NC Budget and Tax Center

North Carolina can haOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAve quality schools, accessible health care, a sound transportation system, affordable housing and safe neighborhoods—all of the things necessary to strengthen the economy and grow a strong middle class. We just have to make the choice to build this infrastructure of opportunity.

In recent years, state policymakers have undercut the effectiveness of our public systems, instead enacting tax cuts that primarily benefit the wealthiest taxpayers and profitable corporations. Because of those tax cuts and a slow economic recovery, the state doesn’t have enough revenue to adequately support the systems that fuel economic growth.

That’s not how it worked in the past. Coming out of previous recessions, North Carolina quickly reversed the cuts made when times were tight and increased investments in roads, schools, and universities that paved the way for an economy that outpaced many other Southern states.

North Carolina has never looked to other states to show us the way forward. On the contrary, other states in the south have always looked to us for leadership and innovative ideas. Our state created a progressive personal income tax in 1921 that made us a leader in state funding for public education at one the time and further established our reputation as the Great Roads State. We created a community college system that was the envy of the nation. And, more recently, our innovative early childhood programs were held up as a national model.

Today, instead of making investments, policymakers are using the tax system and the state budget to bulldoze the infrastructure of opportunity.

As state leaders create the Fiscal Year 2015-2017 biennial budget, we can encourage them to make investments that are proven to grow our economy and promote financial stability for families and the state government. But we have to acknowledge that they can’t make those investments without the necessary revenue.

Over the next few weeks, experts on a range of issues that support stronger communities, families and economies in North Carolina will share their perspectives here. They will speak not just on where state investments have been and what has been lost in recent years, but they will also share proposed solutions for what North Carolina’s leaders could do to achieve the better outcomes we all seek.

We hope that our leaders will consider how we raise the bar in the budget debate not how we race our neighbors to the bottom.

Editor’s note: This is an installment in the “Raising the Bar” — a new series of essays and blog posts authored by North Carolina nonprofit leaders highlighting ways in which North Carolina public investments are falling short and where and how they can be improved.

 

Commentary

If you’ve been following the uproar and backlash over Indiana’s religious freedom law, you’ll want to read these next two articles:

First, civil rights icon Julian Bond thoughtfully explains why these ‘religious discrimination’ bills cropping up across the nation (including North Carolina) have nothing to do with religion. From Dr. Bond’s op-ed:

bondThese religious refusal proposals tell folks they can pick and choose which laws they want to follow. That individuals can sue not only businesses but teachers, firefighters, and police officers if they believe their religious rights are violated. If a police officer sues his precinct because he is required to patrol a mosque, can laws like the one in Indiana protect him? If a father sues a teacher because she disciplined his child under a community-wide antibullying policy, can legislation like that before the governor of Arkansas put that teacher in jeopardy? These bills are intentionally vague, leaving it up to an overburdened court system to decide whether an individual’s religious beliefs are more important than another person’s basic civil rights.

We oppose these bills because they seek not to preserve or protect religious believers but to demean and exclude LGBT people, religious minorities, and others who may find themselves standing on the outside looking in.

I have seen discrimination. I have stood inside businesses that would not serve me because of my race, and I have been told that the rights of those business owners were more important than mine. I countered that logic then, as I do now. We have no crisis of religious discrimination; we have a crisis of fear. I stand against these bills and with those who are fighting to stop them. I refuse to allow discrimination to cloak itself in a shroud of faith. I refuse to give into fear.

Now click over to Policy Watch’s main site and read today’s Fitzsimon File, in which Chris Fitzsimon pointedly asks in his Tuesday column: Gov. McCrory barks against discrimination–but will he bite?

fitzsimonBoth the bills currently in the General Assembly, the misnamed religious freedom act and the proposal to allow magistrates to refuse services to gay couples, are appalling attempts to give legal authority to discriminate and harken back to the Civil Rights era when segregationists fought to retain the right to discriminate against African-Americans in public accommodations.

If the proposals pass the General Assembly, McCrory will have to decide if he wants to stand with the 21st century version of the segregationists or stand up for human rights and a more enlightened state.

Simply saying he opposes the bills isn’t enough. He needs to make it clear he will veto both of them and force legislative leaders to try to override him, making them go to extraordinary lengths to allow discrimination against thousands of people in the communities they represent.

Click here to read and share Fitzsimon’s full column.

