After 16 years: another GOP legislative "contract"

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Associated Press

Posted on September 26, 2010 at 1:03 PM

Updated Sunday, Sep 26 at 1:03 PM

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina Republicans are hoping for a repeat of 1994 — and more — as they travel the state promoting 10 things they pledge to do if they win control of the General Assembly in the November elections.

Sixteen years ago, dozens of GOP candidates signed an agreement similar to what congressional candidates penned that year with the "Contract with America."

The North Carolina "contract" was designed to persuade voters Republicans could be trusted to run the Legislature after nearly a century on the back rows. The GOP wound up taking over the state House and coming within two seats of controlling the Senate.

This year's Republican version of the contract — "100 Days that Will Change North Carolina" — lacks the novelty that came with the 1994 plan. It also came out a few weeks before congressional Republicans rolled out their own pledges. The "100 Days" plan is being unveiled at small gatherings, such as one at a barbecue restaurant in Rocky Mount last week.

But GOP leaders believe it contrasts with what it calls a Democratic record of bloating spending and putting off tough choices so it can wrest control from both chambers for the first time in 112 years.

Democrats "had exactly the wrong prescription for a bad recession," House Minority Leader Paul Stam, R-Wake, said recently. "They decided the thing to do was promote government employment, raise spending and to do they had to raise tax rates a lot."

Democrats are taking the same approach to this year's model as the party did in 1994 — calling the GOP the party of "no" and pointing to its own legislative record as a sensible one. They also say they've minimized job losses and preserved critical services during the recent recession.

The Republican plan, current Speaker Joe Hackney says, is vapid and would decimate citizens if it was carried out.

Republicans "have told us what they're against," said Hackney, D-Orange. "This election is not a referendum about whether times are hard or whether we need new jobs, it's about who can move us ahead."

Both the 1994 and 2010 lists provide a similar mix of fiscal policies and issues important during each period to its GOP base.

The 1994 contract included pledges to reduce income taxes by at least $200 million and pass a law that would limit state spending growth to the combined rates of population and inflation increases.

GOP candidates also said they would reform the state welfare program and remove a cap on the number of prisoners in the state correction system. The contract also promised votes to put constitutional amendments on the statewide ballot that wold give the governor veto power and place term limits on lawmakers.

Since only the House became majority Republican after the 1994 elections, many items managed only to pass one chamber before Senate Democrats modified the GOP bills or ignored them completely. But taxes were cut, welfare programs were reformed and the governor got veto power.

This year's 10-point plan says the Republicans would balance the budget without raising taxes, despite an expected shortfall of at least $3 billion next fiscal year. Tax rates also would be reduced by an unidentified amount to make them more competitive with surrounding states.

They also hit on hot-button issues — they would pass in the first 100 legislative days of 2011 laws exempting North Carolina residents from being forced to buy health insurance or face a fine as part of the federal health care changes and eliminating the 100-school cap on charter schools. A constitutional amendment making clear governments can't condemn private property for solely for private economic development also is on the list.

"We actually intend to change things," Stam said.

Chris Fitzsimon, who worked for Democratic House Speaker Dan Blue in the early 1990s, said both sets of promises contain bad ideas. But he said the 1994 plan had more specifics that provided it a level of credibility. This year's plan, for example, doesn't specify how the GOP would save $3 billion.

The 2010 is "a political document more than a policy statement that they made 16 years ago," said Fitzsimon, now executive director of the liberal political watchdog group NC Policy Watch. The Democrats, he said, are running more on their past record of raising revenues and making cuts to balance the budget.

Stam and other Republican leaders have offered examples of cost-cutting since the budget picture worsened in early 2009. Rep. Harold Brubaker, R-Randolph, the 1994 plan's architect and speaker during four ensuing years of Republican rule in the House, said it's disingenuous to expect detailed alternative budgets given the minority party lacks its own staff.

Brubaker said the 1994 list, like the 2010 list, is a framework that lets voters evaluate the ability of the GOP to lead.

"The most important thing was it showed governance — we had the ability to govern," Brubaker said.

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