Editorial: Legislators - Put state's need first, not self-interest politics

Posted January 3, 2018 5:00 a.m. EST

CBC Editorial: Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2018; Editorial # 8254
The following is the opinion of Capitol Broadcasting Company

If there are any doubts about just how badly the General Assembly is doing its job, consider this:

When the legislature convened a year ago a top priority was to address court ordered mandates to fix the state’s illegally gerrymandered legislative districts.

As the legislature gets set to convene in a week – with election season on the horizon – a year has come and gone. That top priority remains unaddressed. The Republican leadership has, at huge cost to taxpayers, resisted the common sense notion that ALL North Carolinians deserve fair and full representation in the legislature regardless of their race or the neighborhood they live in.

The leadership is desperate to hold onto the veto-proof majority Republicans gained after the 2012 elections from the illegally-drawn districts.

The unbending fight to keep the illegal voting districts will, by every indication, continue on Friday at a federal court hearing to discuss the district maps developed by Nathaniel Persily, the expert assigned by the court to review and make suggested revisions.

It is time for these political games to end. Legislative leaders should tell the judges that they’ll stop fighting and agree to new districts developed by the court; and promise, during the upcoming session, to develop appropriate legislation so all state voters will have the chance for fair and full representation.

In addition, legislative leaders should end their misadventure in judicial redistricting and judges’ elections. They have utterly failed to prove any need or wisdom. What they’ve done is demean the state’s judges and, in cancelling upcoming judicial primary elections, managed to make the state look more like a backward, petty junta than a beacon of democracy.

Our legislative leaders are supposed to preside over a representative government, not act as half-pint supreme leaders.

There are several matters that should be commanding the legislature’s immediate attention. They are items that need immediate attention if our government is to have the resources it needs and make sure our public schools and elections are operated in an orderly, business-like manner.

There’s about a half-billion dollars in unnecessary tax-cuts set to go into effect in the new fiscal year (July 1, 2018). Revenues are flat, jeopardizing the state’s ability to meet its current obligations, not to mention making sure funding increases for much-needed education and health programs as well as very necessary pay increases for teachers and state workers. Those damaging tax cuts should be rescinded.

The mandate for local schools to cut class sizes in lower grades – without providing adequate funding – presents a planning and financial hardship on local schools and taxpayers. If nothing changes, schools will be forced to both fire hundreds of teachers – those who provide arts, music, international language and physical education – in the lower grades. Also there will need to be additional classroom space. These are plans that need to be developed now, as schools are planning for the next school year and local governments are preparing their budgets.

This cannot wait until May, when the legislature’s next expected to convene and make adjustments to the state budget. The delay will leave local government scrambling in a panic to react to legislative edicts. It is no way to manage government.

The legislature should fully-fund its class size mandate and avoid significant and unnecessary disruption to local schools.

With elections coming up, the legislature needs to look at ways to enable more qualified voters, to register and get to the polls. Programs, such as those to allow 17-year-0lds to register early if they will be voting age on Election Day, should be revived. Early voting days and hours should be extended, and polling places on college campuses should be selected for the ease and convenience of voters.

As campaigns rapidly approach, legislators should easily see the wisdom in providing North Carolinians with fair voting districts, a properly financed government, school policies that put the needs of students and faculty first and greater convenience and access to casting ballots.

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