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obama2Ronald reaganBob Greenstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities is out with a new and, as always, trenchant and fact-heavy take on President Obama’s new budget proposal. Here, however, are two paragraphs that really speak volumes:

“Some critics undoubtedly will castigate the budget for focusing its deficit reduction efforts on the revenue side. But we should keep several facts in mind. First, its $2.9 trillion in deficit reduction for 2017-2026 would come on top of the $4 trillion to $5 trillion in deficit reduction that policymakers have already achieved since 2010, and those savings came heavily on the spending side. With the new Obama proposals, total deficit reduction over this period would fall roughly 50-50 between spending and revenues, OMB estimates.

Also, part of the proposed Obama revenue increases would effectively “pay for” the large year-end tax bill that policymakers enacted in December without offsetting its cost. Under the budget, federal spending would average 22.3 percent of GDP over the coming decade, which isn’t far above the 21.6 percent average of the Reagan years. Moreover, a significantly larger share of Americans is elderly now and receiving Social Security and Medicare than in the Reagan years. In addition, we’ve experienced more than a quarter-century of health care cost growth since the Reagan years, which has boosted the cost of federal health insurance programs, most notably Medicare.”

You got that? Not only has the President made enormous progress in deficit reduction since taking over during a period of economic chaos, the deficit in his latest proposal is essentially on par with those of Reagan years. Indeed, given our aging population and the skyrocketing costs of healthcare in recent decades, its quite arguably more conservative and tightfisted than the ones the country lived under during the presidency of the modern Right’s patron saint.

At a supposedly nonpartisan Locke Foundation event the other day (the one at which the group’s former boss, in truly nonpartisan fashion, lambasted a current candidate for President as a “a charlatan, and just a pathetic, disgusting human being”), a conservative politico attacked President Obama (according to a tweet by a Locke  staffer) for supposedly seeing himself as “the linear heir to continue FDR’s socialist agenda.”

If that’s so, Greenstein’s post makes clear that the “line” ran through Ronald Reagan as well.

Commentary

An editorial in today’s Wilmington Star-News does an excellent job of explaining why the ranks of North Carolina teachers and teachers in training are thinning:

“Apparently, a lot fewer people want to be teachers in North Carolina.

Gee. Wonder why?

Alice Chapman, vice president for academic programs in the University of North Carolina system, told the N.C. Board of Education that enrollment in undergraduate and graduate education programs — essentially, the teacher-track course at the state’s public colleges — has declined by 30 percent since 2010.

The brain drain has slowed a bit, Chapman noted; in 2014-2015, the drop-off was just 3.4 percent. Still, she called the trend ‘very concerning.’

That’s an understatement. With North Carolina hovering around 42nd place out of the 50 states in how much we pay teachers, we’re not likely to draw very many new teachers from somewhere else. The UNC figures mean our homegrown supply of teachers is shrinking, even as school enrollments grow.

Now, before the Great Recession, teacher salaries in North Carolina stood very near the U.S. median. Legislators — in both Democrat and Republican years — chose to put off hard financial decisions by putting off raises. Now we’re seeing the result.

This year, with a $450 million surplus in the bank, our Honorables gave a 2 percent raise — but only to beginning teachers. The rest had to content themselves with the $750 one-time-only bonus other state employees got.

The state Department of Public Instruction reports a teacher turnover rate of 15 percent last year — which means teachers moving on to other jobs. Earlier, the department found that 1,082 North Carolina teachers took jobs in other states last year, roughly triple the number who moved away in 2010.

Of course, money isn’t everything. In the past, though, many teachers chose the security of steady employment and the promise of a pension.

Even that, however, seems to be eroding. Read More

Commentary

The Institute for Emerging Issues at N.C. State University is holding the second day of its two-day 2016 Forum on the future of work today. It’s a provocative topic with lots of ramifications for current and future public policy debates. Last fall, economist Patrick McHugh of the N.C. Budget and Tax Center wrote an outstanding “Progressive Voices” essay for N.C. Policy Watch in which he spelled out some of the central issues in this discussion along with some of the steps we need to take. Enjoy this rerun!

RobotsThe future of work in our rapidly changing economy: Don’t fear the robots, so long as we raise wages

By Patrick McHugh

The first time I saw a GPS-equipped bulldozer a decade ago, it was a revelation. The machine could take a set of plans and peel away soil down to exactly the chosen depth, based on satellites tracking the precise location of the bulldozer’s blade in real time.

Today, you probably have GPS in your pocket. GPS made a lot of industries more efficient, but it also has meant that a lot of jobs are no longer necessary. No need to follow earthmoving equipment around with two-person surveying crews, and the GPS-equipped machines allow even seasoned dozer hands to work faster. There’s still an operator in most bulldozers right now, but that may not be the case for much longer.

