Published 12:00 pm Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Well, the short session of the N.C. General Assembly is over. That means, according to an old saying, the North Carolina and its residents are safe — until the Legislature next convenes.
Just what did the state House and state Senate accomplish? For coastal counties, the Legislature approved the compromise bill regarding stormwater-runoff regulations. That bill is proof that David (a 12-county coalition) can take on Goliath (the state’s Environmental Management Commission) and win. In government, it’s a rare thing for the little guy to defeat the big guy.
The General Assembly also addressed mental-health reform, the drought and mortgage foreclosures. It provided funding to help prevent children dropping out of school.
That’s the good news.
There’s an economy out there that’s ailing. That’s the bad news.
Legislators approved a state budget of almost $21.4 billion, which had the smallest year-to-year spending increase in five years. That should be taken as a sign of a troubled economy, along with the fact that in April there was a projected $150 million surplus for the last fiscal year that fell to $90 million by June 30.
That likely means the Legislature, when it convenes in 2009, will face some of the toughest fiscal challenges it’s confronted since the economic downturn in 2001-2002. It’s up to the state’s legislators to provide leadership when it comes to finding the cure for that ailing economy.
Some people believe the General Assembly should have done more during its short session to start the state’s economy on the road to recovery.
Democrats ‘‘have left a ticking time bomb for next year’s Legislature,’’ said Senate Minority Leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, in an interview with The Associated Press. ‘‘They defer cleaning up the state’s fiscal house and disregard North Carolina’s crumbling roads and education systems.’’
However, a majority of Republicans in the House voted for the budget.
House Speaker Joe Hackney, an Orange County Democrat, believes the Legislature acted prudently in regard to the state’s budget.
Perhaps something the state is experiencing will provide legislators insight into what many North Carolina residents are facing — increases in costs associated with their health-coverage plans. Before they adjourned last week, legislators learned the plan for nearly 650,000 state employees, teachers, retirees and their dependents could run out of money by March 2009 and lose about $240 million by the middle of 2009.
Fixing the problem may include raising premiums by 20 percent. It appears the state will be dealing with what many of its residents are dealing with — finding ways to pay for the increases in health coverage.
Legislators came up short in the short session when it came to addressing the state’s transportation needs.
The General Assembly chose not to take a detailed look at how to close the $65 billion gap between transportation needs and transportation revenues during the next 20 years. This is an issue that legislators must address. Until they find a solution, the problem is going to get worse.
That’s a shame for a state once known as the “good roads state.”
The General Assembly did some good during its short session. It did not do enough.
There’s plenty of work to do when the Legislature convenes in January 2009.
That work must be done so North Carolina can enjoy a clean bill of fiscal health. If the current legislators cannot or will not write the proper prescription, then it’s time to seek other fiscal health-care providers who will prescribe the right treatment.