Progressive Pulse: As the General Assembly adjourns, it leaves money on the table while needs go unmet
The General Assembly adjourned on Saturday, with lawmakers coming back into session on Sept. 2. In its most recent legislative session, Republican lawmakers did not set aside politics on many issues, but rather ignored public health officials and sought to force the reopening of the state.
During an unprecedented moment, the demands of the wealthy outweighed the long-standing unmet needs of the average North Carolinian. For Republican lawmakers, short-term profits and vying for a political advantage were more important than the protection and implementation of safety measures for vulnerable communities across the state.
Prior to the June session, legislators appropriated $1.6 billion, or 44%, of the state’s Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF), the largest pot of money the state received from the federal government through the CARES Act.
On closer examination of the bills passed by the General Assembly — some enacted in the early morning hours of June 26 — many of the appropriations are not allowable under the U.S. Treasury guidance to date. Specifically disallowed is the use of CRF dollars to meet revenue shortfalls, such as in the Department of Transportation, which heavily relies on gas tax revenues.
The funds set aside for non-allowable uses totals a whopping $500 million. Rather than set aside dollars in the hopes that the federal government will permit their proposed uses, North Carolina’s elected leaders can and should direct the funds to areas that are both allowable and desperately needed to lessen the harm caused by the COVID-19 crisis. They should then also make sure the federal government sends more aid to state and local governments to address ongoing needs and revenue shortfalls.
COVID-19 continues to exacerbate existing racial and economic inequities, so equitable investments in areas that will reduce hardship caused by the public health and economic crises will support North Carolina’s recovery.
Even during a pandemic, the state’s Senate Republicans have held off Medicaid expansion, preventing more than 500,000 North Carolinians from receiving care for chronic conditions and illnesses, and many more that will not have the life-saving health care coverage they need during the outbreak.
With 1.1 million people in the state filing for unemployment benefits since the COVID-19 pandemic began, a proposal to increase the state’s weekly maximum on unemployment benefits was cut from the $1.57 million COVID-19 relief package.
The GA also failed to increase teacher pay or enact legislation to further limit public oversight of hog farms.
Yet, the House attempted to pass vital legislation, such as House Bill 1105 — a bill passed in the House but not heard in the Senate, that would have provided $30 million for expansion of rural broadband.
House Bill 1225 also passed in the House, not heard in the Senate, would have let NC voters decide on a construction bond bill that would have brought more than $1 billion for public schools and $300 million for community colleges.
Investing in resources should be at the forefront as the public health and economic crises caused by COVID-19, have upended life for every North Carolinian.
The latest legislative session was the opportunity to pass meaningful people-first legislation in an effort for the state to be more resilient in the face of future crises, but lawmakers failed to do so.
Bottom Line: The session may be over until September, but now is the time for North Carolinians to demand that our leaders take the necessary steps to ensure equitable and inclusive legislation and policies for a better North Carolina.