One of the most frustrating phenomena of the early days of the 2009 state legislative session has been the remarkable inability of supposedly well-informed and powerful legislators to grasp some of the most rudimentary concepts behind the national economic stimulus package.

The latest case in point occurred yesterday afternoon in a special joint meeting of the House and Senate Finance Committees. The culprit was veteran Senator (and Committee Co-Chair) David Hoyle of Gaston County.

As all who follow the General Assembly are well-aware, Hoyle has long been one of the most conservative, “pro-business” members of the Democratic caucus. Earlier this week he also displayed his penchant for the far right social agenda by signing on as a co-sponsor to the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (a bill that might have been more appropriately dubbed the “Defense of Hate and Narrow-mindedness Act”).

Since lawmakers returned to Raleigh last month, Hoyle has grumbled on multiple occasions that he just couldn’t see “where the jobs are” in the stimulus package. At yesterday’s meeting, he got a chance to do it again when the discussion turned to some of the specific spending items that would be coming to North Carolina. “There are a lot of things in here that look like spending and not what we’re trying to do: save jobs,” he complained.

Then the Senator went all Bobby Jindal on the assembled group with a particularly offensive statement. He asked the newly appointed stimulus coordinator Dempsey Benton about money in the package for hiring more childcare workers: “What’s that,” he asked sarcastically, “babysitting for people who lost their jobs?”

The strange thing about all of this is that despite his conservative orientation, Hoyle is no market fundamentalist. He’s long been one of the legislature’s biggest defenders of public subsidies for big business. He says he’s strongly in favor of accepting the stimulus money.

For some reason, though, he seems unable to grasp the simple concept that federal spending can be stimulative even if the money is not all spent on highways or giveaways to big bidness. The idea is to get money out there in the hands of people who will spend it – ideally for a good purpose. That’s why food stamps and unemployment insurance are both ideal tools. The money goes right out into the economy – to stores and other businesses that, in turn, hire people and make purchases of their own.

And that’s also why childcare is a great place to target spending. Not only do we address a huge and long ignored need, we put people (i.e. childcare workers) to work. Why is this so hard to understand? Does the senator think that one has to wear a coat and tie or hard hat and overalls to have a “real” job? Or is it simply that he has some cockamamie notion that only money spent on helping companies that he knows and likes amounts to creating jobs?

Whatever the case, it’s going to make a long and painful session a lot longer and more painful if someone doesn’t provide the senator with an Econ 101 refresher course – hopefully one that emphasizes the shortcomings of Jindal-nomics.


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