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If ever there was a day that highlighted how much we need affordable energy, it was today. Speakers from AARP, NAACP, Consumers Against Rate Hikes and the Justice Center spent some time in the wind and cold to call attention to rising utility costs — and their consequences for working families.

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Rochelle Sparko, a consumer and housing attorney with the Justice Center, made the following remarks this morning about proposed rate hikes for Duke and Progress Energy.

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Rochelle Sparko
Feb. 8, 2013

Thank you for inviting for me to speak today.

I work with the NC Justice Center, a nonprofit whose mission is to build opportunity and prosperity for all. As we move forward to plan our next two decades of energy policy, it is crucially important we consider the needs of North Carolina’s low-income working families.

Each year, about 250,000 North Carolina homes are cut off from their utility services. This is a devastating outcome in the best of times. During a cold winter or a hot summer, these consequences can be life-threatening. If we’re serious about doing right by our working families, we have to consider utility rates. Rising costs can wreak havoc on a family budget.

And the issue of utility costs is of special importance for working families today. This is a uniquely dangerous time for low-income people in North Carolina. We continue to have unemployment numbers cresting 9 percent statewide – rates that are much higher in certain areas. This year, lawmakers also plan to cut benefits for jobless workers and to reject a Medicaid expansion that would help low-income families.

Even in a good economy, hundreds of thousands of people face disconnection of their utilities due to poverty. In a tough economy, where 1.7 million North Carolinians live in poverty, the problem is both more widespread and has a greater impact.

Imagine the city of Raleigh going dark. Imagine that suddenly, 415,000 people in our state’s capitol were without heat and light.

The same thing is happening in our communities every year, where a population greater than the city of Raleigh is forced to go without those basic necessities.

If we plan wisely, we can create a sustainable energy future over the next 20 years. I believe that with judicious planning, we can pave the way to a North Carolina where Raleigh never has to go dark.

But if we fail, the consequences will be severe – and they will fall heaviest on those least able to bear them.

 

 

 

 

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Last week, the General Assembly’s Revenue Laws Study Committee met to consider changes to the state’s corporate tax rules that could put a serious dent in the corporate tax revenues needed to pay for public schools, community colleges, Medicaid, and other vital public investments in the coming years.

The bottom line (as explained in this space before) is that a subset of profitable multi-state corporations are pushing to be absolved of past abuses of corporate tax shelters whereby these corporations used accounting games to shift taxable profits earned here in North Carolina to no-tax states like Delaware and Nevada. If these corporations get their way, the result could be a $350 million windfall for a few dozen profitable corporations paid at the expense of everyday North Carolinians and locally-owned businesses.

Why would lawmakers even be considering such a costly giveaway?

As the video below shows, the complexity of corporate tax laws gives Washington, DC-based lobbyists with corporation-funded groups like the Council on State Taxation the opportunity to convince lawmakers to make innocuous-sounding changes that would have costly consequences. A better path would be combined reporting, which ensures all corporations pay their fair share.

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A coalition of groups fighting for an important new labor and public health standard has released a new video. Without paid sick days for workers, the advocates say, we risk a real-life version of the film “Contagion.”

Here’s the video:

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A quick excerpt from the press release:

RALEIGH (Sep. 12, 2011) — As the new blockbuster film Contagion, a thriller about a global flu pandemic, finishes its first weekend at the box office, advocates are releasing an online-video calledContagion: Not Just a Movie.

The web film, produced by Family Values @ Work, shows the stories of five American workers who have been forced to go into work when they are sick because they weren’t allowed to take off or couldn’t afford going without pay. Working sick in restaurants, grocery stores, coffee shops and on the school bus, they worry about passing on their illness to co-workers, clients, customers and riders. These workers are some of the 44 million Americans without paid sick days who risk their families’ financial security or their jobs if they stay home when they are ill.

“Because a Fayetteville food server with an illness couldn’t take time off without losing a job, thousands of North Carolinians were exposed to hepatitis this year,” said Louisa Warren, coordinator of the NC Paid Sick Days Coalition. “North Carolina knows better than most states how important it is for workers to have access to paid sick days.”

Approximately 1.3 million North Carolina workers lack access to even one paid sick day.

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Editor’s Note: This post was written by a union organizer from Illinois. It responds to Robert Reich’s recent argument that, in the wake of anti-union activity, we need protest marches rather than celebratory parades. 

Professor Reich,

I am a big fan of your work, but I think you miss the mark on your article, “This Day We Need Protest Marches Rather than Parades.”  I want to explain why publicly because I think the question of celebration in a time of trouble is an important one to the national labor movement. Read More