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Commentary

TaxesCatherine Rampell of the Washington Post has an excellent essay in this morning’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer about how the American aversion to taxes has become an irrational and destructive affliction. Not only are we leaving core public structures and services chronically underfunded, we’re skewing our entire political system by turning our public servants into scavengers who must concoct ever-more-elaborate schemes to pay for the services we demand.

“Voters hate taxes and will punish any politician who threatens to raise them (or, in many cases, does not accede to cutting them). But schools, roads, police forces, garbage collection, firefighters, jails and pensions still cost money, even when you cut them back as much as voters will tolerate. So instead of raising taxes, state and municipal governments have resorted to nickel-and-diming constituents through other kinds of piecemeal, non-tax revenue raisers, an outcome that is less transparent, and likely to worsen the economy, inequality and social injustice.

Think of recent, infuriating stories on civil asset forfeiture, in which law enforcement seizes cash and other property from people who are never charged with crimes. Often the departments that do the seizing get to keep the proceeds, which leads to terrible incentives. Officers around the country now attend workshops that offer tips on the best goodies to nab (go for flat-screen TVs, not jewelry).

Forcing cops to remit forfeiture proceeds to the state or local treasury, rather than allowing an eat-what-you-kill policy, might discourage bad behavior to some degree. But at heart, the reason such actions are so commonplace is that government revenue has to come from somewhere, if it ain’t coming from taxes.”

As Rampell goes on to point out, this ridiculous state of affairs is transforming how we fund government from a broadly-shared, democratic enterprise  into a regressive, market-distorting mess. She might’ve also mentioned that it’s helping to transform how we think about government as well. Where once all citizens were stakeholders/owners, we’re now becoming cheapskate bargain hunters looking only to get the best deals for ourselves (e.g. private school vouchers).

Her solution: “It’s time to take off the fiscal blinkers and start rewarding politicians who have the courage to advocate raising revenues the old-fashioned way: through taxes.”

Amen to that.

Commentary

ThanksgivingIf you’re preparing for the inevitable political discussions that will accompany your family get-togethers this week, here are three new Thanksgiving-themed posts that might help you out:

#1 is today’s Fitzsimon File, which highlights the hypocritical change of heart that so many conservative politicians display toward people in need around the holidays. As Chris notes, the disconnect between what the politicians say about the same needy people during the holidays and the other 11 months of the years is frequently breathtaking.

#2 is a new Q&A from the N.C. Budget and Tax Center entitled “How to talk about the economy and taxes with your family.” Here’s an example:

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

YOU SAY: We’re funding public schools in NC nearly 6 percent less than in 2008 when you adjust for how much things cost.  This would be like the Panthers claiming a touchdown at the 6 yard line.

As the economy improves—and it is improving—we need to invest in our public schools to ensure that we educate our kids and build a sound foundation for future economic growth. Without investing more, we can’t ensure that our classrooms, teachers and students have the cutting-edge tools to improve learning.

Finally, #3 is this morning’s edition of the Weekly Briefing (“Food for thought on the immigration question”) in which several key facts are spelled out (and myths exposed) about President Obama’s executive order on immigration last week. For example: Read More

News

Voting rightsThere was a good deal of anecdotal evidence during the November election indicating that something was amiss in a lot voting places around the state. Now, sadly, there is damning confirmation in a new report from the watchdogs at Democracy North Carolina. This is from the report summary:

“New voting restrictions and unprepared poll workers kept as many as 50,000 North Carolinians from voting in this fall’s general election, according to an analysis by the elections watchdog group Democracy North Carolina.

Although most voters reported that casting a ballot was easy and election officials generally responded quickly to fix a broken machine, there is mounting evidence that a shorter early voting period, confusion caused by new election rules, and strong turnout pushed many Election Day polling sites to the breaking point.

Read More

Commentary

charterschoolsIt’s funny and sad how humans have to constantly relearn basic lessons of history. The latest exhibit here in North Carolina comes from the world of education where, once again, we’ve been reminded of just why it is that our forebears established a uniform system of public education.

It’s not that children didn’t receive education prior to the construction of a statewide public system that featured uniform rules, standards and oversight. The “genius of the market” assured that some kids did very well.

The problem, of course, is that “market failures” and parental “choice” also assured that huge numbers of children got very little education. To make matters worse, no one was ultimately responsible for the failure and, not surprisingly, North Carolina was a poor and backward state with a handful of “haves” and boatload of “have nots.”

We were reminded of these simple truths about the past again this morning by this story on the Charlotte Observer documenting the latest outrage from the world of barely-regulated charter schools. As the Observer reports: Read More

Commentary

There’s still a long way to go in transforming our criminal justice system into what it needs to be. Indeed, the lead editorial in Sunday’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer reminded us that the ongoing assault on North Carolina’s court system by the General Assembly and Governor McCrory is as absurd as it is counterproductive and shortsighted.

And yet, despite the ridiculous budget cuts that have resulted in all kinds of destructive service reductions, there is some promising news on the criminal justice front.  Today’s lead editorial in the News & Observer explains:

In 2011, North Carolina’s prison population was growing. The probation system was failing because of lax supervision caused by understaffing. A majority of prison admissions were because of revoked probations. Treatment programs to help inmates addicted to drugs and suffering other behavioral problems were sparse. Prisons were always under construction to keep up with growing inmate populations.

Then Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue and Republican lawmakers agreed to address the issues through the Justice Reinvestment Act. Now, the Justice Center of the Council of State Governments reports that the state is doing better than its expectations, the Associated Press reported.

Simply put. the state chilled out — at least a little — on the “lock ‘em up and throw away the key” approach to criminal sentencing and put at least a few more resources into post-release supervision and services in an effort to cut down on recidivism. There is  real reason to believe that such an approach will both produce better results for society and save money.

Not surprisingly, state efforts in this area are far from perfect and continue to be hamstrung by pandering politicians bent on showing how macho they are when it comes to crime. Many additional changes and services are needed. That said, as this morning’s editorial notes, the reports thus far on the Justice Reinvestment Act (click here for a thorough explanation from the good folks at the Carolina Justice Policy Center) make clear that the model shows real promise and deserves lots more effort and attention.

Let’s hope the humane, cost-effective and bipartisan reforms keep on coming.