Commentary

Supreme courtOn Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that North Carolina’s highest court must re-examine a sex offender’s case to determine whether a law requiring him to wear a GPS tracking bracelet for life is constitutional.

Torrey Dale Grady was convicted of a second-degree sex offense in 1997 and then of taking indecent liberties with a child in 2006. As a repeat offender, Grady was sentenced to three years in jail. Upon his release in 2013, he was ordered to permanently wear a GPS tracker. The monitoring device allows state officials to receive information about all of Grady’s movements. In order to maintain the tracking device, state officials are permitted to enter Grady’s home unannounced. According to Grady, he must also be plugged into a wall outlet for four to six hours daily in order to keep the bracelet charged.

Grady is one of 600 sex offenders in North Carolina that currently wears such a monitoring device.

Grady immediately appealed the order requiring him to permanently wear the GPS device claiming that it violated his Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. Grady’s claims were rejected by North Carolina courts but the Supreme Court found that this tracking could be unconstitutional.

In its opinion, the Court cited its recent decision in United States v. Jones which held that:

“the Government’s installation of a GPS device on a target’s vehicle, and its use of that device to monitor the vehicle’s movements, constitutes a ‘search.’

In light of [this] decision[], it follows that a State also conducts a search when it attaches a device to a person’s body, without consent, for the purpose of tracking that individual’s movements.”

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News

college-campusA bill that would granted in state tuition status to any student who has attended high school in North Carolina for at least three consecutive years immediately prior to graduation is earning the praise of Latino advocates.

Senate Bill 463, introduced by Sen. Fletcher Hartsell (R-Concord) last week, would make higher education  more affordable for undocumented students who have received a high school diploma or a general education diploma (GED) in our state.

“If you’ve worked hard in school, lived here for at least 3 years and graduated from a NC high school, you should qualify for in-state tuition to North Carolina community colleges, public colleges and universities,” said Marco Zárate, President of the NC Society of Hispanic Professionals. “This is about both rewarding students’ hard work and allowing them and all North Carolinians to contribute to the workforce and economic development of our state.”

Members of the Adelante Coalition says beyond benefiting the students the legislation will increases the state’s productivity and strengthen North Carolina’s future tax base.

“Especially with higher education growing increasingly less affordable, improving educational opportunities for all North Carolinians is a win for the students and a win for our state,” said Paul Cuadros of the Scholars Latino Initiative.

“This is not a special privilege afforded to any single group,” said Dr. Robert Landry, the first Latino-born principal and superintendent in NC and multicultural board member of BB&T. “All students must earn their spot at a public college or university. This way, we can all benefit from the investments we’ve made in students who are already here and have already been educated in the North Carolina school system.”

Sixteen states have passed legislation allowing certain undocumented graduates of high school to pay in-state rates for college, according to the Adelante Education Coalition.

SB 463 has been referred to the Senate Rules Committee. You can read more about the bill here.

Commentary

foreclosed house-for Rob(1).jpgHere’s an issue from the current state policy debate that hasn’t gotten nearly enough attention in recent days: the General Assembly’s new plan to tax homeowners who manage to get some of their debt forgiven in order to avoid foreclosure and stay in their homes. Under the new gas tax compromise brokered by the House and Senate and tentatively approved yesterday, the Senate’s original plan to tax these homeowners for the loan forgiveness — something the feds do not do — has been put back in the bill.

As the one state capital journalist who has been doing a consistently solid job of following this issue, Mark Binker of WRAL, reported last week:

“North Carolina has decided to charge taxes on some items that would have gone untaxed due to changes to federal laws. The most controversial change along these lines has to do with mortgage debt that is forgiven.

When someone who is in a financial pinch has the amount they owe on their home forgiven through a debt relief program, that can be counted as income. The federal government decided not to tax this amount, but the state will under the Senate Bill 20.

This change was controversial when the measure passed through the Senate because it levies a big tax bill on those trying to work their way out of debt. When House lawmakers first passed this bill, they excluded the mortgage forgiveness from taxes. The compromise measure takes the Senate position.”

You got that? even as people throughout the state gnash teeth and get hot under the collar about a few pennies on a gallon of gas, many North Carolinians will now quite possibly and unnecessarily lose their homes as the result of new taxes that directly defeat the purpose of public programs that were designed to save them. The move is, in short, a perfect symbol of the shortsighted and regressive approach to tax policy that is one of the signature features of the current state political leadership.