North Carolina lawmakers return to Raleigh on Wednesday for their long session, presumably to work together to try to make life better for this state’s residents by improving education, creating new jobs, and improving infrastructure.
But if local legislators are correct — and we believe they are — too much time will be spent bickering over House Bill 2, divisive and senseless legislation that was the General Assembly’s answer to a divisive and senseless ordinance that the Charlotte City Council crafted, knowing full well its potential consequences.
Although a deal appeared to have been struck in advance of the new year, smaller minds once again prevailed, and we begin the new year with a do-nothing law that is costing this state jobs and revenue.
It is well past time to fix it.
As that is done, the chasm between Republicans, who have all the clout at 15 W. Jones St., and the Democrats, now in charge of the Governor’s Mansion, will widen, making it more difficult to build consensus needed for the important work.
We expect that legislators will try again to find a way for this state’s poor counties to build new schools. Legislation that was needed to allow for the lease-purchase agreement that was floated for the Public Schools of Robeson County before dying on the vine will likely be revived, but in a hybrid form.
Senate Bill 554, which unfortunately became attached to our school system’s hip, wasn’t only about the need for new schools locally, but across the state, where rural school systems simply don’t have the local tax base to build them. The problem is worse here because the state’s largest county has 42 brick-and-mortar schools and we have not had the local leadership to make the hard decision to close some.
It is likely that legislators will settle on something that will enable more modest construction to help some of these systems, but we cling to our belief that nothing short of a big-bang approach will work in this county. Building one or two schools at a time isn’t going to meet the local needs, and the racially charged turf fights that doing so would promise would doom such a plan politically.
It doesn’t help that our school board believes our students don’t deserve any better, which is noted in Raleigh. So we see a dead end.
We hope for open road for a proposal floated by Rep. Ken Goodman in a page 1A story today by staff writer Bob Shiles. Goodman believes it is time for a statewide bonds referendum that would provide revenue for badly needed work on Interstate 95, the nation’s busiest highway, which brings us dollars that prevent Lumberton and Robeson County from going the way of Laurinburg and Scotland County.
If you travel I-95, and we all do, you know that it’s always just a matter of time before traffic comes to a standstill, typically when roads are being cleared following another wreck as vehicles have little elbow room. Last year this state’s voters showed their wisdom when they approved the sale of $2 billion of bonds to raise money to make infrastructure improvements for UNC campuses and community colleges, so the timing might be problematical. But I-95 is important to all of this state’s local economies, not only those in Eastern North Carolina, so properly packaged it might get a thumbs up.
We will keep crossed our fingers that Republicans and Democrats can get past their HB2 differences and work on legislation that truly matters. That is what they all promised to do when they asked for your vote.