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Chris Fitzsimon: GOP hid agenda behind false ‘job-creation’ claim

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RALEIGH —One of most commonly repeated claims by Republican legislative leaders before, during and after this General Assembly session was that taxes on businesses were too high and regulations were too onerous and the combination was costing the state jobs and making it hard for North Carolina to compete with other states in economic development battles.

That scenario was used as justification by legislative leaders for a wide range of legislation including changes to the civil justice system that will make it harder for consumers and medical patients to recover damages when they are injured, modifications to the state worker’s compensation system, and the rollback of safety and environmental regulations.

It was all because our taxes and regulations were stifling job growth. That was the reason given for the dismantling of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources both through downsizing and the transfer of important oversight functions to the more business friendly Department of Agriculture.

And it was the primary defense of the Republican budget that fires teachers and teachers assistants, makes deep cuts to early childhood programs, and slashes spending on Medicaid and other health and human services programs.

The Republicans said they had to make the cuts because they had to cut taxes to create jobs. There are plenty of flaws in that argument, not the least of which is that giving me 23 cents a day won’t prompt me to make any major new investments, but their position is fundamentally based on the assumption that taxes in North Carolina are too high and are preventing companies in North Carolina from hiring.

The evidence could not be clearer that they are wrong, that it is not true that regulations and taxes have been strangling job growth.

North Carolina was named the third best state in country in which to do business in 2010 in a CNBC survey released last week. The report said North Carolina moved up from its fourth-place ranking the year before because of an improvement in the cost of doing business, which of course includes taxes and regulations.

Also last week Forbes named Raleigh the best city in the country for business and careers and the magazine specifically cited the low business costs as a principal reason.

A survey of more than 500 CEOs across the country released in May by “Chief Executive Magazine” found that the business leaders believe that North Carolina had the second-best business climate in the country.

All those findings made news, but not big headlines because accolades for the state’s business climate are almost routine. What’s new is the willingness of legislative leaders not just to ignore the facts that North Carolina is a business friendly state, but to vigorously assert the opposite.

House Speaker Thom Tillis said at a news conference late in the session that the reason that the Republican agenda seems so far to the right of the state’s mainstream is that the “far left” has been running the General Assembly for so long.

The Democrats have indeed been in power for more than a century, with the exception of four years during the 1990s when Republicans controlled the House, but the far left?

One of most powerful members of the Senate for the last ten years was Sen. David Hoyle from Gaston County, who is now Secretary of Revenue. Hoyle ran the Senate Finance Committee and was a close confidant of longtime Senate President Pro Tem Marc Basnight.

The N.C. Free Enterprise Foundation ranked Hoyle as the most business friendly member of the Senate almost every year. No one in Raleigh would ever describe Hoyle as anywhere near the left.

And no one looking at the facts could ever describe North Carolina’s tax and regulatory structure as anti-business either.

But legislative leaders do it virtually every day. They don’t want to talk about the real basis for their decisions to fire teachers and slash funding for early childhood programs or why they want to dismantle environmental protections and curb consumer rights.

They want us to think it is all about improving the state’s stifling business climate. It’s not. The business climate was fine before they came to town.

This session was about imposing their radical right-wing ideology on North Carolina, not creating jobs.

The more people find out what happened this session the better they will understand that, no matter how desperately legislative leaders try to hide it.

Chris Fitzsimon is executive director of N.C. Policy Watch