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When N.C. Can't Afford to Wait on Washington
By Damon Circosta
Published: Aug. 9, 2010
RALEIGH - Our state government hasn’t had it easy these past few months.
This summer state legislators had to wrestle with a severe budget shortfall. Even as they wrapped up the fiscal year, they had to do some contingency planning in case Washington, D.C., didn’t come through with funds to help pay for increased Medicaid costs.
Meanwhile, two North Carolina judges have sat in limbo as they wait for appointment to the federal 4th Circuit Court of Appeals. The judges -- Jim Wynn of the N.C. Court of Appeals and Albert Diaz of the Superior Court in Mecklenburg County -- are backed by Republicans and Democrats, but have been caught up in the usual political maneuvering that has gridlocked Capitol Hill. This past week, Wynn’s confirmation finally came through. Diaz still waits.
Our state lawmakers have to contend with a host of difficulties not shared in the nation’s capital. Unlike the federal government, the state is prohibited from running a budget deficit. So if the money isn’t there, spending has to stop. This forces our state government to grapple with extremely tough and often unpopular choices -- the kind of choices that Congress can put off.
North Carolina legislators work long hours for a fraction of the pay given to their counterparts in Congress. And they do this work in relative anonymity. Media coverage of state government is extremely sparse compared to the amount of attention given to the federal level.
Being a state official is hard enough on its own, but it is even harder when the federal government doesn’t pull its weight. So it was refreshing last week when our state moved forward on at least one of the items Washington, D.C., can’t seem to check off its to-do list.
North Carolina has been waiting for some direction from Washington on an issue that is near and dear to any politician’s heart: campaigns. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in January that corporations and unions can use their treasuries to spend money on elections. Most everyone is anticipating a new era of moneyed interests trying to sway the polls.
There was hope that Congress would react and supply some guidelines so at least we would know who is spending what. But so far Capitol Hill hasn’t produced legislation.
Instead, North Carolina has taken the lead. Standing before members of the N.C. General Assembly in the State Capitol on Aug. 2, Gov. Bev Perdue signed legislation responding to the Supreme Court decision on corporate spending in elections.
“North Carolina won’t wait for Washington,” Perdue said upon signing the measure designed to protect the integrity of our election system.
Here in North Carolina we will have at least some idea of who is trying to influence elections via large expenditures of cash, thanks to this legislation. We need to keep moving forward with the idea that no one should be able to buy an election. The measure signed last week won’t stop people from trying, but at least we get to know who those people are.
It would be nice to see North Carolina move forward without waiting for Washington in other areas as well. But sometimes that just isn’t possible. Federal judges need to be approved by the U.S. Senate, and that isn’t going to change. Congress holds the purse strings and can dictate how much to chip in on things like Medicaid reimbursement.
Waiting on Washington is sometimes a fact of life for state politicians, but it’s good to see North Carolina step in front when we can.