Illustration by Maria Bilinski Shain using www.wordle.net
It's a helluva year to be a legislator.
By August or so, when the 2009 session ends, lawmakers will emerge from their Jones Street foxholes having battled over balancing the state budget. Let's not mince words—that means deep, painful cuts to cover a projected $3 billion shortfall—yet legislators also must fund vital social services to help the vulnerable and needy.
And more of us are vulnerable and needy. The state unemployment rate is 8.7 percent, and since health insurance is generally pegged to our jobs, more of us have lost essential coverage. (We may qualify for federal COBRA health coverage, but the monthly premiums are so high as to be laughable.)
Food stamps, Medicaid, affordable housing: These are arguably life and death issues on the 2009 legislative agenda. And there are more: capital punishment, health care (including mental health) and workplace safety. We ask you, elected officials, before you cast your votes, to remember we are people, not numbers. We ask you to consider the greater good from which many can benefit, not narrow interests tailored to the few.
It may be difficult: To create jobs in a barren economy, it may be tempting to lure companies with bloated incentives packages. Yet those deals usually inflate the pockets of CEOs, not average workers. We ask the legislature to nix any bill that would allow a company to pollute the environment, exploit its employees or avoid paying full taxes.
Triangle towns and cities also have their priority lists, and we ask their lobbyists to weigh what's really important. Raleigh can delay its regulatory power over golf carts on downtown streets for another year. However, Carrboro should push for authority to amend its housing code to prohibit discriminatation against gays, lesbians and transgender people. (Note for the 2011 long session: Take up the issue of home rule, which, in short, allows elected local governments to pass laws for their cities or towns without seeking permission from the state.)
We ask our lawmakers not to waste valuable oxygen debating legislation to further punish undocumented immigrants. And could a year go by without the Defense of Marriage Act? It has no chance of passing, even though State Rep. Paul Stam, one of its stalwart supports, said, "The issue will inevitably arise as people move here from Massachusetts." People of the Bay State: You're on notice.
Dear legislators, we elected you to do a painstaking, job that will be moreso this year. We don't envy you, but you signed up for it. Now we entrust and expect you to do the right thing.