Buncombe County Democrat Martin Nesbitt, the North Carolina Senate's recently named majority leader, is serving his third term in that body after 11 in the state House. On March 12, Nesbitt was the guest speaker at the Council of Independent Business Owners' monthly breakfast meeting, where he gave his assessment of the state's financial situation, among other matters.
Afterward, he spoke with Xpress about representing the western region in Raleigh, the Sullivan Acts, and the challenges of pulling North Carolina (and its cities) back from the brink of another Great Depression.
Mountain Xpress: What are going to be some of the differences for Western North Carolina now that you're Senate majority leader?
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 both the state and the nation were to another Great Depression. Is that still the case?
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. … 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 such difficulties. You've said there are some things governments have to do — is there 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: 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 a while 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 [state] 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.