NC Budget and Tax Center

Yesterday, Lawrence Mishel from the Economic Policy Institute made the compelling case that policymakers have missed the mark by focusing on tax levels rather than wage stagnation in their pursuit of improving growth rates and the economic well-being of the majority of Americans.  As Mishel points out:

Wage stagnation is a decades-long phenomenon. Between 1979 and 2014, while the gross domestic product grew 150 percent and productivity grew 75 percent, the inflation-adjusted hourly wage of the median worker rose just 5.6 percent — less than 0.2 percent a year. And since 2002, the bottom 80 percent of wage earners, including both male and female college graduates, have actually seen their wages stagnate or fall.

At the same time, taxation does not explain why middle-income families are having a harder time making ends meet, even as they increase their education and become ever more productive. According to the latest Congressional Budget Office data, the middle 60 percent of families paid just 3.2 percent of their income in federal income taxes in 2011, less than half what they paid in 1979.

Mishel goes on to detail a policy agenda that is far better targeted than tax cuts for delivering benefits to the majority of American workers and the broader economy.  This agenda includes some familiar proposals also appropriate for state policymakers: addressing wage theft and misclassification, raising the minimum wage and protecting workers rights to collectively bargain.  It also includes important macro-economic and trade policy choices like stopping the offshoring of jobs through trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership and ensuring the Federal Reserve holds interest rates down until wage growth is more robust.

Again in Mishel’s own words:

Contrary to conventional wisdom, wage stagnation is not a result of forces beyond our control. It is a result of a policy regime that has undercut the individual and collective bargaining power of most workers. Because wage stagnation was caused by policy, it can be reversed by policy, too.

News

#1 – School Vouchers: The North Carolina Supreme Court will hear oral arguments beginning at 9:30 a.m. this morning  in the lawsuit that challenges the legality of the state’s school voucher program.  Want to hear both sides of the argument? WRAL.com will be live streaming the court proceedings.

#2 – Religious Refusal Bill: Over on Jones Street, SB2 – the Magistrates Recusal of Civil Ceremonies bill – will have its first hearing at 10:00am in the Senate’s Judiciary II committee. This bill, sponsored by Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, would allow magistrates and other government officials to opt out of providing marriage services to the public for six-month periods based on “sincerely held religious” objections.

The ACLU of North Carolina says the bill very simply would open the door to allow more government officials to refuse to perform their job duties:

“Religious freedom is one of our most valued liberties, but it should never be used as an excuse to deny government services to those who qualify, simply because of who they love,” said Sarah Preston, policy director for the ACLU of North Carolina. “This bill is clearly designed to deny gay and lesbian couples their legal right to marry, but it would also make it harder for all North Carolina couples, especially those living in smaller counties, to access their right to be married under the law. We urge lawmakers to reject this bill and ensure that government services in North Carolina remain open to all on equal terms.”

#3 – Women’s Advocacy Day - Tuesday is also Women’s Advocacy Day at the General Assembly. Tara Romano of NC Women United tells NC Policy Watch their members will be discussing access to health care, equal pay for women, and civic participation among other things:
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Members of the General Assembly including Angela Bryant, Terry Van Duyn, Susan Fisher, and Rick Glazier will offer their support to NC Women United’s legislative priorities at an 11:00 a.m.  press conference in the legislative press room.

#4 – Incentives and economic development: Also at 11:00a.m. North Carolina Commerce Secretary John Skvarla will address the Senate Commerce Committee outlining his department’s agenda for the session.

You may recall Governor McCrory told the NC Chamber last month that his first legislative priority for this session is creating a new incentives fund.

Look for Senators to ask plenty of questions. A recent analysis by Raleigh’s News & Observer found the McCrory’s administration has nearly depleted the Jobs Development Investment Grants (JDIG) program with the bulk of the money going to projects in Mecklenburg and Wake counties.

Commentary

Curious about the real cost of vouchers? Check out these two great op-eds from Rev. Dr. Arnetta Beverly and Margaret Arbuckle in the Greensboro News-Record.

Rev. Beverly focuses on why risky vouchers schemes violate the North Carolina constitution:

Article IX, Section 6 of the North Carolina constitution declares that public funds for education “shall be faithfully appropriated and used exclusively for establishing and maintaining a uniform system of free public schools.”

The language could not be clearer: Under our constitution, funds that must be used “exclusively” for the public schools cannot be used to issue private school vouchers.

That’s not all. The constitution requires that taxpayer funds must be spent “for public purposes only.”

Arbuckle’s piece highlights the very real human consequences of this ill-advised program:

Vouchers have horrible consequences, including misuse of public funds, violating separation of church and state and compromising children’s educational outcomes in unaccountable schools. This is a bad idea, wrong in its concept and implementation. The consequences for our public education system will be dire.

Both are well worth your time in advance of tomorrow’s hearing at the North Carolina Supreme Court.

Commentary
DavidGuiceFlag

N.C. Commissioner of the Division of Adult Correction and Juvenile Justice, W. David Guice

It’s not the most riveting 20 minutes of TV you’ll ever watch, but if you’d like to see a plainspoken, common sense explanation of why North Carolinians desperately need to invest more in public structures and services and reject the notion that the problems of government can be solved via an unceasing regimen of tax and spending cuts, check out this past weekend’s edition of WRAL’s On the Record news show featuring the McCrory administration’s Commissioner of Prisons and Juvenile Justice David Guice.

As Guice, to his great credit, explains repeatedly, North Carolina desperately needs a lot more money for prisons, guards, mental health treatment and higher employee pay as well as a general philosophical shift in which we reject the “lock ‘em up and throw away the key” approach to corrections that hardline conservatives of both political parties have imposed upon North Carolina in recent decades.

In many ways, Guice’s comments echo the recent pleas of the state’s new Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Martin who has repeatedly  called for dramatic increases to the state courts budget.

Let’s hope that lawmakers pay attention to Guice’s insightful assessments and that the Guv starts appointing more and more people like him throughout his administration.

News

The state House convenes at 1:00pm today, with the Senate returning for a 4:00pm session. Until then, here are some of the stories trending on Jones Street this Monday: