D.G. Martin

Legislative trading and sausage making

“If someone ties a love note to a nuclear bomb, do you take ‘em both?” That was State Senate Minority Leader Martin Nesbitt, a Democrat, complaining about the legislature’s Republican majority tying a controversial budget cut provision to a popular proposed extension of unemployment benefits. Of course, as Sen. Nesbitt knows, this kind of posturing goes on all the time in the General Assembly and in the Congress. The best way to get an unpopular piece of legislation passed and signed by the president or a governor is to tie it tightly to a very popular bill. When I first started my former job representing the university system in the legislative halls, I had a lot to learn. (And to be fair, I still had a lot to learn even after I had spent years on the job.) One of the hardest things for me to understand is the marketplace character of the legislature. What do I mean? Simply this: It is where a lot of trading goes on. When a legislator or a lobbyist wants to get something done, he or she quickly finds out that it will not automatically happen just because it is a good idea. It usually takes some trading. Here is an example. When the legislature gives inflationary increases to the pensions of state workers, it regularly makes similar adjustments for the faculty members...

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“They are trying to eat Big Bird”

The hundreds of William Friday’s friends and fans who gathered to hear him speak last week might not have guessed that the institutions he worked so hard to build were threatened by the just-released legislative budget proposals. But he gave them a big clue when he opened his remarks with, “They are trying to eat Big Bird.”   The luncheon gathering, hosted by UNC-TV, celebrated the 40th anniversary of Friday’s television program, “North Carolina People,” and the approximately 2,000 people who have been his guests, one of them every week on UNC-TV since 1971.   Friday is 90 years old. So people are wondering how much longer the program will continue. But, as Friday has scaled back some activities, his enjoyment of and commitment to the program has increased. Folks at UNC-TV say that they are already planning for a 45th anniversary party five years from now.   But it was not always that way. Friday told his audience that it all started when his friend and colleague Jay Jenkins persuaded him, over his objections, to host a program with four living governors. That program was a success. Jenkins and UNC-TV director John Young pushed him to do a one-on-one interview. He did, and did it again and again every week, ever since. His comments last week were vintage “Bill Friday,” self deprecating and so respectful of the people...

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What kind of paper money and why?

What is money? I asked that question again recently when I heard that State Representative Glen Bradley had introduced House Bill 301 to “study whether this State should adopt a currency to serve as an alternative to the currency distributed by the Federal Reserve System in the event of a major breakdown of the Federal Reserve System.” I have never understood what money is, even though I studied economics at Davidson under one of the college’s great teachers, Dr. Charles Ratliff. A few months ago we heard that the Federal Reserve has embarked on a program buying $600 billion in treasury bonds. Where did it get the money to buy those bonds? It simply “created” the additional money and put 600 billion new dollars into circulation. What is money? It is what the Federal Reserve says it is. One of the Federal Reserve’s jobs is to determine how much money the country needs to have in circulation and then, if necessary, to create more money to meet those needs. What backs up the currency that the Federal Reserve creates? Not gold or silver. Take a look at a one-dollar bill. There is no promise to pay in gold or any other precious metal. There is simply a statement that the bill is “legal tender for all debts, public and private.” The only thing that backs up the Federal Reserve...

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