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, TANF 20 Years Later

Punishing immigrants for being immigrants: Another component of U.S. welfare “reform” hits age 20

TANF-4002This is the third blog post in a series that will detail how lawmakers have weakened Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) over the past 20 years, explain why TANF is a cautionary tale rather than a model for other work and income support programs, and map out a better way forward.

Emma Lazarus’s 1883 poem, engraved on the Statue of Liberty welcoming the “poor, [the] huddled masses…the homeless” to America has never been reflective of a truly open stance toward the poor immigrants arriving at our shores. In fact, a year before Lazarus wrote her poem, Congress passed the Immigration Act of 1882, banning immigrants who were likely to become “public charges” or drains on the system. We have historically welcomed the poor if they are here to work, but not if they need temporary government assistance to raise their families and become economically secure in a new country.

Undocumented immigrants and those coming over on most temporary visas have always been excluded from our safety net assistance programs such as cash welfare, SNAP (formerly known as food stamps), and public housing. But the 1996 welfare reform law brought a new level of restrictions that excluded millions of legal permanent residents from accessing welfare and other benefits. The 1996 law instituted a new “five year bar,” which states that even if a person has entered the country lawfully as a legal permanent resident, he or she is barred from receiving federal public benefits (including cash assistance, SNAP, and Medicaid) for the first five years of lawful status.

The 1996 law also bars millions of other lawfully present immigrants from receiving the vast majority of public benefits, because they do not fall into the very narrow definition of a “qualified” immigrant.  To give one example, immigrants from certain countries are granted Temporary Protected Status (“TPS”) if their country suffers a major war, natural disaster, or other event that makes it impossible to return.  Some immigrants may live and work under this status lawfully for decades in the U.S., but they will never be eligible for federally-funded cash welfare, food assistance or Medicaid if they fall on hard times.

Many immigrants who need work and income supports are working immigrants—their language barriers and education levels often force them into jobs that don’t pay a living wage: domestic work, restaurant work, food processing, and seasonal work in agriculture or construction. Additionally, even immigrants who come here intending to work face unexpected life emergencies, like all of us. They may be laid off or be unable to find work, they may suffer health problems or become disabled, have children and need to stay home, or otherwise be unable to fully support themselves without temporary help that will allow them to make ends meet and regain their footing on the economic ladder. Immigrants in those circumstances who are not eligible for medical benefits may delay care until illnesses have progressed to a critical stage that is costlier to treat. Read more

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.

NC Budget and Tax Center, TANF 20 Years Later

Twenty years later, TANF does little to relieve poverty and hardship

This blog is the second post in a series that will detail how lawmakers have weakened Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) over the past 20 years, explain why TANF is a cautionary tale rather than a model for other work and income support programs, and map out a better way forward.

TANF does little today to help families make ends meet or to connect them to work to reduce their need for supports—thus violating the purported intention of the 1996 welfare law to move people off welfare to work. Known as WorkFirst in North Carolina, TANF is a cautionary tale, not a model, for lifting families out of poverty.  Below are the top three reasons why.

1. WorkFirst provides a safety net for fewer families who are poor, despite increased need. Just 8 out of 100 North Carolina families with kids living below the federal poverty line benefit from the program today, as opposed to 74 out of 100 when the law was first enacted (known as the TANF-to-poverty ratio; see the chart below). There are only seven states with a lower ratio. In other words, cash assistance through TANF is simply inaccessible in North Carolina.

In fact, WorkFirst failed to cushion families against deep spikes in unemployment during the Great Recession and its aftermath. The TANF-to-poverty ratio either stayed flat or fell every year since the 2007 downturn. Since 2006-07, nearly 50,000 more families with children live in poverty, but caseloads dropped by more than 36 percent. One would expect, at minimum, for the cash assistance program to respond modestly to meet the surge in poverty, but WorkFirst failed completely to react and left a lot of needy families without the basics. Read more