Editorials: Legislature should ditch proposal to cap state income tax

Things over at the  General Assembly are just starting to warm up, but editorials in two of the state’s leading newspapers are already pouring cold water on one major conservative policy proposal: a constitutional amendment to cap the state income tax rate at 5.5%.

This is from the lead editorial in this morning’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer:

“The populist appeal of limiting taxes is obvious. Leaders are banking on voters taking a simplistic view of the issue, and supporting a cap on taxes, no questions asked. Republicans figure on a short-term political gain, nothing more.

But such a measure would hinder all future editions of the legislature. What if a natural disaster happened that took years to overcome? What if the state went into a deep recession? What if population growth made it necessary to find more revenue to provide basic services?

Oh, lawmakers would raise taxes, all right. But it wouldn’t be the most fair tax, the income tax, based on a person’s ability to pay. No, in need, those legislators would raise sales taxes and service taxes, which hit hardest the middle- and lower-income taxpayers. In fact, while cutting income taxes since taking over on Jones Street, Republicans have raised exactly those kinds of taxes to get more revenue.

This is political demagoguery at its worst. Lawmakers have no business tying the hands of those who’ll succeed them in the future.”

Meanwhile, yesterday’s Fayetteville Observer put it this way:

“The measure might be good politics, but it could lead to terrible governance and some dangerous unintended consequences….

Revenue has ups and downs. So does the economy. We trust our lawmakers remember what recession did to state revenue only a decade or so ago. There have been times in our state’s history when it’s been necessary to bump income taxes up, at least temporarily, to maintain essential services during economic downturns.

What happens if this new tax cap is installed in the N.C. Constitution and then we get hit with another Great Recession? If the revenue streams run nearly dry, what do we do? Lay off teachers and increase average class size to, say, 50? Do we let inmates out of prison because we can’t pay the guards? Triple tuition at state universities? Close state parks?

Over the years, we’ve seen lawmakers of both parties exercise responsible stewardship of the public’s money. This is a fiscally conservative state, no matter which party has been in charge, and we don’t see that changing.

Handcuffing lawmakers to a 5.5 percent tax rate may play well with shortsighted voters – and some shortsighted legislators as well. But it could come back to hurt us badly in the next downturn.”

Let’s fervently hope lawmakers are, for once, thinking beyond the next election.


Editorials blast Berger for his obstruction of HB2 repeal, Cooper compromise

Two more major newspapers point out the absurdity of Senate leader Phil Berger’s disingenuous stance on HB2 repeal this morning. The Charlotte Observer tells it like it is with this observation:

“Goodbye, NCAA. Goodbye, ACC. Goodbye from Phil Berger, who keeps whispering, ‘Hush.’

Sen. Berger and other Republican leaders on Tuesday made clear that they have zero intention of repealing HB2, ‘clean’ or otherwise. Minutes after Gov. Roy Cooper offered a compromise deal, Berger shot it down and other Republicans followed.

That’s yet another nail in the repeal effort’s coffin, and almost guarantees that the NCAA and the ACC will remove North Carolina from consideration for all events through at least 2022. That will mean the state that is the heart of the Atlantic Coast Conference will go six years without a championship event, forgoing millions of dollars in tax revenue and hundreds of millions in economic impact.”

The editorial goes on to laud Cooper’s compromise and deride both Berger and Lt. Gov. Dan Forest (“the state’s most inflammatory public official on this issue”) for their blatantly false statements on the matter.

The Greensboro News & Record puts it this way in an editorial in which they compare Berger and company to the sadistic prison guards in the classic movie “Cool Hand Luke” whom the title prisoner could never satisfy:

“Republicans challenged Cooper to propose a fair and workable way to repeal the state’s mean-spirited “bathroom law,” HB 2. So Cooper did, floating a bill this week that rolls back the anti-LGBT rights measure while ramping up penalties for sexual predators in restrooms. The bill also requires local governments to give the legislature 30 days notice before passing new anti-discrimination laws.

Republicans say it’s not enough.

