Weigh & consider, then vote

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It’s not a presidential election year, but it is important to vote nonetheless. Before going to the polls, one should know what will be on the ballot. Because, district lines for the various races are jerrymandered to the point there are a dozen different ballots for Buncombe County, you may want to visit ncsbe.gov/ncsbe. Under “For Voters,” click on, “View My Sample Ballot.”

A host of judicial positions are at stake, and voters should choose wisely whether they want “activist judges” to continue the travesty of “legislating from the bench.” Since judicial races are nonpartisan, the “Judicial Voter Guide” will work in your bird cage. If you don’t have the time to get into the hearts and minds of the candidates, a better option than throwing darts would beconsulting your political party’s leadership – or reading up on the candidates somebody you consider a nut-case is endorsing.

Also on the ballot and out of mainstream media attention is a constitutional amendment. It reads, “Constitutional amendment providing that a person accused of any criminal offense for which the State is not seeking a sentence of death in superior court may, in writing or on the record in court and with the consent of the trial judge, waive the person’s right to a trial by jury.” You may wish to study the pros and cons.

You might also consider the following. Contrary to Mountain Moral Monday protests, the North Carolina General Assembly made amazing progress reining in government. Recent changes to the state budget constituted rare events where fiscally-conservative think tankers couldn’t believe anybody was actually following their recommendations. Changes to the tax structure caused the Tax Foundation to change the state’s business tax climate ranking from 44th to 17th in the nation, and the Cato Institute gave Pat McCrory an “A” in its “Fiscal Policy Report Card on America’s Governors.” More specifically, it listed McCrory first of four governors receiving that grade.

The John Locke Foundation summarized the budget changes in a policy report issued in August. At $21.1 billion, the budget increased only 2.2 percent over last year. Spending was contained so as to increase slower than the rate of inflation. The only areas where significant changes were made are the ones most attacked by Moral (the new word for Progressive or Democrat) interests; that is, education and Medicaid spending. Although funding was significantly restructured to realize better efficiencies, overall counts show teacher compensation increased by $282 million, and Medicaid spending increased $227 million. A Medicaid Reserve Fund was also created.

Every year the Republicans have been in the majority in the legislature, education funding has increased. This year, the K-12 education budget increased by 3 percent. The average pay increase for teachers was 7 percent, and every single pay grade increased. The John Locke report called this “one of the largest pay raises for North Carolina teachers in a generation.” In addition, across-the-board increases of $618 and $1000 were awarded to school support staff and administrators, respectively.

But like the girlfriend from Hades, the Moral crowd couldn’t accept that more was more. They found a way to frame things to make teachers persecuted victims. They complained that because the state raised pay for the teachers it funds, counties must now find the money to equitably pay the teachers they pay. Worse, North Carolina teachers were still making less than teachers in other states. Another complaint was that attempts were made to base teacher pay more on performance than on just showing up. Had a Progressive majority gotten their way with half the increases the nerdy Republicans gave, college professors would have run their IMPLAN software overtime to show hand-over-fist economic multipliers.

A number of changes were made to make school funding more intentional. Among them were measures to increase school choice, such as the creation of six new Cooperative and Innovative High Schools, a pilot program for virtual charter schools, and an expansion of the budget for state-funded private school scholarships by $840,000. Dr. Terry Stoops at the John Locke Foundation remarked, “As impressive as that may sound, it is unlikely that taxpayers’ massive investment in public schools will raise student achievement or curb discontent among those who cultivate it for political and financial gain.”

Since Medicaid spending makes up 18 percent of the General Fund, the legislature analyzed where the money was going and found forecasting methods wanting. In order to avoid serious shortfalls, the budget had to be revised to include the current backlog in reimbursement claims submitted by Medicaid providers. Obamacare, with its changes to rules and fascinating enrollment roll-out, has also caused a backlog in processing a huge influx of Medicaid applications. Even though the bill was signed, expert opinions vary widely about what this is going to cost. To buffer the uncertainties, legislators thought it wise to create a contingency fund of $186.4 million.

Last year, the state was the first in the nation to refuse the federal government’s program for funding extended unemployment benefits. Moral commentators called it a “war on the unemployed,” but once again, the move caused the state to receive national notice. This time, it was for statistic after statistic beating other states in recovering unemployment rates and related economic factors.

As for overall tax reform, changes made in 2013 have been attacked as giving cuts to huge corporations while shafting the little business worker. State Representative Tom Murry recently explained he and his peers were working to eliminate loopholes to make the business tax structure fair for everybody and make North Carolina a place both small and large interests want to do business. After a detailed analysis of the numbers, the John Locke Foundation’s Dr. Roy Cordato concluded, “The average household in every income group is seeing its tax burden reduced from both the 2011 sales tax reduction and the 2013 tax reform package.”

You only have one vote, but your opportunities for educating other voters in water-cooler conversations are unlimited.

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