Six-point-two billion is a large number. And so, multiplied by hundreds of thousands, is 3,500. Those figures represent, respectively, the total size in dollars of North Carolina’s budget surplus and the difference between N.C. per-pupil spending and the national average of money spent educating each student. It shouldn’t be hard to reconcile the vast quantity of cash assets state government currently holds with a decades-long failure to educate North Carolina students up to the standards expected by the global economy and a society growing ever more complex. Let’s hope, then, that this overlap in means and ends does not escape the notice of state leaders as they convene for the General Assembly’s short session this week.
The last year or so has seen a level of bipartisan cooperation that would have been unimaginable in the first few stages of Republican legislative dominance. Under both the Bev Perdue and the early Roy Cooper administrations, GOP machers preferred to ram through their agenda in the teeth of a hostile executive, inflicting a bit of dental damage if they could get away with it. But the COVID-19 pandemic seems to have smoothed over the relationship between Republican legislative bosses and the state’s seasoned (and popular) chief executive. Republicans and Democrats have worked together to reopen schools, forge a budget agreement, and recruit significant industries to the state.
As a whole, the bitter ill will that permeated Raleigh in previous years seems to have dissipated somewhat as Cooper won reelection and Republicans retained control over the legislative branch. With the short session approaching, we’ll see to what extent the major players are willing to keep state government on a bipartisan path. They might: Again, the Republican legislative leadership seems to have resigned itself to Cooper’s presence in office. Or maybe not: There may be a temptation to run out the clock on divided government until Republicans make further gains in this year’s midterm elections.
But let’s be optimistic. At this point in time, Republicans have passed most of their agenda items; the only remaining policy objective they have not reached is to ban abortion, which for the moment is not feasible. Remaining are priorities for which support spans the partisan and governmental divide, such as further teacher raises, medical marijuana, and perhaps even Medicaid expansion. Republicans and Democrats could unite behind at least a few of these shared priorities to bring a measure of progress to the state.
What strikes me about the prospective agenda for this NCGA session is its relative moderation. Years and years have gone by with reactionary policies flying through the General Assembly, the state’s moderate past receding further and further into the mists of memory and nostalgia, But in the wake of the pandemic and with most conservative legislation already passed, a modest, but forward-thinking, dose of pragmatism may grace the halls of the legislative building once again. So. It may have taken the exhaustion of the Republican priority list for a pragmatic spirit to reemerge in Raleigh, but for now, this typically pessimistic blogger will entertain a measure of hope.
Alexander Jones is an original contributor to PoliticsNC.