2015 Legislative Session Reflections


As the General Assembly’s work came to a close last week, I had some pretty negative feelings about much of the legislation came out of our 2015 session. But the impact of the General Assembly’s actions shouldn’t be measured by how it makes me feel. Our work should be measured by its impact on the working people of North Carolina as well as those who are the most vulnerable and marginalized in our society.

Before I dive into my concerns, I will say that there are some things the General Assembly did this year.

For much of this year, I spent time advocating for a reinstatement of tax deductions for medical expenses. Removing these tax deductions two years ago meant that lots of senior citizens and others saw significant increases in their personal income tax rates. This credit will be reinstated without limitation on your 2015 taxes.

The new budget includes an appropriation to help law enforcement agencies purchase body cameras. I believe that this technological investment will benefit both law enforcement officers and the public. I am glad North Carolina took a step forward on this issue in the wake of recent events around the country.

I have been a major critic of the state’s Voter ID law, and I was happy to support a bill this year that loosened some of that law’s most difficult provisions. In 2016, voters will still be asked to produce an ID at the polls, but the law now includes a number of reasonable provisions allowing someone to vote if they don’t have a valid ID.

I was also happy to support a bill that will put a major state construction bond on the ballot for voters next year. Although the projects the bond will benefit were determined behind closed doors by legislative leaders, I still support the overall effort. This is a great time to issue a bond because the state’s credit rating is high and interest rates are low. Should voters support the bond, it will provide a very affordable way to make capital investments for the public good.

However, the impact of legislative actions that will hurt working North Carolinians is much greater than the few positive items I have shared so far.

The state’s sales tax has been expanded to cover a wide range of maintenance and repair services. You probably won’t like seeing this new surcharge on your next car repair bill, especially if you’re someone driving an older car that needs more TLC. Adding sales tax to home repairs makes me think that the state treasury will likely be the biggest beneficiary of the next major natural disaster in North Carolina. Whenever that happens, I wonder if some elected officials will have second thoughts about asking people to pay 7% more as they try to reconstruct their lives.

While individuals got a small reduction in the personal income tax rate, profitable corporations are getting a mammoth 40% reduction in their rate. Think about it this way: you’ll soon be paying a tax rate nearly twice that of the biggest corporation you can name.

Community college tuition is going up again this year. It has increased 81% since the recession. Young people entering college and working people who need training all have to pay more for education.

The state’s Medicaid program will soon be privatized. Your tax dollars will be given over to insurance companies, whose only real way to maximize their profits will be cutting services to poor people. There was no consideration given to accepting federal funds to expand Medicaid eligibility to tens of thousands of working North Carolinians, a move that could have the simultaneous benefit of creating thousands of jobs. Meanwhile, North Carolinians continue to send our tax dollars to subsidize healthcare in other states.

A change in rules about food stamp eligibility means that more than 100,000 unemployed North Carolinians will soon lose this food aid while they search for work. Never mind that we still have a smaller percentage of our population employed than we did before the recession.

And one more thing that just drove me crazy… the budget includes a $400,000 increase of your tax dollars to pay for litigation that will emerge as some of this year’s laws are challenged in court. The majority continues to pass laws that they know will be challenged in court, and I’m sorry you and I have to pay for it.

After this year’s legislative session, North Carolinians are going to have to work a little harder to come out ahead. In future sessions, I hope we can lighten that load. With the Republican agenda tilting the scales one direction, Democrats must press forth with our vision for job creation, wage increases, and a fair playing field for all.

This post was originally published in Graig’s monthly column for the News of Orange.