THE RALEIGH REPORT
August 22, 2018
It may be August, but there is a lot going on in state government.
Constitutional Amendments Update
I'm grateful that our five former Republican and Democratic governors are openly and forcefully opposing two of the six constitutional amendments scheduled for the November ballot. Both amendments strip executive power from the office of the governor and move it to the General Assembly thereby upsetting the balance of power essential to a democracy. The consolidation of power by one branch of government can be a tipping point to further erosion of democratic principles. History shows us that when leaders with divergent political views set aside their policy difference and jointly oppose a radical agenda, they can stop an autocratic takeover and protect democracy.
One amendment deals with the power to appoint the boards and commissions that write the rules and regulations to implement state laws. That amounts to running state government, an executive branch function. That amendment also transfers the power to appoint an eight-member bipartisan board of elections to legislators. The other amendment the governors oppose transfers the vacancy appointment of judges to the legislature and extends their time of service before having to face the voters. If passed, these two amendments would make the General Assembly far more powerful than the Governor or the courts.
The five governors argue that the language voters will see on the ballot masks what the amendments will actually do and is dishonest and misleading. As I'm writing this column, the lawsuits to stop these two amendments from appearing on the ballot have not been settled. As the courts sort through these challenges, they have ordered the State Board of Elections to delay printing the ballots until September 1.
The remaining four proposed amendments are also problematic. One would lower the cap on the state income tax from 10% to 7%. States have two main sources of revenue to pay the bills: income tax and sales tax. If we reduce the income tax and have a serious economic downturn the state could be forced to raise the state sales tax, restore the tax on food, increase fees and cut services. All of the actions would hurt low-income families more than the upper-income families that could more easily afford a temporary increase in their state income tax.
Another amendment would allow state legislators to reinstate a voter ID law that the courts ruled unconstitutional because it unfairly limited the impact of African American voters. Another proposed amendment that guarantees the right to hunt and fish does not address any existing problem and is not needed. The final proposed amendment would increase victims' rights. Some are questioning if this amendment might be used to further restrict a woman's right to have an abortion.
Amending the state constitution is serious business. Amendments are usually placed on the ballot in response to a major problem and after long public debates. I'll be voting NO on all six of the state constitutional amendments on the November ballot.
Long Lines at the DMV – and tax cuts
By now, I'm sure everyone knows about long wait times at local Division of Motor Vehicle (DMV) offices. One reason is the number of people wanting to get a Real ID card that, in 2020, will be required to board an airline or enter a federal facility. Another is the annual summer surge of young people getting their first license. The third factor is the high rate of employee turnover and the many unfilled vacant positions. That is likely due to the low pay for examiners and that in turn is due to the loss of $3 billion in state revenue through the tax cuts Republicans have passed since they gained a supermajority in both chambers in 2012. The pay for DMV examiners, and many other state employees, has not kept up with inflation. DMV announced last week they will attempt to hire 100 additional examiners to address the problem.
When the state cuts taxes, we should not be surprised by the loss of essential government services or the loss of our best employees. When the DMV is understaffed, everyone is aware, complaints are across the board and the problem gets fixed. The general public is often not alert to cuts to programs that serve children, the poor, or the mentally ill. These cuts impact the people who need the services and they impact the quality of life for the greater community. We all want our tax dollars to be spent responsibly; but adequate taxes are essential to maintain our democracy. Republicans delayed the tax cut due to go into effect in 2018, an election year; but it is in the budget to go into effect in 2019.
How to Engage
It's tough to keep track of what is happening. Here are some ways to stay involved.
1. Call me or my legislative assistant Young Bae at 919-733-7208 or email me at Inskola@ncleg.net with How can I get involved in the subject line.
2. Follow us on Twitter at @verlainsko and Facebook at Verla Insko.
3. Visit ncleg.net where you can see bills, listen to session, and see daily calendars.
4. Help us spread the word on social media or by forwarding this newsletter and other alerts or key news items.
As always, thank you for your support of my work in Raleigh as your representative. Please let me know of your position on issues, your suggestions for legislation and your requests for help.