This morning, Sen. Martin Nesbitt of Buncombe County — recently named majority leader — talked with Xpress about clout, the Sullivan Acts and pulling North Carolina (and its cities) back from the brink of another Great Depression.
Nesbitt is a longtime legislator, serving his third term in the Senate after 11 in the House. Moments before the interview, he spoke to the Council of Independent Business Owners at their monthly breakfast meeting, where he gave his assessment of the state’s financial situation, among other matters.
Mountain Xpress:What are going to be some differences for Western North Carolina now that you’re in the position of Democratic Majority Leader?
Sen. Martin Nesbitt: Well, I’m not sure what they will be. We don’t know what the future will bring. We’ve got to, first of all, get the economy of the state moving and get a little prosperity before we worry about just us, because the whole state of North Carolina is in this barrel with us right now. The obvious thing that I will try to do is make sure that all areas of the state are considered when we’re making decisions and not let the far west and far east be left out because of their distance from Raleigh — and make sure they have a voice.
Hopefully, I’ll be able to get some people willing to serve on boards and commissions up here, and we can get some people appointed to help set policy in the state, and if we’ve got an issue that’s pressing to us, hopefully I’ll be in a position to make sure it’s heard. Now, in the past, I’ll say we have been able to be heard in most instances. When we had the hurricane up here, we were able to go down there and write a hurricane program for $250 million from the rainy-day fund and bring it back home. So in emergencies we’ve always been heard. But on things like the distribution of the lottery proceeds, school calendars, those type of things; we were hollering but nobody was listening. Hopefully, on those kinds of issues we’ll be able to make sure our voice is heard.
You’ve spoken of “the brink,” of how close the state and the country was to another Great Depression — is that brink still there?
I think we’re back from the brink, but we’re a long way from recovery. When I mentioned we were on the brink, we were losing 5 percent of our revenue stream per month for three months in a row. It was in a free fall. It was going down for five percent a month last spring. That’s over; we’ve stabilized, but the damage is done. I really sense that what we had was a depression of sorts. I think the country is worth 20 percent less than it was before it started, and it’s not going to just come back tomorrow. All of a sudden, home prices aren’t going to just jump, stock prices aren’t going to just jump — they’ve come back up pretty substantially — but you’ll see them level out. They won’t get back to where they were for two or three years. We’re going to have to start building our way out of this. We’re going to have to start at a lower point and work our way back up.
You’ve heard about the financial situation Asheville’s in, and it’s far from the only city facing similar difficulties. You’ve said there are some things governments have to do — is there going to be any state assistance on the horizon for those situations?
The state has its own problems. I didn’t get into those today, but our budget in real terms is probably out of balance 5 percent — a billion dollars or somewhere in that range — we’ll be able to cover that because we’ve had some good things happen, some stimulus money and those kind of things, but we’re not in a position to help anybody. Local governments are going to have to do what we do on a regular basis down there and look at their budgets and find places they can cut. We had a depression in this country where we are now worth less than we were, by any measurement. We’re going to have to realize that and accept less for awhile until we can build ourselves back out of this.
Is there going to be any consideration given to adjusting or repealing the Sullivan Acts?
No. None that I know of. We finally got a [N.C.] Supreme Court decision that says they’re appropriate. So I know of no reason you’d want to repeal them, that’s a 70-year argument that’s been settled by the courts.