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Legislators hoping to enjoy a few days of R&R this week may find a less than warm homecoming from local educators in their districts. The Wilmington Star News writes in a Tuesday editorial:

Education cutsTeachers, it seems as if some North Carolina legislators really want you to move to another state.

The state Senate’s budget plan would eliminate retiree health-care benefits for teachers (and any other state employees) hired after Jan. 1. 2016.

It’s not hard to see why: Health-care benefits for old people can be expensive.

On the other hand, teachers — especially North Carolina teachers — endure years of pay far lower than they could get in the private sector. Part of the trade-off is that they can expect generous — well, comfortable, well, adequate — pensions and benefits to tide them through their golden years.

Not any more, if the Senate has its way. A lot of the incentive for sticking with the public school system would be knocked away.

Officials in the state employees’ association complain that the state has been adding surcharges and other fees to its health plan for years. The increase, more than $1,300 per year for a typical state employee, active or retired — more than wipes out any pay increase that teachers and others have received in many years.

Teachers aren’t eligible for full health benefits as retirees until they’ve served for 20 years.

This comes on top of a Senate proposal to eliminate 8,500 teachers’ assistant positions across the state. The cuts supposedly would pay for around 2,000 new teacher positions to reduce class size.

In fact, eliminating those positions — more than one-third of the teachers’ assistants in the state — would cause problems in the classroom.
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Rep. Jacqueline Schaffer

Rep. Jacqueline Schaffer

Should anyone in North Carolina be able to buy a handgun without undergoing any criminal background check? Apparently Rep. Jacqueline Schaffer thinks so.

The latest version of her bill to loosen North Carolina’s gun laws includes a provision that would repeal the requirement that handgun purchasers pass a background check. That provision was in the original bill she introduced, but she took it out of a version that passed a committee last week.

The latest version of the bill that will be heard before the House Appropriations Committee Wednesday morning has the absurd provision back in it, allowing virtually anyone who wants to buy handgun to get one with no background check at all.

The public clearly does not like this idea, as 87 percent of likely voters say they support background checks for all handgun sales.

The bill has plenty of other troubling provisions, like reducing the penalty for bringing a hidden and loaded handgun into a bar that explicitly bans them and restricting a medical professional’s ability to talk about firearms with patients—a proposal that the healthcare community is actively opposing as an infringement on the doctor patient relationship.

Schaffer doesn’t want doctors talking about guns and she doesn’t want sheriffs to be able to screen people who want to buy them either.  Anything goes when it come to guns. That seems to the plan. Never mind public safety.

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State lawmakers constantly claim that they are looking out for average North Carolinians. However, actions speak louder than words and proposed tax changes that the state Senate aims to enact is a good example. The tax changes would further shift the tax responsibility to low- and middle-income taxpayers and away from the wealthy and profitable corporations.

As part of the proposed tax changes, the Senate would target cash-strapped homeowners by requiring them to pay state income tax on mortgage debt forgiven by lenders, even though no actual cash is provided to the homeowners. Another proposed tax provision would no longer allow students and families to deduct expenses for tuition and related expenses such as course textbooks, supplies, and equipment.

These two proposed tax changes were excluded from the House version of the bill; however, the Senate has not budged and has kept these tax changes in its package of proposed tax law changes. Consequently, while many North Carolinians continue to await their Carolina Comeback amid an uneven recovery and a steady increase in the cost of a college education, state policymakers are essentially saying “tough luck”.

In contrast, the same Senate bill includes a tax break for businesses that fall on bad luck. The proposed tax change would allow businesses that experience economic losses (e.g. they don’t make a profit), potentially as far back as 30 years, to carry forward those losses to reduce profits generated in the years ahead. Rather than ensuring that profitable corporations pay their fair share, this tax change does the opposite.

The disturbing reality is that North Carolina’s tax system favors the wealthy and profitable corporations at the expense of average North Carolinians. Whereas distressed North Carolina homeowners who were preyed upon by unethical lenders are punished as a result of receiving much-needed consumer relief, profitable corporations are provided tax breaks in the event they fall on hard times.

Such tax changes contribute to the making of North Carolina’s upside-down tax system, which work to shift the tax responsibility to low- and middle-income taxpayers and away from the wealthy and profitable corporations.

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Despite the growing revenue challenge North Carolina faces, a new round of tax cuts went into effect with the start of the new year. While the growing revenue shortfall warrants immediate attention during the upcoming General Assembly legislative session that begins next week, inaction up to this point has already  dug a deeper hole as of January 1, 2015.

New personal income and corporate income tax rates are now in effect for 2015. The now-flat personal income tax rate dropped to 5.75 from 5.8 percent (the top marginal rate was 7.75 percent in 2013) and the corporate income tax rate dropped to 5 percent from 6 percent (it was 6.9 percent in 2013). These tax cuts will further reduce revenue for public investments and will largely benefit the wealthy and profitable corporation at the expense of low- and middle-income taxpayers.

The cost of the tax plan continues to grow higher than what state officials originally estimated. As of the end of the November, revenue collections are coming in $190 million below expectations. This loss is built on top of the already revised and anticipated revenue loss of $704 million due to the tax plan. Combined, this result in a nearly $900 million revenue loss for the state – much higher than the original $512 million cost estimate.

By the end of the fiscal year, BTC estimates a total revenue loss of around $1.1 billion Read More

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There is lots of talk on right-wing avenue this week about North Carolina’s big jump in the business climate rankings published by the right-leaning Tax Foundation.

Imagine that, a conservative think tank that evaluates states solely on their tax rates giving North Carolina a higher ranking for cutting taxes on corporations and the wealthy. More on that later this week on the main NC Policy Watch site.

But business leaders care about a lot more than just  tax rates when deciding where to set up shop—things like the quality of life for their employees, a well-educated workforce, good transportation infrastructure, etc. And they care about how states treat their workers.

That was the message from Apple CEO Tim Cook in a recent speech in his native state of Alabama.

Alabama was “too slow” to guarantee rights in the 1960s, Cook said, and it removed a ban on interracial marriage from its Constitution only 14 years ago.

And (Alabama is) still too slow on equality for the LGBT community. Under the law, citizens of Alabama can still be fired based on their sexual orientation,” said Cook, a native of coastal Baldwin County. “We can’t change the past, but we can learn from it and we can create a different future.

Workers in North Carolina can also still be fired based on their sexual orientation. Our state  leaders need to listen to Cook and create a different future here too.