‘The threshold question is, what is the governor’s position on whether men should be allowed to share restrooms, locker rooms and showers with women and girls?’ state Senate leader Phil Berger said. ‘… And until we find out what his position is on this, the idea of trotting out something like this and calling it a compromise seems to be just a perpetuation of the current status.’

Translation: ‘We’ll continue to blame you for the lack of an HB 2 repeal. But we’ll also reject any repeal you suggest.’”

The bottom line: HB2 is here to stay because, ultimately, Phil Berger, Dan Forest and the other conservative members of the state sex police wouldn’t have it any other way.

Commentary, HB2

Phil Berger’s idea of an HB2 “compromise”

North Carolina Senate leader Phil Berger appears to have rejected Governor Roy Cooper’s latest effort at a compromise on HB2. Despite Cooper’s offer of an actually enforceable bathroom safety law plus a requirement that local officials give a month’s notice before moving to enact any kind of non-discrimination ordinances (two provisions that both the Human Rights Campaign and Equality North Carolina criticized), Berger derided the proposal. This is from the story:

“I don’t see this as a compromise,” he [Berger] said. “I don’t see this as anything different than what he’s been saying all along. I don’t know how you could say that that’s something we could build on.”

In a statement, Berger also continued to push Cooper on whether he believes men should be able to go into women’s bathrooms and shower facilities.

Rather remarkably, Berger now finds himself even to the right of the reliably reactionary News & Observer columnist J. Peder Zane. In a column in this morning’s N&O, Zane called HB2 “completely unnecessary” and observed that it addressed a “nonexistent problem.”

So, what to do? Is there anything Senator Berger would accept as a compromise on HB2? After a great deal of reflection and research here is our best take on what Cooper would probably have to do in order to secure an agreement with Berger on repealing the infamous law:

#1 – Endorse a Senate rule change altering Berger’s official title from Senate President Pro Tem to Senate President Rex Maximus Vitae (“supreme ruler for life”).

#2 – Agreeing to sign legislation that will expand the state Supreme Court to nine members and name Berger’s son, Appeals Court Judge Phil Berger Jr. and the senior Berger’s chief of staff, Jim Blaine, as the two new members. Both Berger Jr. and Blaine would also be allowed to continue in their current state-funded positions and neither would have to sign any court opinions if it made them feel uncomfortable. Oh, and Berger Jr. would have to be Chief Justice too.

#3 – Agree to sign legislation establishing a new military-style division in the SBI to be known as the North Carolina Restroom and Locker Room Gender Enforcement Force. Former State Rep. Paul Stam will serve as commander-in-chief and North Carolina Values Coalition director Tami Fitzgerald will serve as chief inspector. The NCRLRGEF budget would receive an annual appropriation of $100 million.

#4 –  Agree to a new state law that would henceforth require all local government officials to sign a blood oath (in actual blood) upon taking office never to propose, pass or even think about proposing or passing a local ordinance that uses the terms “sexual orientation” or “gender identity.”

#5 – Agree to join Berger, Fitzgerald, Stam and the Rev. Franklin Graham on a national tour of conservative mega-churches at which Cooper would beg forgiveness and pledge to promote and fund “conversion therapy” for all people currently identifying themselves as LGBTQ.

#6 – Agree to a new law that would re-christen the Governor’s mansion as the “Senate President Rex Maximus Vitae Palace” and move Cooper and his wife to an office in the basement of the Legislative Building.

#7 – Arrange for the heads of the NBA, NCAA and ACC to commit to bring the all-star games and championships scheduled for the next five years to a 20,000 seat arena to be constructed in downtown Eden and dubbed the Phil Berger (right of) Center.

Stay tuned. We’ll keep you apprised as to whether Berger adds any additional demands in the days ahead.


