The Daily Tar Heel
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The Daily Tar Heel

In an era of intense political polarization, most of us can agree that creating jobs and reviving the economy should be a top policy priority, given that North Carolina has the third-highest unemployment rate in the country.

The GOP leaders running state government seem to have missed the memo.

Instead of seeking meaningful solutions, N.C. Republicans have spent the first few months of 2013 pursuing an unpopular and divisive policy agenda that’s more like an economic wrecking ball than a formula for success.

Expanding Medicaid with Obamacare, for instance, would save the state an estimated $65 million in expenses during the next eight years and create 23,000 new jobs while extending health coverage to 650,000 low-income North Carolinians. Despite the economic data, Gov. Pat McCrory and the N.C. General Assembly decided to reject the Medicaid expansion.

And Rep. Mike Hager, R-Burke and the House of Representatives’ majority whip, is championing a bill to freeze the state standard mandating 12.5 percent renewable energy by 2021.

Hager must not know the renewable energy mandate is an economic boon for the state. It has helped create 21,000 job-years — individuals fully employed for one year — and $1.7 billion in economic benefits since 2007, and it is projected to save ratepayers $173 million by 2026. According to a recent report, North Carolina ranked second nationally in 2012 for clean energy jobs.

Despite the state’s improved fiscal situation, McCrory’s budget proposal, released on Wednesday, would continue state disinvestment in higher education and economic development opportunities that are critical for the future. The governor’s blueprint would cut $55 million from the UNC system, signaling quite clearly that there’s no appetite for restoring the university system to its pre-recession funding levels.

The proposed budget would also hurt rural communities by zeroing out $65 million in annual funding for the Golden LEAF program and cutting $10 million from the N.C. Rural Economic Development Center.

The GOP is also perpetuating trickle-down economic theories about lowering tax rates that have been repeatedly refuted. McCrory recently signed a bill eliminating the earned income tax credit, which benefits low-income residents, while his budget outline offers a handout to the wealthy by ending the estate tax. Apparently it’s only politically acceptable to raise taxes when it hurts poor people.

Republicans have spent a lot of time touting their efforts to bring fracking to North Carolina. It’s a good campaign talking point, but the state’s oil and gas study estimates the fracking industry would only support a paltry 387 jobs.

On issue after issue, GOP leaders are letting ideology drive the policy agenda rather than being bothered with facts or evidence.

The million-dollar question is whether Republicans running amok will prompt voter backlash — and whether Democrats will be ready to respond with a positive economic vision for the state.

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