Editorial: The N.C. Chamber's low tax, low wage, low skill approach to the future

Posted September 12, 2016 5:34 a.m. EDT

A CBC Editorial: Monday, Sept. 12. 2016; Editorial# 8054
The following is the opinion of Capitol Broadcasting Company

It didn’t come as much of a surprise when Gov. Pat McCrory confirmed the North Carolina Chamber of Commerce’s involvement in drafting House Bill 2. In reality, the Chamber has become a rubber stamp organization for state Senate leader Phil Berger.

That once wasn’t the case. In recent decades the Chamber was a strong moderate organization with a positive vision for a future that kept North Carolina moving forward.

It was a key player in promoting public education -- early childhood, the public schools and the state’s public universities. That support, reinforced by the work of many others, built North Carolina’s reputation as THE Southern state that cared the most about public education and backed it up with the necessary resources.

Wide acknowledgement that the quality of our public education system was THE MOST important economic development advantage we had … built North Carolina’s great brand.

In the last few years, things changed at the state Chamber. The main emphasis became lower taxes -- corporate and personal income taxes – along with a draconian approach to modifying the state’s unemployment insurance tax plan by reducing unemployment benefits. The money saved by cutting benefits, in a plan pushed by the chamber, was then used to pay the employers’ debt to the federal government for money borrowed to support the exploding burden brought on by the Great Recession.

The Chamber got its tax cuts and was silent on the controversial matters that were important to the ideologues controlling the General Assembly. The Chamber made a deal (it might be said ‘sold out North Carolina’) as attacks on public education, the environment and the fair treatment of people, go forward.

There were weeks of silence from the Chamber after the quick passage of HB2. As businesses were abandoning the state, conventions pulling out and other states imposing boycotts, the Chamber said it was studying the legislation.

In reality, the Chamber got the business friendly provisions it wanted in the bill. A deal was cut to limit local governments’ authority to impose a minimum wage higher than the state’s and keeping employment discrimination complaints out of state courts -- as Gov. McCrory revealed last week – even though the Chamber continued to adamantly deny any involvement.

Once upon a time, not too long ago, we got broad leadership from the state Chamber of Commerce. Now, it’s a narrowly focused special interest group. Several of the Chamber’s directors are from the state’s largest employers and they know better.

Shortly after taking office, McCrory went on the stump saying the state had a “bad brand." He was wrong. North Carolina had worked hard and built a solid reputation as the "education state" -- the best brand you can have to attract growth industries and businesses like high tech, finance, pharmaceuticals and more.  Businesses that needed a skilled and trainable workforce knew North Carolina was the place to find it.

The state Chamber is silent now as the state’s brand takes a nose dive with three clichéd selling points: low taxes; no unions and lower average wages than surrounding states.

That’s a brand nobody’s buying.

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