Commentary

Points to help you talk turkey on Thanksgiving

In case you missed it, the good folks at the N.C. Budget and Tax Center have prepared a nice contribution for your Thanksgiving potluck — a series of talking points to help you converse with your less-well-informed dinner companions. Enjoy!

Here are some key facts to throw out there as you pass the gravy boat and say “yes, please” to a second – or third – piece of pecan pie.

WHEN THEY SAY: “We need to attract more businesses to relocate here if we want North Carolina to grow. Cutting taxes, regulations, and unemployment insurance and not expanding Medicaid is the best way to do that.”

YOU SAY: First of all, it’s really people like you and me, consumers, who create jobs. Businesses hire when they see a demand for their products, so job creation really starts with making sure we earn a good living and feel secure enough to spend.

Even if we’re talking about where large companies choose to invest, state taxes just aren’t that big of a deal. You have to turn a profit before you pay taxes, so that’s what companies are thinking about first and foremost. Most companies look for educated workers, a good transportation system, and a place that their employees want to live before they think about taxes.

If North Carolina is going to do better, we need to focus on policies that will make everyone feel more economically secure.

WANT TO READ MORE? BTC Policy Basic: The Reality of Tax Cuts

WHEN THEY SAY: “The Carolina Comeback is real! Clearly these policies are working.”

YOU SAY: (Stage directions optional): The Carolina Comeback sounds nice but it’s not the reality for most North Carolinians and communities in our state.

First off, it’s a U.S. comeback, nothing special to North Carolina. We went into the recession as a country, and the recovery has happened nationwide.

How can it be a comeback if there still aren’t enough jobs for everyone that wants to work? Did you know there are still more people looking for work today than before the crash in 2008? That’s even true in parts of the state that are doing relatively well. (Grab a turkey drumstick, roll, or other solid piece of food)

And another thing (waving the drumstick for effect): we have a wage problem here in North Carolina. We’ve fallen further behind the nation and wages in NC haven’t even kept up with inflation. It’s hard for me to believe in a “Carolina Comeback when an hour’s work buys less than it did eight years ago.

If cutting taxes is the only way to help the economy, then why has California done better than North Carolina over the last several years? California (gesture towards the west with drumstick) actually raised taxes on rich folks, and they’re doing better than North Carolina, even with an epic drought going on out there.

(Staring intently at drumstick) The recovery just passed too many people by for me to call it a “comeback.” We can do better.

WANT TO READ MORE? October 2015 Labor Market Analysis and Choosing What Works: Let’s Build an Innovation Economy Works for All

WHEN THEY SAY: “State spending is out of control and we need TABOR (a ‘Taxpayer Bill of Rights’) to ensure that policymakers don’t tax me to death.”

YOU SAY: How can we say spending is out of control when so many of our communities are suffering? There are fewer teacher assistants in the classroom; there are long waiting lists for NC pre-K; help with child care costs and affording a UNC education has gone down; and there are fewer home-delivered meals available for the elderly. Big picture: we haven’t even caught up to where we were when the recession hit eight years ago, let alone laid the foundation for a prosperous future.

A TABOR would be like the Panthers needing to gain 10 yards for a first down but only being allowed to gain five yards at the most. Scoring touchdowns would be impossible, turnovers likely, and winning the game a long shot. And let’s remember, fam: you play to win the game. Hello!

Such a change to our state Constitution doesn’t actually change the cost of providing education or other services; it just relies on a rigid formula that puts the budget on autopilot. It is a gimmick and it means our policymakers wouldn’t have the tools to be fiscally responsible.

WANT TO READ MORE? TABOR is a proven failure

WHEN YOUR RELATIVES SAY: “This state is spending more than ever on public education.”

YOU SAY: We actually are investing less in public education relative to what we were in 2008, even though we have more students than ever. Basically, if we compared our investments in schools to our Thanksgiving dinner in 2008, today we would have no gravy, dressing, or sweet potatoes. Unthinkable, right?

As the economy improves – and it is improving – we need to invest in our public schools to make sure we educate our kids and build a sound foundation for future economic growth. Without investing more in the things we know improve kids’ education experience, we just can’t ensure that our classrooms, teachers and students have the cutting-edge tools to improve learning.  North Carolina can’t expect to compete and win without making sure every child is ready to learn, starting in their early childhood years, and that they have access to an affordable path for lifelong learning.

WANT TO READ MORE? Diminished Expectations and the Resulting Drag on NC’s Economy: A Summary of the 2015-17 Budget

WHEN THEY SAY: “People are too dependent on government programs. They don’t want to work. It actually pays to be jobless and poor.”

YOU SAY: [Take a breath] Way to get in the holiday spirit of charity! But in all seriousness, there just aren’t enough jobs for everyone who wants to work right now. That’s why having policies that help struggling families are good for our state. Food stamps are a great example – this support to ensure people can put food on the table serves more people than any charitable effort. At the same time, it allows people to spend at local grocery stores which helps boost the economy.

It’s important to remember that a good part of public assistance goes to people who in fact do work. These programs are actually designed to offer a lot more support to families who work but earn low wages and far less support to the poorest jobless families with children.

It’s easy for us to talk in generalities about people who struggle. But at the end of the day these supports can mean the difference between getting by and going hungry (ask someone to pass the mac and cheese).

WANT TO READ MORE? North Carolina’s Greatest Challenge and SNAP Policy Basic

WHEN THEY SAY:  “Raising the minimum wage will hurt businesses.”

YOU SAY: Jobs that pay well help the economy. When workers earn enough to afford the basics – put food on the table, pay the rent, put gas in the car, and cover childcare expenses – it boosts sales and profits for local businesses and, in turn, the entire economy. Businesses that have raised their minimum wage have actually found that their workers are more productive and stay longer at the company, generating savings to employers in the immediate and long-term.

WANT TO READ MORE? The Power of Wage Policies

WHEN THEY SAY: “North Carolina policymakers are right to keep immigrants and refugees out of the state.”

YOU SAY: There is a cost to not figuring out how to integrate immigrants and refugees into our communities. We know that more than 80 percent of the new Main Street business owners in North Carolina since 2000 were immigrants and that their contributions in the form of work and economic activity are greater than their numbers suggest. Isn’t it the American way to welcome those seeking a better life? [Insert your family’s migration story here]  Yes, we need federal immigration reform but in the meantime communities need all the tools necessary to protect public safety and promote a welcoming environment that supports entrepreneurs and strong families.

WANT TO READ MORE? Smart Choices in an Era of Migration
Want more points to cover during “second dessert” and football-watching? Check out our website at www.ncbudgetandtax.org, tips on TABOR at www.ncjustice.org/tabor and information on the economy through Prosperity Watch at www.ncjustice.org/prosperitywatch.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone, and thanks for your continued support.

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