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NC the Newest Lab for GOP Policy

Last year’s elections ushered in a new era in Tar Heel politics. The state elected a new Republican governor and a GOP-controlled House and Senate last fall, just four years after voting for Barack Obama, the first Democratic candidate the state had supported in 32 years.

NC GOPers aren’t wasting time making use of their new power. The Washington Post reports:

Legislators have slashed jobless benefits. They have also repealed a tax credit that supplemented the wages of low-income people, while moving to eliminate the estate tax. They have voted against expanding Medicaid to comply with the 2010 federal health-care law. The expansion would have added 500,000 poor North Carolinians to the Medicaid rolls. […]

Lawmakers are also considering proposals to reduce and flatten income tax rates while expanding the sales tax, perhaps to even include groceries and prescription drugs — which some advocates see as a first step toward eliminating the state income tax…There are also measures pending to require drug testing for low-income people applying for job training and welfare benefits.

NC’s GOP austerity-minded policies seem to be picking up momentum, but this new red wave hasn’t been without its share of detractors, both within the GOP and without. Not surprisingly, the state’s liberals are up in arms over the rapid move to the right, and protestors have organized “Moral Mondays” outside the state capitol to decry policies they see as deepening inequality.

But the proposed state budget is upsetting some conservatives as well. It includes large cuts to the state’s Wildlife Resources Commission, a move that is already riling up hunters and boaters—typically a conservative-leaning constituency.

The proposed legislative budget is also at loggerheads with NC’s Republican governor Pat McCrory over provisions like the proposed wage freeze for public employees—NC teachers are 46th in the nation in pay. Governor McCrory is no doubt wary of alienating voters, having seen the dip in opinion polls Governor Brownback has endured after pushing through Tea Party policies in an all-GOP Kansas.

For the rest of the country, there is value in North Carolina’s experiment. Will the new policies attract business to the state and ultimately end up accelerating its growth? Or will the pain caused by the cuts and policy changes ultimately derail the GOP? Either way, the country will be that much wiser and politicians elsewhere will have another data point to consider when figuring out what other states should do.

North Carolina is a fascinating state, politically speaking. In the days of the old south it had a reputation as more racially tolerant and forward looking than some of its neighbors. (Yes, South Carolina, that means you.) Governors like Terry Sanford burnished the state’s progressive credentials in the 20th century even as senators like Jesse Helms stood for conservative ideas.

North Carolina has changed dramatically in the last fifty years; Charlotte has become a financial center, the state’s leading universities have achieved national stature, and the Research Triangle including Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill has been one of the most successful regional development initiatives in the world. Immigrants from other parts of the United States as well as from overseas have affected the state’s population and culture.

That a state this complex and this forward looking has embraced, for now at least, very conservative Republican ideas is an interesting sign. If the GOP continues to dominate North Carolina politics at the state level, that will be an important clue as to the direction in which the whole country is headed.

[Red North Carolina image courtesy of Shutterstock]

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  • jeburke

    NC GOPers had better be cautious and careful. It’s one thing to opt out of Medicaid expansion but quite another to try to substitute a broad-based sales tax for its income tax. All in all, it’s better to demonstrate first that you can run a tighter, more efficient, less-expensive ship, rack up surpluses, and then “spend” the surplus on popular tax cuts. Businesses thinking of locating in the state will like that more too.

  • Jim Luebke

    “Protestors have organized “Moral Mondays” outside the state capitol”

    Wait a minute, I thought we weren’t supposed to either legislate morality, and we especially aren’t supposed to use massive amounts of public funds to allow one portion of the electorate push its version of morality on the rest of the state.

    Am I missing something here?

  • Corlyss

    North Carolina may finally be coming into its own. For centuries it’s been known as “a valley of humility between two mountains of conceit.”

  • ljgude

    I’m skeptical too about the idealogical feel of these policies which may cost too many votes to last long. I think the Blue model has to be dismantled, but I am not very confident that this is the way to do it. But I have to respect the NC GOP for trying. By all means take what works, drop what doesn’t and keep moving forward. Detroit is not an alternative.

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