State Rep. Deb Butler’s epic Sept. 11 outburst on the floor of the General Assembly is a reminder— to some at least — that North Carolina is governed in a perpetual state of chaos.
Even before HB2 legislation raised the ire of many celebrities, activists and media members, the state has been shoveled up a steady dose of “What the hell” is going on in North Carolina? The constant barrage of criticism and outrage leaves one to believe that the state is being run by “backward” or “rural minded rubes,” whose only intent is to “turn back the clock.”
Yet, despite a steady flow of meltdowns, North Carolina’s economic vitality and spending restraint is a national model.
A 2013 Blueprint NC-leaked memo telegraphed the “chaos” strategy where the stated goal was to “eviscerate the [GOP] leadership and weaken their ability to govern.” HB2 created a national frenzy propelled by celebrity outrage and a barrage of calling some elected leaders in the state “bigots.”
Public hysteria and arrest over policy disagreements — often modeled by the Moral Monday movement — is an effort to sanctify not only government largesse, but outrage. The Rev. William Barber simply tags policies he disagrees with as “racist.” “Sue till blue” is another concerted attempt to normalize a narrative of chaos, often using courts to usurp the power of the representatives closest to the people.
Yet, progress does not inherently translate to the need for more spending or government. Decades of pitiful stewardship and mismanagement in Washington has resulted in a federal debt closing in on $23 trillion. Washington is broken and must start looking to states like North Carolina for policy reforms and spending restraint. It seems unwise to look to many cities in America for policy guidance, given they have become “progressive” tax and spend bastions detrimental to the middle class.
When you cut through the incessant political noise, North Carolina offers up a healthy alternative to the spending binge. As Civitas colleague Brian Balfour noted: “After two decades of significant ramping up of state debt, new conservative leadership in 2011 ushered in a policy of fiscal restraint that has resulted in a notable reduction in the state’s debt burden.”
In a 2017 Forbes article, Patrick Gleason called North Carolina a model for tax reform. “Since they began cutting taxes in 2013, North Carolina legislators have kept annual increases in state spending below the rate of population growth and inflation,” wrote Gleason. “As a result, at the same time North Carolina taxpayers have been allowed to keep billions more of their hard-earned income, the state has experienced repeated budget surpluses.”
The dire predictions from left-leaning groups and the current governor concerning record budget shortfalls never materialized. Instead pro-growth policies recently produced five budget surpluses in a row and most recently a $900 million surplus, while the state’s rainy-day fund could hit $2 billion by 2021.
On top of that, North Carolina ascended to the top of the Forbes ranking for the best state to do business in 2017 and 2018. Now, almost everybody in the state directly knows someone who has moved to North Carolina for work. Another constant reminder that if things really are as bad as some say, why do people keep moving here?
While these policies are certainly never an excuse for bad behavior in government or lack of transparency — more credit should be given to legislative leaders in North Carolina for putting taxpayers and fiscal discipline ahead of bureaucracy and incessant cries for more government.
The chaos that remains most damaging are the repeated, strategic outbursts by the party desperate to once again regain power — merely to return to the tax and spend policies of the past.
Ray Nothstine is editor at the Civitas Institute in Raleigh.