RALEIGH — Do you want to know why the Left has tried to make North Carolina politics into an “all H.B. 2, all the time” zone? Here are some reasons:
• Since mid-2013, when Gov. Pat McCrory’s first budgets and other policy priorities were enacted, North Carolina’s gross domestic product has expanded by an average annual increase of 2.7 percent, after adjusting for state-by-state price changes. That’s one of the fastest rates of real GDP growth in the country.
• Since mid-2013, average personal income per person in North Carolina has also risen faster than the national and Southeastern averages. In each of the last 10 quarters, in fact, either our income growth, our GDP growth, or both have exceeded the national average.
• Since mid-2013, North Carolina employers have added nearly 265,000 net new jobs while the broadest measure of unemployment — the U-6 rate, which includes discouraged workers and involuntary part-timers — has dropped by 4.6 percentage points. Once again, our performance on these measures has exceeded the national and regional averages.
• After passage of the 2013-14 state budget and tax cuts, McCrory and the Republican-led General Assembly were subjected to blistering attack by liberal critics who predicted billion-dollar deficits. Instead, state government has run substantial budget surpluses each year. These critics weren’t just mistaken. They were massively, embarrassingly wrong.
• Starting with that initial 2013-14 budget, average teacher pay in North Carolina has gone up by about 15 percent — one of the largest teacher-pay raises in the country. To claim otherwise, liberal critics have blamed McCrory (who took office in early 2013) or legislative Republicans (who assumed their majorities in early 2011) for teacher-pay decisions made in 2008, 2009, and 2010.
• Since the GOP took over the legislature, state spending on highway construction and maintenance has grown by hundreds of millions of dollars a year, thanks to a combination of setting better priorities and changing both the calculation and deployment of gas taxes and fees. By my calculation, state-funded highway expenditures now make up 60 percent of the total transportation budget, up from 48 percent in FY 2010-11 (the rest is made up of federal road funds and non-highway spending).
Given these promising trends, wouldn’t you try to change the subject if your goal was to turn out the state’s incumbent leadership?
I’m not saying that all the news in North Carolina is unambiguously good. I’m not even saying that the good news I described above has unambiguous implications. For example, is it reasonable to attribute the state’s recent economic gains entirely to the decisions of our governor and legislature? Should they have raised teacher pay even faster than they did over the past four years, to compensate for previous (and arguably unavoidable) declines during the Great Recession? Should they have devoted even more money than they did to addressing traffic congestion, road safety, and transportation access, even if it required a large gas-tax increase or bond issue?
To debate such weighty matters, however, would be to stay on political territory that, in general, is favorable to the Republicans. We all know that if North Carolina’s economy were relatively weak, its state finances were in a shambles, and its education and transportation programs were getting scant attention from state leaders, the Left would want the state’s political conversation to be about these issues.
Because the facts are otherwise, liberals prefer to focus on H.B. 2. They can’t even say they’re doing so because of its potential economic effects, because we also all know that much of the external pressure on North Carolina from corporations, business associations, and the national media has been facilitated, encouraged, and often instigated by left-wing interest groups and Democratic politicians, very much including McCrory’s opponent in the gubernatorial race, Roy Cooper.
I actually disagree with some provisions of H.B. 2 and would like state policymakers to revisit them in the future. But the Left’s fixation on the bill is wildly, indefensibly disproportionate. They think it will determine the outcome of the 2016 elections. They’re wrong about that, too.
John Hood is chairman of the John Locke Foundation.