This is the sort of thing that has many people fretting over whether the next few decades of innovation will make people better or worse off. Some foresee robots dominating a blasted economic landscape, leaving masses of unemployed people struggling for survival. Others tell of a coming technological utopia with humans freed to follow higher pursuits, spending more time with friends and family. The reality will almost certainly fall somewhere in the middle, with the policy choices we make playing a big role in shaping whether the future looks more like purgatory or Eden.

Technology keeps getting smarter. It solves complicated problems that only people could tackle before. Computer programs analyze data, diagnose problems, and write cogent prose (will a rose smell as sweet when named by a computer?). At the same time, nimble robotics are learning to do tricky work in the physical world, like stocking shelves, cooking food, and driving. All of this means that we soon won’t need people to do a lot of the jobs that exist now.

If we make sure this improved productivity translates into rising income for everyone, we will create a bunch of new jobs in new occupations that we still can’t imagine. If enough people have money to buy new goods and services, those new jobs will make up for the work that machines are doing. But if we continue on the path of the past few decades, declining wages will further undermine consumer demand, and there won’t be enough new types of work to replace what is taken over by computers and robots. Read More

Commentary

Moral MarchThere are actually dozens of good reasons to get off your keister, come to downtown Raleigh this Saturday and add your voice to the thousands who will march for justice in our state at the 10th annual HK on J People’s Assembly. In fact, as we reported last October in “This year’s dirty dozen: Twelve of the most destructive acts taken by the Governor and the 2015 General Assembly,” North Carolina’s conservative elected leaders provided plenty in just the last year alone.

If those aren’t enough to motivate you, however, here are five more biggies:

#1 – To reclaim our state’s hijacked electoral system – As the latest federal court decision this past Friday makes clear, North Carolina’s electoral system has been hijacked by partisan conservative ideologues who will use any tactic at their disposal to win elections and cement their destructive rollback of the 20th Century. Caring and thinking people simply cannot stand idly by in the face of this theft.

#2 – To help save thousands of lives – The plain and simple truth is that thousands more North Carolinians will die prematurely and unnecessarily this year for want of proper medical care — medical care that they could easily receive if North Carolina followed the lead of most other states and closed the Medicaid gap under the Affordable Care Act. Any chance we get to remind our leaders of this simple and powerful fact should not be missed.

#3 – To push back against the effort to privatize and sell off our public schools – Right now, in 2016 North Carolina, thousands of schoolchildren are being taught with fundamentalist Christian “science” books financed by your tax dollars that dinosaurs and humans once walked the earth at the same time. This is one of the very specific and undeniable results of the state’s unaccountable school voucher program. How can any thinking person stand by without speaking out against such a disgraceful situation?

#4 – The fact that conservative ideologues are far from finished – Despite having inflicted five years of political and policy havoc, the far right is just getting started. Unless progressives push back now, the transformation of North Carolina into a larger version of Mississippi and South Carolina will continue apace. Right now, in fact, conservative ideologues are pushing hard on a plan to amend the state constitution to lock in their disastrous tax and spending changes in perpetuity through a dishonestly mislabeled travesty called the “Taxpayer Bill of Rights.” This must be stopped,

#5 – History remains on our side – Despite all the bad news, as was pointed out in the conclusion to the special N.C. Policy watch report, Altered State: How 5 years of conservative rule have redefined North Carolina, numerous important trends favor progressive policies. What’s more, as was also noted. we know what to do.

“Fifty-plus years ago, the forebears of modern North Carolina progressives faced down and overcame the obstructionism of a cast of conservative characters far more hateful and shameless than the wrecking crew running the show today. Through determined advocacy and sacrifice they helped turn the tide and usher in a new era of relative social progress and widely shared prosperity.

Now is the time to do so once again.”

See you there Saturday!

Commentary

gerrymanderingMoving the 2016 primary from its normal date in May to March was always a lousy idea — one that was motivated as much by the desire to protect incumbents and the state’s conservative legislature as it was to make a North Carolina a “player” in national presidential politics. Now, with Friday’s federal court ruling striking down the state’s congressional map as racially gerrymandered, the time has come for state leaders to admit their error and start over. Cancel the March primary. Redraw the maps fairly and reschedule the election for May — or even later. (Heck, the state legislative maps were outrageously gerrymandered as well). We’ve had a state primary in the summer before and things went just fine. Rushing now to barrel ahead with a primary in March (at least in the non-presidential races) would be a travesty.

And speaking of Friday’s ruling, be sure to check out the following statement from good government watchdog Bob Hall at Democracy North Carolina:

Don’t Blame Those Who Exposed Computerized Apartheid
Statement from Bob Hall, Democracy North Carolina, regarding ruling on Congressional district maps

We congratulate the team of attorneys and researchers at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice who have skillfully challenged North Carolina’s racially gerrymandered political districts! The panel of federal judges agreed that NC legislative leaders used race as the “nonnegotiable criterion” for how the boundary lines were drawn for Congressional Districts 1 and 12. Black and white voters were carefully segregated on the assumption that black voters uniformly voted against the Republican mapmakers’ interests and therefore needed to be packed together and isolated to restrict their political influence. Read More