New N.C. Democratic Party Chairman David Parker led off today’s press conference in front of the Legislative Building. Surrounded by House and Senate Democrats, he blasted GOP leaders for trying to cut funding used to lure new jobs to the state.
“The Republicans came forward and announced that North Carolina is closed for business,” Parker said. “No outsiders need apply. No new businesses need to be wooed.”
The cuts are part of Senate Bill 13, the “Balanced Budget Act of 2011.” The measure would give Gov. Bev Perdue additional budget-cutting powers for this fiscal year, but it would also take about $138 million out of about 20 special state funds.
Nearly half that total, $67 million, would be taken from Golden LEAF, an economic development foundation that receives about half the state’s annual share of the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement with tobacco companies. The cuts would wipe out the fund’s income for this year.
Parker accused Republicans of trying to keep wages low by blocking higher-paying jobs that economic development might bring into the state. “It kind of feels like Boss Hogg has come down here and taken over the legislature.”
Parker was followed by a line-up of Dems who warned the funding cuts in Senate Bill 13 will cost the state jobs when it most needs them. Sen. Josh Stein, D-Wake, called the cuts “penny-wise but pound-foolish.”
Sen. Michael Walters, D-Robeson, cited 11 projects and hundreds of jobs Golden LEAF projects have brought into his district. Rep. Edith Warren, D-Pitt, said, “It's sad that we’re going to start this session by throwing up roadblocks.”
But Republicans say those “roadblocks” are a political fiction. As bill sponsor Richard Stevens, R-Wake, likes to point out, Golden LEAF would still have more than $550 million in the bank – not exactly impoverished. And he says the money the bill would take is “unspent and unencumbered,” so it shouldn’t affect projects that are underway.
Other Republicans argue the jury's still out on the effectiveness of economic development strategies overall. A 2009 study by the Carolina Center for Competitive Economies at UNC Chapel Hill showed tax credits have little or no effect on job creation, while other types of incentives seem to be more effective.
In last week’s fiery Senate debate on the measure, Republicans argued it’s a choice between bringing in potential jobs and preserving state jobs that already exist. Sen. Neal Hunt, R-Wake, insists they can do both. “To allege that we’re closing down economic development programs is absurd.”