It has been quite an illustrative few days in Raleigh as the new unified tea party government begins to assert itself and forcing its far-right agenda on North Carolina with alarming speed.
Two days into the General Assembly session, House leaders rushed a regressive proposal to slash benefits for laid off workers through a committee after allowing exactly four minutes of public debate on the sweeping 70-page bill that was introduced the day before.
No one offered any explanation for the need to ram the bill through, but it is likely legislative leaders know that the more the public learns about the secretly crafted proposal, the less they will like it.
It makes some of the most radical reductions to benefits for laid off workers any state has ever made as part the effort to repay a $2.4 billion debt to the federal government the state incurred when it ran out of money to pay benefits during the Great Recession.
A series of unemployment tax cuts for businesses in the last 20 years left the state without the money to pay benefits when the recession hit and now laid off workers are being asked to repay most of the federal loan.
There is a small tax increase on some businesses to speed up the repayment of the debt but some employers will actually pay lower unemployment taxes in the long run under the proposal and all the tax hikes will expire when the debt is repaid.
The drastic cuts to benefits for laid off workers will be permanent and make North Carolina’s unemployment system one of the worst in the country for employees who lose their jobs through no fault of their own.
The bill was written by leaders of the N.C. Chamber who jumped at the chance to use the debt to the federal government to make anti-worker changes to the unemployment system they have sought for years.
While the House was doing the bidding of the corporate lobbyists and punishing workers for being laid off, the Senate was ramming legislation through a committee to reject an expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.
The expanded coverage would provide health care for more than 500,000 low-income people who cannot afford health insurance and it would bring $15 billion to North Carolina hospitals in the next decade. The federal government would pay 100 percent of the cost for the first three years and more than 90 percent after that.
But federal government is apparently the key phrase here. Legislative leaders’ comments to the media about the legislation rejecting the Medicaid expansion sounded like the speeches at the tea party rallies many of them attend.
A press release from Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger said “Obamacare was forced on us against our will by the federal government…” Against our will? It was passed by the U.S. Congress and signed by the president that the country elected and recently re-elected and it was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, a majority of which was appointed by presidents from Berger’s own political party.
Rep. Mike Hager told a reporter the federal government should “stay out of our business.” It makes you wonder if a secession bill is far behind to allow Hager and Berger to end any relationship with the federal government they seem to hate.
Then there’s Governor Pat McCrory, still seeming reluctant to weigh in on most issues, reinforcing the notion that he actually is the top official in the new Pope Administration in Raleigh.
Hopes for the relatively moderate McCrory that governed Charlotte as mayor for 14 years seem like a pipe dream now. McCrory made headlines this week for telling conservative radio host Bill Bennett that he wants to only fund courses at public universities that lead directly to jobs.
The remarks were an obvious slap at liberal arts education, though McCrory later denied it. But the episode seems to put McCrory squarely in the camp of the anti-intellectual wing of his party.
And not to be outdone, Republican lawmakers also filed legislation this week addressing the prevalence of guns in our society. They want more of them in more places.
One would allow loaded and concealed weapons in bars and restaurants and the other would allow armed marshals to patrol the schools.
Quite a few days indeed. But at least it cleared things up for people with any doubts remaining about the folks now running the state.
They are zealots intoxicated with power, true believers in a radical tea party philosophy that could make North Carolina almost unrecognizable before they are done.
It promises to be painful to watch.