Commentary

They cut taxes on the top 1% by how much?!!

Great Tax ShiftSometimes, the brazenness of conservative politicians in crafting public policy to benefit themselves and their rich patrons is just too much to be believed. Take, for instance, Gov. Pat McCrory and the North Carolina General Assembly. A new brief from the fiscal policy wonks at the N.C. Budget and Tax Center paints a truly remarkable portrait of what can only be described as “government of, by and for the top 1%.”

According to the latest BTC calculations, the tax cuts enacted between 2013 and 2016 in North Carolina will produce, among many other travesties, this remarkable result:

Say you had seven North Carolinians in one room representing the following income groups –

  • The bottom 20% (average income $12,000 per year),
  • The second 20% (average income $27,000 per year),
  • The middle 20% (average income $44,000 per year),
  • The fourth 20% (average income $73,000 per year),
  • The next 15% (average income $123,000 per year),
  • The next 4% (average income $259.000 per year) and
  • The top 1% (average income $1,072,000 per year).

The average member of the top 1% (someone who already brings in more than $1 million per year) will realize an annual tax cut that is larger than all of the others combined…multiplied by 5!

That was not a misprint. Under the tax cuts enacted by conservative state leaders in recent years, the richest people in North Carolina will receive an annual tax cut of $15,439. If you add up the tax cuts bestowed upon an average representative of all the other six income groups, the total combined figure is $3,044. And most of that ($2,220) would go to the second wealthiest individual. Folks in the middle get $83 per year. People in the poorest group will actually pay $10 per year more! Click here and scroll to page 5 to see the remarkable numbers.

Not surprisingly, these cuts are having (and will continue to have) a devastating impact on essential public structures and services. By Fiscal Year 2019-’20, the net annual revenue loss to the state will be more than $2 billion per year.

No wonder the supposed “Carolina Comeback” touted by state leaders is looking more and more like a “Carolina Con Job” to so many average working families.

Commentary

Scathing new report: Racism, bias and prosecutor misconduct plague “dying” U.S. death penalty

Death-penalty3The Fair Punishment Project at Harvard Law School is out with a damning new report this morning that seems certain to put another nail in the coffin of the death penalty in the United States. This is from the release that accompanied “Too Broken to Fix: Part I — An In-depth Look at America’s Outlier Death Penalty Counties”:

“Today, Harvard Law School’s Fair Punishment Project released a new report offering an in-depth look at how the death penalty is operating in the handful of counties across the country that are still using it. Of the 3,143 county or county equivalents in the United States, only 16—or one half of one percent—imposed five or more death sentences between 2010 and 2015. Part I of the report, titled Too Broken to Fix: An In-depth Look at America’s Outlier Death Penalty Counties, examined 10 years of court opinions and records from eight of these 16 “outlier counties,” including Caddo Parish (LA), Clark (NV), Duval (FL), Harris (TX), Maricopa (AZ), Mobile (AL), Kern (CA) and Riverside (CA). The report also analyzed all of the new death sentences handed down in these counties since 2010.

The report notes that these “outlier counties” are plagued by persistent problems of overzealous prosecutors, ineffective defense lawyers, and racial bias. Researchers found that the impact of these systemic problems included the conviction of innocent people, and the excessively harsh punishment of people with significant impairments. Many of the defendants appear to have one or more impairments that are on par with, or worse than, those that the U.S. Supreme Court has said should categorically exempt individuals from execution due to lessened culpability….

In conducting its analysis, the Project reviewed more than 200 direct appeals opinions handed down between 2006 and 2015 in these eight counties. The Project found: Read more

Commentary

Editorial: NC voucher program = “discrimination tax”

School-vouchersThe lead editorial in this morning’s edition of the Greensboro News & Record provides an apt characterization of North Carolina’s school voucher (aka “opportunity scholarships”) program. It calls the program a “discrimination tax.”

As Chris Fitzsimon first publicized a few weeks back, the voucher program funnels state dollars to private schools that, among other objectionable things, discriminate against LGBT kids and families and teach children religious-based concepts as “science.” This morning’s editorial focuses on the LGBT discrimination. Here’s the N&R:

“Schools participating in the state’s Opportunity Scholarship Program shouldn’t discriminate.

All taxpayers fund the voucher program, and all should expect it to offer equal opportunities.

That’s not how it is, however, according to recent reporting by The Charlotte Observer. It found that several private schools in its area expressly refuse to admit LGBT students, or claim the right to expel them for that status. Some require parents to be in a traditional marriage.

