they need and stabilize hospitals and communities for the long term.

Instead, they were too busy rigging the system in favor of the wealthy and using sketchy procedural maneuvers (like the surprise House veto override vote that deprived the representatives of more than a million North Carolinians from having a voice in the debate) so that they could try to force through a flawed budget that gives more tax cuts to big businesses and pursue a cramped vision that ignores the reality of everyday North Carolinians’ struggles and contributions.

Legislative leaders also proved unwilling and unable to live up to their own stated commitments.

“Family values” should mean valuing families and making sure that parents can afford quality early learning experiences for their children no matter their wages or where they live.

“Valuing hard work” should mean valuing workers and making sure they have opportunities for affordable skills training that can advance careers and that they can afford to live or travel to good jobs.

“Stewarding our natural resources” should mean carefully monitoring the air we breathe and the water we drink to ensure that people aren’t exposed to toxins and our communities remain healthy places for future generations.

The failure (and unwillingness) of legislative leaders to act in these and other vitally important areas were not the result of such commitments being unaffordable. The reality is that even as legislative leaders rejected the priorities and needs of our families, legislative leaders cut taxes again for big companies.

Once again, their policy choices will work to consolidate wealth in the hands of the few.

Legislative leaders’ stubborn insistence on dispensing tax breaks to the wealthy and big companies even as our economic expansion slows is particularly concerning given what we know about how downturns wreak havoc on families and communities and produce lasting effects that can span multiple generations.

It took North Carolina nearly a decade to “recover” from the last recession and we are still plagued by the fact that the state has fewer jobs and lower incomes than it did at the recession’s onset. The poverty rate in North Carolina is just now getting back to where it was 10 years ago – and we have the dubious honor of being the 15th poorest state in the nation.

It’s time for the lawmakers of North Carolina to do their jobs. It’s time for them to understand that the strength of our economy will come from allowing everyone to participate and contribute to the best of their abilities. As Business North Carolina reported just yesterday:

“The lack of a budget for more than four months reflects governance weakness and is credit negative,” Moody’s said in a recent credit outlook report. “Although the state ended fiscal 2019 with a budgetary surplus of nearly $900 million, the lack of agreement on budget priorities amid a time of economic expansion and healthy revenue growth does not augur [bode] well for budgeting and strong governance during times of economic and revenue stagnation or declines.”

What we need now is a strong commitment from legislative leaders to reinvest in working families and build a stronger, more resilient economy for all.

Whether we are Black, white or brown, we all want our lawmakers to put the needs of our families and our communities first instead of playing games and rigging the system to benefit the wealthy few.

The government should work for all of us.

Lawmakers need to do the jobs that they were elected to do – not just for the select few or those who elected them, but for all of us. Without that sense of responsibility and understanding of our shared fate, our communities will continue to be blocked from reaching their fullest potential.