Another day, another round of misleading and inaccurate claims about the state budget, taxes and economic development, this time from Republican Senator Robert Pittenger in his latest email newsletter to supporters.
The distortions comes as Labor Day approaches, the holiday that typically signifies the real beginning of the fall campaign season leading up to November’s election.
In the next few months airwaves and mailboxes will be filled with all sorts of claims about state policy that stretch the truth into unrecognizable shapes or simply misrepresent what happened in the General Assembly in the last two years.
As a public service, the Fitzsimon File will continue to try to correct the record as the campaigns continue. Today, four of the most prominent myths that you will hear repeatedly over the next few months that have little or nothing to do with reality.
Myth number one. The 2006 General Assembly spent all of the $2.4 billion budget surplus. This one comes to us from many Republicans, including Pittenger who repeated the claim in his newsletter Wednesday.
The General Assembly did not spend all of the surplus. The Budget and Tax Center reports that almost $550 was set aside for savings, including $323 to the state’s Rainy Day Fund. Another $388 million was used to pay for tax cuts, including a ¼ percent reduction in the state sales tax and the income tax rate on the state’s wealthiest taxpayers. That is almost $900 million that was either saved or returned in tax reductions.
Myth number two. Tax rates in North Carolina are hurting economic development. Pittenger said this too, but he is far from the only one. In fact, this myth has taken on a life of its own and is repeated across the state by legislators of both parties and corporate lobbyists.
Just last week, Forbes.com rated North Carolina as the third best state for business in the nation and the best in the Southeast in terms of the cost of doing business. Repeat after me, tax rates are not hurting economic development.
Myth number three. Ethics and lobbying reform passed this session cleaned up government and reduced the influence of wealthy, well-connected lobbyists.
Nope. The legislation did many good things but there are loopholes big enough to have a fundraiser in. After January 1, lobbyists can no longer contribute to campaigns, but they can still raise money for candidates, which is a more effective way to purchase access anyway.
The contribution ban is almost certainly to be thrown out by a court on constitutional grounds and many of the same legislators who tout the ban know it won’t stay on the books. The lobbying reform legislation did ban gifts from lobbyists, but included a long list of exceptions to the ban so the gifts are not likely to slow down too much.
And none of the reforms take effect until January anyway, so lawmakers can keep hitting up lobbyists for campaign cash until then and many of them are. That builds public trust. Rail against lobbyists giving money to campaigns, then ask lobbyists to contribute to your campaign.
Myth number four. The scandal surrounding House Speaker Jim Black and his close associates will blow over and not effect legislative elections.
No way. Whether Black is charged with a crime before the election or not, the scandal is a major issue in legislative races. The Speaker himself may not have been indicted, but his former Chief of Staff has admitted she broke the law.
Rep Mike Decker admitted changing his party registration and voting for Black for Speaker in exchange for $50,000, and Black’s appointee to the Lottery Commission faces a criminal trial in September. That’s an awful lot of smoke whether there is fire or not and it is hard to campaign on the issues with a lot of smoke in the room.
More myth busting to come as the election season continues.