Such attitudes could be ignored by outsiders if those same schools weren’t accepting public dollars to educate North Carolina children. But once they put their hands out for the state cash, they assume a greater responsibility….

By far, most of the voucher money paid so far has gone to schools with religious viewpoints. Maybe if a school denied admission to children from Republican families, the GOP lawmakers who created this program would see why discrimination shouldn’t be supported by public dollars. Rather than worry about such things, however, they are rapidly expanding the voucher program.

Many parents want their children to receive private education and religious instruction at school. If that’s their choice, they should be willing to pay for it.

The public, on the other hand, shouldn’t be taxed for it, especially if participating schools discriminate for any reason.”

Click here to read the entire editorial.

Commentary

Texas judge’s decision should have no impact on HB2 lawsuit

NO-HB2A decision this morning by a conservative federal district court judge in Texas purporting to enjoin the Obama administration from implementing directives to aid transgender students in the public schools should have no impact on the HB2 lawsuit that currently sits in the courtroom of another conservative federal judge here in North Carolina.

As AP reported earlier today:

“A federal judge in Texas has blocked the Obama administration’s order that requires public schools to let transgender students use the bathrooms and locker rooms consistent with their chosen gender identity.

In a temporary injunction signed Sunday, U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor ruled that the federal education law known as Title IX ‘is not ambiguous’ about sex being defined as ‘the biological and anatomical differences between male and female students as determined at their birth.’…

The federal government issued the mandate days after the Justice Department sued North Carolina over a state law that requires people to use public bathrooms that correspond with the sex on their birth certificate. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch likened that law to the policies of racial segregation. Republicans have argued such laws are commonsense privacy safeguards.”

Happily, however, the ruling should not endanger the ongoing challenge to North Carolina’s infamous HB2 law that is currently pending before U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Schroeder in Winston-Salem.

This is from the folks at the ACLU of North Carolina, who are helping to spearhead that ligation:

“We are disappointed by this ruling in Texas, but the decision does not change our clients’ ongoing legal challenge to North Carolina’s House Bill 2. In fact, the district court in Texas expressly recognized that its decision should not interfere with other pending federal court cases on this issue. HB2 continues to harm our clients and all transgender North Carolinians, and we are looking forward to a decision on our request to have the anti-transgender provisions of this law blocked while our case proceeds.”

Commentary

The best editorial of the weekend: The truth about education spending

Education-budgetThe lead Sunday editorial in Raleigh’s News & Observer is a “must read” for anyone trying to make sense of the claims suddenly emanating from conservative politicians (and flooding the TV and radio airwaves) that they just love public schools and spending big bucks on teacher pay. As the N&O rightfully points out:

“Instead of investing in the state’s children, instead of improving education as a way for poor children to escape poverty and all children to achieve goals, the Republican-led General Assembly has chosen to reduce state taxes, mostly to the benefit of the wealthy and big corporations. Billions of dollars in tax revenue that could have lifted North Carolina’s schools to new heights instead has been diverted into tax cuts that have produced no tangible results.

Republican lawmakers are acutely aware of their culpability in this choice, but instead of defending it or apologizing for it, they’re denying it. Even worse, they’re claiming credit for increasing spending on public education. This is duplicity joined with sophistry, and it should stir the smoldering anger over the neglect of public schools into outrage.”

After debunking claims of the Pope-Civitas Institute and others that spending growth driven by inflation and growing student population somehow equates to a real and meaningful increase in state outlays, the editorial concludes this way:

“In terms of per-pupil funding, the most telling measure of a government’s commitment to public education, North Carolina remains near the bottom of national rankings. Indeed, after six years of Republican control and an improving economy, per-pupil funding in inflation-adjusted dollars has not returned to its pre-recession level. In 2008-09, it was $6,237. Today, it is $5,616

If Republican lawmakers think public school budgets are rife with waste and heavy with administrative workers, they should say that and defend tightening budgets as squeezing out the unnecessary expenses. They would be wrong, but at least they would be truthful. But doing it and saying they’re not is both wrong and dishonest.

Are Republican lawmakers serious about improving North Carolina’s public schools, or are they buying time, ducking their way through elections, hoping their alternatives – charter schools, virtual charters, voucher programs – take root and the “government schools” fade into a permanently ill-funded, second-class system that counties can bolster if they want?

If that’s their vision, let them run on it. Otherwise, Republicans will have to spend more on a long-term plan to improve teacher pay and better fund the operation and staffing of North Carolina’s public schools.”