Editorial blasts Berger-Moore effort to control Cooper’s cabinet

The lead editorial in the Winston-Salem Journal this morning has an on-the-money take on the effort of state legislative leaders to dictate to Governor Roy Cooper who can serve in his own cabinet. As the editorial rightfully observes:

“We appreciate the discernment of the three N.C. Superior Court judges who last week issued a temporary restraining order to allow Gov. Roy Cooper to appoint his Cabinet secretaries unhindered….Their order overrides a portion of House Bill 17, which the Republican-controlled legislature passed and includes a mandate that Cooper’s appointees meet their approval.

This ruling must be made permanent when it’s heard in March. The new governor shouldn’t be stripped of powers his predecessors enjoyed, especially not because of partisan politics….

This is just common sense. The legislature can’t dole out, then revoke, the governor’s powers according to whether he’s a Democrat or a Republican. Voters elected Cooper expecting him to have the same powers McCrory had.

These kinds of arguments have contributed to the political division we experience today. The rules should be set, they should be fair and they should be applied consistently across the board, whether it’s Cabinet choices, legislative district boundaries or the powers afforded elected officers. This kind of political maneuvering, from either side, undermines the will of the voters.

North Carolinians are best served when members of both parties work together, not when one party — either party — overplays its hand to attain and maintain power.”

The editorial also cites Rick Glazier, Executive Director of the North Carolina Justice Center (the parent organization of NC Policy Watch) for defending the judges who’ve ruled for Cooper thus far against the Trump-like attacks fired by Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore. As Glazier explained, the judges didn’t ask for this case and don’t deserve such venom:

“These judges are just doing their duty. They came to a unanimous, bipartisan decision on issuing the temporary restraining order.”

The bottom line: North Carolinains should be thankful that, as is occurring at the federal level with Trump’s illegal immigration orders, their judiciary is doing its duty and standing up to  bullying power grabbers who would violate the constitution.


Trump’s Supreme Court nominee shouldn’t be allowed to have it both ways

In addition to being a far right ideologue who would, if confirmed, do his utmost to roll back critical constitutional rights, Donald Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court Neil Gorsuch is also, quite apparently, a two-faced politician. How so, you ask?

Well, consider  the nominee’s recent reaction to Trump’s latest attack on the judiciary in the aftermath of the striking down of his unconstitutional immigrant ban. As you will recall, the Prevaricator-in-chief issued an attack on the heroic federal judge (a Bush appointee, for heaven’s sake) who struck down his ban, characterizing him as a “so-called judge.” In response, Gorsuch apparently offered some mild criticism of Trump.

This is from a recent News & Observer editorial:

“Now, in conversations with individual U.S. senators — conversations Gorsuch apparently agreed could be shared with the public — the judge seems to have crossed a line Trump expects everyone to stay behind. That is, he may have not only differed with the president, he may have actually criticized him in talks with senators. Apparently, Gorsuch thinks it’s wrong that the president blasts judges who do not rule exactly as he would wish them to.”

While welcome on one level, here’s the problem with Gorsuch’s response: the man was just standing next to Trump a few days ago saying what a great guy he is and accepting his nomination. Did he just figure out now that Trump is a lying charlatan? As the same N&O editorial points out, Trump attacked another judge last summer by alleging that his Mexican heritage biased him. And, of course, the list of Trump’s outrages is as long as your arm.

How convenient that Gorsuch is criticizing Trump now, after his nomination has already been submitted.

In this respect, Gorsuch’s behavior is emblematic of scores of conservative politician — from John McCain to Lindsay Graham to Richard Burr to Thom Tillis — who know Trump is an immoral liar and a threat to the the nation, but who constantly muzzle themselves for fear of harming their own political careers. Rather than having the courage to stand up to Trump — really stand up to him in public — these craven politicians send occasional signals behind closed doors or in obscure meetings that they know will be received well by their friends in the national media without jeopardizing their support amongst the far-right Trump crowd that they suppose they need to stay in office.

All in all, it’s a thoroughly shameless approach to life in public office — one that puts personal political success ahead of national security (and what a person knows to be morally right) and that signifies a brand of fundamental dishonesty.  In the case of Gorsuch, it ought to be more than enough reason for his nomination to be summarily rejected.