They were almost a constant presence in Raleigh last year, so it seems a bit of an eye-roller to say lawmakers return to the state capital [Jan. 8] for the start of their “long” session.
The state House and Senate convene in odd-numbered years to file and debate bills and, most notably, set a two-year budget. The even-numbered years are meant to be “short” sessions lasting a couple of months to tweak the budget, handle a few pressing matters and then go home and run for re-election.
It didn’t work out that way last year, as lawmakers continued coming back to Raleigh to override gubernatorial vetoes; address court orders that overturned their ill-conceived, overly politicized plans; manipulate election matters — which ultimately backfired — designed to improve Republican candidates’ chances of winning; or address emergencies such as Hurricane Florence.
If you didn’t keep count, it was a short regular session, then three special sessions, followed Nov. 27 by an abbreviated “regular session” that finally adjourned Dec. 27.
And so now they’re back at it — for at least the next six months. The election of several more Democrats to the House and Senate wiped out Republicans’ “super majority,” meaning they no longer can easily override gubernatorial vetoes.
But politics is mere theater and serves none of us. So while we don’t expect to see a “new dawn” of cooperation, there’s room to get some meaningful things done.
Chief among these priorities is an open budget process. Last year, the Republicans worked up a budget in private, dropped it on lawmakers’ desks and called a vote without a process to amend or fully debate it.
Secrecy and circumvented debate have no place in conducting the people’s business. With more balance this year, we expect this will not get repeated.
When the budget does come out, we hope it addresses critical needs our state faces, especially support for K-12 public education. Lawmakers say they’ve been spending more on education, but where they’re dedicating more resources to are public charter schools and private school voucher programs. Last year, lawmakers agreed to put more money into school districts so they could accommodate state-mandated lower class sizes for grades K-3. We’ll be watching for that.
Other priorities abound. Republican lawmakers have consistently weakened the authority of local governments the last several years. If the legislature isn’t going to restore some of this control, we hope they at least don’t erode it further.
Also, as we’ve said in this space many times, the legislature needs to find a fairer way to apply economic assistance to communities. Right now, the state’s “tier” system hurts disadvantaged communities like Robbins because they’re in well-off counties like Moore. That needs fixing this year.
Lastly, address congressional and state election districts. The U.S. Supreme Court this March will hear arguments over whether politics unduly influenced North Carolina’s and Maryland’s districts and are, thus, unconstitutional. Regardless of that outcome, the time has come to develop a process that is enshrined as an amendment to the Constitution, void of political influence, that draws fair and logical districts. It ought to be enshrined as an amendment to our state constitution.
It’s a laden agenda. And we haven’t touched on school safety, environmental issues, transportation concerns or addressing the urban-rural imbalance.
Maybe this year some real legislating will get done instead of ham-handed political stunts.