Cooper Isn’t Addressing Urgent Needs


RALEIGH — During the month of April alone, North Carolina lost 572,000 jobs, or 12.5% of the state’s total employment. That’s a higher rate of job loss than any of our neighbors experienced. Among the 12 Southeastern states, only Kentucky and West Virginia fared worse.

North Carolina is experiencing an economic disaster, one of the largest and fastest downturns in the history of our state. Our leaders should be responding to this crisis with great urgency. Gov. Roy Cooper is not.

The number of workers affected is mindboggling. There were about 820,000 fewer North Carolinians working in April than in February. Only 49.4% of those aged 16 or older were either employed or actively seeking a job. That’s the lowest employment-to-population ratio in modern North Carolina history — far lower than during the Great Recession.

Reeling from the collapse of North Carolina’s labor market, hundreds of thousands of desperate people have filed for unemployment compensation. Many have waited weeks to get even a response to their claims. Some still haven’t received a dime.

State government was manifestly unprepared for the demand for benefits and remains overwhelmed by the task. Our leaders should be responding to this crisis with great urgency. Gov. Roy Cooper is not.

Thousands of North Carolina businesses have been trying to get the state’s permission to reopen so they can rehire their workers, serve their customers, and keep from going under permanently. The administration’s new “Phase Two” order, issued May 20, told many of those businesses to forget it, at least for another month.

Based on the original “Phase Two” guidance, some bars, fitness facilities, and indoor-sports establishments spent thousands of dollars buying equipment, restructuring their spaces, and hiring back workers so they would be prepared to reopen under social-distancing guidelines.

Now many worry their businesses can’t survive another month. And they are furious with what they see as incomprehensible and unfair dictates. Restaurants can reopen at 50% capacity but bars cannot? Summer camps can reopen, including for overnight stays, but gyms, martial-arts facilities, and dance studios cannot? What if the latter businesses host summer camps, as many do?

Such arbitrary and capricious rules unreasonably infringe on the right of North Carolinians to earn a living. When the Cooper administration violated the First Amendment by regulating churches more onerously than shopping malls, it took a federal court order to put a stop to it. Now more litigation is likely. Our state leaders should be responding to this crisis of confidence with great urgency. Gov. Roy Cooper is not.

Just as the Great Suppression is wrecking the finances of households and businesses, it is also wrecking the financial health of our governments. Through April, the state has collected $731 million less in General Fund revenue this fiscal year than it did during the first 10 months of the prior year. The 2020-21 budget deficit could well be $4 billion.

During previous (milder) downturns, North Carolina governors of both parties instituted spending controls at the first sign of trouble. This time, it took until late April for the administration to restrict state purchases, travel, and hiring. Our leaders should be responding to this fiscal crisis with great urgency. Gov. Roy Cooper is not.

Back in March, some of us questioned the governor’s decision to issue regulations such as stay-at-home orders without approval of the Council of State or meaningful consultation with the General Assembly. We were told that statutes previously enacted by the legislature gave the governor such authority. This was, at best, a dubious claim about statutory language clearly written to address gaps in local responses to disastrous storms.

But now the claim has become truly dangerous. Are there any limits to Cooper’s asserted power? Can he really shut down entire swaths of North Carolina’s economy for as long as he wishes? Until September? Until next year?

No one possesses, or should possess, such power. Our leaders should be responding to this constitutional crisis with great urgency — because Gov. Roy Cooper surely will not.

John Hood (@JohnHoodNC) is chairman of the John Locke Foundation and appears on “NC SPIN,” broadcast statewide Fridays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 12:30 p.m. on UNC-TV.