LIVE LOCAL, LIVE SMALL: What lies ahead if HB2 isn’t repealed

Apr 19 • FEATURE MAIN, Live Local, NEWS & VIEWSNo Comments on LIVE LOCAL, LIVE SMALL: What lies ahead if HB2 isn’t repealed

“Sorry it took me so long,” Jock apologized as he returned to our seats. “But there was a line and then I couldn’t find my birth certificate.”

Cartoon by Robert Ariail, The State.

Cartoon by Robert Ariail, The State.

He sipped his beer. “Of course my birth certificate is in Dutch—so what am I going to do? I gave up and pissed in the alley instead. It looks like I am going to spend the rest of my adult life pissing in the alley because no one in North Carolina can read Dutch. Thank you, Pat McCrory.”

He held his beer aloft in salute.

It’s a moment when I couldn’t decide whether to laugh, cry, argue, or collapse. Since HB2 passed in an emergency session of the NC General Assembly in late March, I have been in shock—like after having a car dropped on you shock. Physical shock. I thought it gradually wear off. Instead, I’ve been in various stages of grief: anger, bargaining, not coming out from under the covers.

Moral aspects aside, I would argue the “bathroom bill” section Jock referenced that’s getting so much play in the press is the tip of the iceberg here. Removing citizens’ right to redress in the court system when their fundamental protections are absconded with—and blatantly cutting the municipal governments of our state off at the knees—is unanswerable. Those two issues need to incite some outrage, too.

There is finally some sort of recovery happening in our national economy that has people traveling and spending money again. As a small business owner, I am incredibly grateful for that. But part of the world of business is trying to look over the horizon for the next iceberg and mitigate the crisis.

Downtown we have two major hurdles coming at us in the next few years: The Water Street Parking Deck project and the Front Street Enhancement Project (phase 2). Now is not a time to expand offerings, but rather to hunker down and try to put some savings away to address the expensive problems these projects will create for business owners (not including the misery of the traffic during the projects themselves). Surrounding businesses will endure plumbing and sewer problems to be addressed immediately. Loss of electricity for periods of time will happen.

I have spent the last two years trying to plan for and lay groundwork to address those two bits of misery, while assuming, somewhere along the line, the assortment of taxing, licensing, regulating government bodies that impact small business life (federal, state, county, city) will come up with unnecessary non-problems just to make life more frustrating (window flyers ordinance, anyone?). But, to have the NC General Assembly—led by a party that claims to represent business and want business to thrive here—pass a bill in an emergency session that within a month has turned our state into an economic pariah … that is really pushing me over the edge of reason.

Pay Pal announced 400 new jobs would not come here as a direct result of HB2. The Charlotte Regional Visitors’ Authority has confirmed four conventions canceled as a result of HB2. They’re also in talks with close to 30 groups now expressing concern about bringing their convention business here as a result of HB2.

As of April 8, Xavier Walton of WNCN (the NBC affiliate) estimated an $8.9 million loss in convention hotel rooms. That figure doesn’t include food, transport, souvenirs, or entertainment spending by convention participants.

Deutsche Bank, which currently employs 900 people in the Cary area, announced it would not bring an additional 250 jobs because they were canceling a planned expansion as a result of HB2. Personally, if I worked at Deutsche in Cary, I would be pretty worried right about now.

And that doesn’t even count the arts and entertainment sector—many of whom are refusing to tour through our state now. Bruce Springsteen canceled a concert in Greensboro to stand in solidarity for equal rights for everyone. Cirque du Soleil has canceled appearances across the state. Touring theatre productions, like “Wicked,” have shuttered tours through Charlotte.

It also impacts education. Just last week, Eric Shiner, director of The Andy Warhol Museum, canceled a scheduled talk to MFA students at UNC. David Sedaris considered canceling his UNCW talk last Sunday, but instead decided to move forward  and donated his pay from the sold-out event ($20,000) to Equality NC.

The cities of San Francisco, Seattle, New York, Chicago, Boston, and Washington D.C. all have banned official publicly funded travel to North Carolina. In addition the states of Vermont, Washington, New York, and Connecticut have enacted similar bans.

For a tourism-oriented economy like Wilmington, this isn’t looking so good, is it? I mean, we did our level best to kill off manufacturing and then pushed the film industry out of the state (and one of the few productions that wanted to come back here to film has moved filming to Canada now because of the bill). So if we lose tourism, what exactly are we going to have left to generate enough revenue to pay taxes?

We lost over 4,000 film jobs a few years ago when Governor Pat McCrory slashed our tax incentives for the industry. We had an educators’ exodus of teachers leaving for jobs in states that would pay them a living wage because of their lack in pay. Essentially 650 potential jobs are up in smoke, and now jobs across the tourism spectrum are soon to follow: hotels, bartenders, food service, cabs, entertainment, attractions, tour guides, gift shop clerks, etc. They’re all staring down a cannon barrel.

In addition, we receive federal funding to support education (K-12 and college level), transportation (highways, bridges and infrastructure projects, i.e. rail service. The multimodal transportation center downtown is an example of what would bring back passenger rail to Wilmington with the help of federal transport dollars. However, federal money cannot go to recipients who are in violation of federal protection laws.

Last year NC received over $4 billion in federal funding for education, and we routinely receive close to $1 billion in federal funding for transportation projects. Just take a moment and consider what an additional $5 billion eliminated from our state budget would look like? We will be back to having furloughs and program cuts in the blink of an eye. Does anyone want to go back to that? Less than four years ago the state and local government were bemoaning shortfalls and sending people home on unpaid furloughs! Have we forgotten that already?

The tried-and-true methods of political change are still ours to utilize: protest, lobbying, and the most important tool—voting a new legislature into office this fall. Leaving the state is not the solution. Stay here and vote! Make it better, have a voice. Register and participate. In the meantime, please, think about the future of our collective bank balances and don’t settle into apathy. Please!

The ACLU has filed a lawsuit against this bill, but it will take some time to work its way through the courts. We are not in the habit of endorsing candidates for office at encore, but Roy Cooper—NC Attorney General and current democratic candidate for the NC governorship—has stated on the record he disagrees with HB2 and pledges not to defend the law in court. All the outrage this bill generates and the justified frustration and humiliation from the fallout is important.

Voting a new legislature into office in November, so that they can address righting this wrong, will help clean up the mess our current Raleigh officials have made over the last few years. It’s a mess—one that has incited almost 1,000 people to willingly face arrest in attempt to have their voices heard by our deaf general assembly. We need jobs. We need film. We need investment. Most importantly, we need dignity and equal protection for every citizen of the state.

As of press, the New Hanover County Democratic Party passed a resolution calling for repeal of HB2 at our annual county convention. As well, on Tuesday, April 19, almost 200 people agreed to attend the Wilmington City Council meeting to voice their opinions to local government, in hopes city officials will move forward on denouncing the bill and govern locally as they see fit (encore will report back on this meeting in next week’s edition).

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