Tuesday, October 06, 2009

A Conservative Viewpoint
- Holding State Legislators Accountable

Article by Bob Steinburg
- Edenton, North Carolina: Cradle of the Colony

While many Americans are somewhat informed about what’s happening on the national political stage with issues related to healthcare, ACORN (the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now), Iran and Afghanistan, most are clueless when it comes to state politics. Folks in North Carolina are no exception. Just try to engage someone on state issues, especially in rural areas, to see if I’m right. You’ll generally either get either a blank stare or the comment, “You’ve got to be kidding me!”

While some urbanites may be more attuned to what’s happening in Raleigh, most who live outside those areas are not. Consequently, these individuals frequently find themselves reacting to legislative decisions rather than being proactive in the process.

Regardless where one lives there certainly are opportunities to be better informed. The Internet makes information more readily accessible, although its not available everywhere and some of the information posted is not always reliable.

Those without access to the Internet must depend on local newspapers, radio stations and television for their news. Many papers are struggling to survive. Not only are they cutting staff, but also the news they provide. The smaller papers serving primarily rural markets, many weeklies, center the news almost entirely on local and regional issues.

Some areas don’t have local radio and if they do, it is unlikely to provide much state news. If listeners are able to pick up a signal from a larger station elsewhere the legislative news is often minimal.

Television stations have 30 minute blocks for local and state news. They focus primarily on the bigger and/or more controversial stories. In some rural areas, the television signals received are from stations located in adjoining states. In northeastern N. C. for example, most programming originates from Virginia. As a result, legislative news focuses more on Richmond than on Raleigh.

Voters not having information about bills being considered by the state legislature are unable to hold elected representatives accountable until after the fact. Thus representatives often get away with highway robbery and we don’t know it until our pockets have been picked. Examples abound in the recently approved tax raising, wasteful spending, education cutting state budget.

Democrats control both houses of the state legislature and the governor’s mansion. They’ve held the reins of power for most of the past 125 years. They write the budgets and they pass the budgets. Yet every two years voters trot out to the polls and return the same party to power, with nary a thought given to what one party rule is doing to them and to our state.

Now that our legislators are home in their districts, how many of us have contacted them about their vote on this year’s budget? I know these “conservative” Democrats will tell you it was a tough year and that “We did all we could to look out for your interests.” But did they really?

Democrats tell us that preserving the education system is their top priority. Yet in this years budget they cut spending for education by $225 million.

They told us they were going to hold the line on corporate income taxes too, but they raised $100 million in new taxes on our state’s small businesses.

We were told if taxes had to be raised it would only happen to the rich. Well, I don’t know how you define “rich,” but Democrats raised taxes on everyone earning over $60,000. For those earning less than that amount, don’t feel shunned. You’re also paying increased taxes every time you visit the grocery store.

Speaking of groceries, how about pork? Democrats included plenty of that in this year’s budget including $26 million for Jennette’s Pier on the Outer Banks and $14 million for the athletic booster clubs at UNC and N. C. State.

Whenever Democrats raise taxes or create new ones, they tell voters the taxes won’t be permanent. They promise they’ll sunset (rescind) them at some point. Well eight years later the “temporary” sales tax increase of 2001 is still with us.

To be fair, state Democrats did keep one promise. They told us there wouldn’t be any new taxes this year. The only problem with that pledge is they raised our old taxes by $2.3 billion, a burden that will be shouldered almost exclusively by working families.

Waste and fraud are still very much with us too. Medicare continues to experience plenty of both-to the tune of $630 million over the last three years alone.

To insure state government lives within its means, we must insist they not spend what they don’t have. To check on your representative’s legislative spending habits contact either the clerk of the House or the clerk of the Senate to see how they’ve been voting.

Voters should insist that our legislature require a two-thirds vote for any bill that raises taxes, imposes a new tax or revives an expired tax. They should also be resolute in efforts to require the legislature to seek voter approval for borrowing money.

The entire budget meeting process needs to be open to public view with committee votes available on line the day they occur. Full input should be allowed from legislators in both houses and from both parties.

Voters need to elect representatives who will work to prohibit our legislature from imposing any unfunded mandates on local governments, schools or small businesses.

While we can’t control the content of the news we receive, adopting reforms will help insure our legislators become more accountable. Regardless of party affiliation, any legislator or candidate unwilling to embrace these and other fiscal reforms should be defeated at the polls next November. Only then can we have real transparency in state government.


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