As a one-time civics teacher, my job was to explain to 8th graders how our government works. On one level, it was simple: people vote for leaders who will represent them. The leaders make decisions on their behalf.
But, of course, that wasn’t the whole story. I usually stumbled through the part about politics and special interests. I labored to explain out how our tax system has grown increasingly regressive, shifting the responsibility off of large corporations and onto the pocketbooks of their parents. Inequality is an ugly reality, but a reality nonetheless.
North Carolinians understand the inequality that exists in our economy. They also understand how to fix it. On Wednesday, North Carolinians from across the state delivered a petition calling on lawmakers to listen to them – and not the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) – when it comes to budget and tax choices. The petition, which included more than 6,000 signatures (and which was accompanied by a sign-on letter from 17 organizations representing tens of thousands of individuals) calls for an equitable and adequate tax system that keeps North Carolina strong.
As legislators continue to work on a final budget, many North Carolinians are concerned that their leaders will ignore their voices and instead choose to listen to ALEC. ALEC, a national arch-conservative group funded by large corporations, has designed many of the policies, such as tax cuts, low investments for protecting our communities, and giveaways to big corporations, that have moved North Carolina backwards. Indeed, as the post below notes, many lawmakers left Raleigh early this week to attend ALEC’s annual conference in San Diego.
At a press conference announcing the delivery of the petition, Tazra Mitchell, a policy analyst with the Budget & Tax Center, explained, “The disproven theory that corporate tax cuts help our economy move forward is economic snake oil that ALEC sells to state legislators around the country … These policies are a prescription for poor results that hinder the ability of our state to set up a foundation for future growth.”
After Mitchell’s remarks, more than a dozen North Carolinas spoke out on why they felt investments are critical to a strong and equitable economy. Some examples:
“I am a mother and a North Carolinian,” Melea said. “My NC Budget helps connect all children in our state to high quality early care and education opportunities by providing child care subsidies to those families who need them.”
“I am a student and a North Carolinian,” Akanksha said. “My NC Budget invests in high quality teachers that will prepare me for college.”
“I am a community activist and a North Carolinian,” Patty said. “And my NC Budget funds NC Pre-K for each eligible child so that every child is kindergarten ready.”
“I am a woman and a taxpaying North Carolinian,” Yevonne said. “And my NC Budget funds state universities that educate and train our future leaders, places where new cures for chronic diseases will be found, places where new technologies will help us overcome society’s grand challenges.”
“I am a teacher and a North Carolinian,” NaShonda said. “My NC budget invests in teachers by providing well-equipped classrooms, a good salary, and health benefits during retirement.”
As speakers approached the stage, they dropped marbles, representing the voices of North Carolinians, onto a scale. Eventually, the scales of justice tilted away from the policies of ALEC and towards the voices North Carolinians. And although the victory was only symbolic, it was wonderful.
My students understood the need for investments and a just tax system — as do vast numbers of mothers and fathers, teachers and lawyers, business owner and community leaders across the state. Unfortunately, whether policymakers will listen to the voices of North Carolinians and reject further tax cuts remains an open and worrisome question.