Republican red in Raleigh
Color Raleigh Republican red, at least downtown from the Governor’s Mansion to the State Legislative Building.
When the N.C. General Assembly convenes for the 2013 legislative session next month, Republicans will control both chambers of the Legislature and hold the governor’s office for the first time since 1870, when President Ulysses S. Grant oversaw the Reconstruction era in the South in the wake of the Civil War.
Gov.-Elect Pat McCrory, who grew up in Jamestown and graduated from Ragsdale High School, will become the first Republican chief executive of state government in 20 years following his convincing win in the Nov. 6 general election over Democratic Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton.
Republicans gained concurrent control of the state House and Senate two years ago for the first time since the late 19th century. GOP state legislative candidates padded their party’s margins in both chambers on Election Day last month.
Republicans will have 32-18 seat margin in the Senate and a 77-43 advantage in the House. Prior to the 2010 general election, Democrats held a 30-20 majority in the Senate and a 68-52 margin in the House.
McCrory’s ascension to governor means the main political brake on Republican legislators – Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue – won’t be in place when the gavel bangs down in both legislative chambers Jan. 9 to launch the 2013 session.
Changes on the horizon
A Republican governor, along with a GOP-dominated House and Senate, means issues such as structural changes in tax policy, promotion of offshore oil and natural gas drilling, a requirement of a photo ID to vote and education reform could come to the forefront, said Ran Coble, executive director of the nonpartisan N.C. Center for Public Policy Research in Raleigh.
“On taxes, they may be looking at a total overhaul,” Coble told The High Point Enterprise.
Some legislators want to repeal the corporate income tax and personal income tax, then increase the sales tax to counteract the revenue lost from income taxes. Another less strident possibility is reducing the corporate and personal income tax rates, then adjusting the sales tax to make up for the lost income tax revenue.
“The key decision is do you try to be revenue-neutral in doing all that,” Coble said. “There are two difficult things about this for the governor-elect and the Legislature. The first is, you have to decide at the beginning, are you doing this to cut government or are you doing this to be revenue-neutral to make changes in the tax system you think would help the state.”
But the second issue in reforming the tax code is that McCrory campaigned on education reforms that could require more money, such as merit pay for teachers, Coble said.
“So then you are talking about revenue-neutral plus new money,” he said.
Rep. John Faircloth, R-Guilford, said he expects a host of different ideas on overhauling the state’s tax structure to come up next year.
“They are a lot of different feelings about how to approach this tax situation. My feeling is that we are going to take a long look. A lot of questions are going to be asked about a lot of different possibilities,” said Faircloth, a former High Point City Council member and retired city police chief.
Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph, said any ambitious legislative goal, such as overhauling the tax structure, inherently will upset groups that have a stake in the way taxes are collected now.
“To lower the rates, you’ve got to spread the base out and catch them all,” said Tillman, the Senate majority whip. “More than likely, a combination will emerge to get it done. But it’ll be tough.”
NO BRAKE ON GOP
On public education, McCrory and the Republican leadership of the General Assembly probably will do more to promote charter schools and vocational education, Coble said.
Perdue expressed reservations about offshore drilling and successfully vetoed a bill that would have required a photo ID at polls. But McCrory campaigned forcefully to pursue energy exploration and require voters to show a photo ID.
While the shift in party control may dominate the discussion about state government, another major change emerges from the turnover of the General Assembly to the Republicans.
More than 60 percent of the state’s 180 legislators taking office next month weren’t in the General Assembly three years ago, Coble said. During the 2013-14 legislative session, a total of 102 legislators will not have been there in when the 2010 session concluded.
“That’s a big factor,” Coble said. “It makes coordination between the governor and the legislative leadership more important. A combined 652 years of institutional memory and policy expertise will be lost with this much turnover. On the other hand, there will be room for lots of new ideas.”
Republicans can't assume free ride with more control
For Republicans who now have control of both chambers of the N.C. General Assembly and the governor’s office for the first time together in 142 years, it’s not quite a case of “be careful what you wish for.”
But two area Republicans say GOP control of state government may turn into a case of “be aware what you wish for when it comes true.”
Rep. John Faircloth, R-Guilford, and Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph, say Republicans can’t assume that their full control of leadership positions automatically will translate into trouble-free deliberations at the State Legislative Building in Raleigh. Republicans still face potentially thorny debates over tax policy, or discussions on issues that have regional or urban-rural splits, that will require cooperation and collaboration, Faircloth and Tillman say.
Gov.-Elect Pat McCrory will become the state’s first Republican governor in 20 years. That follows historic gains two years ago when Republicans seized concurrent control of both state legislative chambers for the first time since the late 19th century.
But Faircloth said McCrory’s replacement of Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue, who clashed with the Republican-controlled General Assembly on a host of issues that led to vetoes of bills, doesn’t assure smooth legislative sailing next year.
“I think it’s easy for the average person to say, ‘Well, everybody will have their way now down there.’ That’s certainly not the case,” said Faircloth, a former High Point City Council member and retired city police chief. “My feeling is that the Senate, House and governor all being of the same party puts extra responsibility on us to assure that we are doing the job the way it needs to be done.”
Tillman, the Senate majority whip, said that Democrats for decades had sizable majorities in the House and Senate and control of the governor’s office, yet still endured squabbles over legislation.
Still, Faircloth and Tillman acknowledge that large Republican majorities in the General Assembly and a GOP governor should make communication and deliberations clearer between the legislative and executive branches.
Tillman said that he expects the Republican legislative leadership and McCrory to have productive deliberations when the 2013 session begins next month. The ideas that McCrory campaigned on this year reflect the outlook of the GOP legislative leadership, Tillman said.
“Our big goals are the same. I haven’t seen any approach that he (McCrory) mentioned in the campaign that we would differ on,” Tillman said.
Republicans such as Faircloth and Tillman are glad that their gains in the last two election cycles have put Republicans in control, though they realize that issues not high on the radar screen could emerge in the coming year that would complicate governing.
“You never know what rabbit will jump out of the brush pile,” Tillman said.
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