Gene NicholWhen it comes to eloquently assailing North Carolina’s far right political leadership for its shortsighted and mean-spirited policies, no one does it better than Gene Nichol. The UNC law professor is on his game this morning with an op-ed in Raleigh’s News & Observer entitled “An NC tax plan that’s an exercise in villainy.”

As Nichol notes, the decision to further shift the responsibility for funding government from the rich to the poor by raising sales taxes and cutting income taxes is as blatant as it is outrageous.

This section stands out in particular:

“I’ll be the first to concede that the governor and the General Assembly mean to do a lot. They want to make it harder for black people to vote. They want to stop women from controlling their bodies. They want to shame and stigmatize lesbians and gay men. They want to disparage and marginalize immigrants. They want to dismantle the public schools. They want to eliminate environmental regulation. They want to foster purchased elections. They want to lay low their political opponents. The list is long. They’re ambitious sorts.

But their true sweet spot, their principal raison d’etre, the campaign to which they return enthusiastically in each succeeding session, is taking money and benefits from the impoverished in order to give more to, and to demand less from, the wealthy. They seemingly believe the main thing wrong with North Carolina is that those at the bottom have too much and those at the top don’t have enough. They have converted our government to an exercise in villainy….

And this part too:

The McCrory era will be adjudged a dark and shameful chapter in North Carolina history – a last gasp effort to cling to legacies of privilege and subordination, to deny the promises of democracy and dignity.”

Click here to read the entire essay.


The latest issue of the Justice Center’s Prosperity Watch is out and it explains some big practical problems that have become apparent in the new sales tax distribution changes that became law with the FY2016-17 state budget. As economist Patrick McHugh explains:

“The new allocation system does not target the states’ areas of most dire economic need. North Carolina divides counties up into three economic tiers, with Tier 1 being the most distressed and Tier 3 the most economically robust. As shown above, the forty Tier 1 counties receive roughly 1/3rd of the new allocation, while the majority goes to Tier 2 and 3 counties that are comparably better off. In fact, the average allotment received by Tier 2 counties is almost twice as large as what the average Tier 1 county will receive. While some struggling rural communities will get a bump in revenue, a more targeted mechanism or a direct appropriation made possible by an adequate state tax code could have sent even more to where it is needed the most.

There’s also concern about whether this new fund will come from new revenue, or will cannibalize existing sales tax collections. The bulk of the funds to be distributed according to this new system are projected to come from expanding the sales tax to a variety of repair and maintenance services, but it is next to impossible to accurately predict how much revenue will come from expanding the sales tax base in this way. If expanding the sales tax does not raised the projected revenue, this new fund could eat into the dollars distributed according to the existing formula or require greater appropriation of state dollars, resulting in a smaller net gain for counties that receive a part of this new fund.”

Add to this the fact that the changes were included in a budget that, as McHugh puts it, “will undermine state and local governments’ ability to build good schools and vibrant economies,” and you’ve got even more reason to be very worried about what lawmakers and Gov. McCrory have wrought with their duct-tape-and-baling-wire budget and tax package. The graph below illustrates the disconnect in the new law:

NC Budget and Tax Center

The Connect NC Bond Act does not appear to be driven by a single coherent vision of how to use state investments to support economic growth. As can be seen below, the House and Senate versions put out over the last month have varied enormously over the total size of the bond and the type of projects to be funded. Concerns over cutting taxes while going farther into debt aside, the bond act shows that there is no single guiding star by which the legislature is sailing.

BOND PROPOSAL - pie charts2-LAND

To be fair, some of this is just the legislative process in action. When you’re making a multi-billion dollar sausage, there’s going to be lots of back and forth on the ingredients. Still, while the bond bill outlines how important investments are to our economic future, it reveals relatively little consensus on what those investments are or how to make them.

Here are a few of the major changes to the bill compared to what the House presented last month (For a complete breakdown of how the bond package has changed, see the document below): Read More

NC Budget and Tax Center

Identification is a necessity in modern life. From accessing utility services to checking a book out of the library, having an ID card can support participation in the day to day life of a community. For many, ID cards are difficult to secure and as a result their full participation in civic and economic life is limited.

Another late change to House Bill 318 would likely limit the ability of local governments to build trust with immigrant communities and pursue identification policies.

This is counter to emerging practice across the country, including in some North Carolina cities, where providing a municipal identification card to ensure residents can access basic public services, support a sense of membership in the community and facilitate identification for public safety and economic activities. Since 2007, six municipalities have developed ID card programs. New Haven (CT) was the first to do so in June 2007, followed by San Francisco (CA) in November 2007, Oakland (CA) in June 2009, Richmond (CA) in July 2011, Los Angeles (CA) in November 2012, and New York City (NY) in June 2014. Several other cities have considered or are considering ID card programs, including Minneapolis (MN), Chicago (IL), and Dayton (OH). Read More


SNAPvote[UPDATE: This bill passed its “second reading” today and is scheduled for a final vote in the Senate next Monday.] Another “you can’t make this stuff up” bill has emerged in the final days of the 2015 state legislative session. Under an amendment tacked on to a bill originally designed to target the employment of undocumented immigrants, SNAP benefits (i.e. Food Stamps) would be made significantly harder to obtain for childless adults in struggling parts of North Carolina.

Here’s the deal:

SNAP benefits are limited under federal law to three months out of every three years for childless, non-disabled adults unless they are working at least half time, participating in a qualified job training program for 20 hours a week, or in workfare. This time limit applies regardless of whether these individuals are actually able to find employment or training opportunities.

This can obviously work a great hardship. In North Carolina, for example, 83 counties actually have more jobless workers than job openings.

Thankfully, federal allows states to suspend the time limit in areas with high unemployment. As a result, every state except Delaware has waived the time limit for at least part of their state at some point. During the recent recession, many states qualified for state-wide waivers from the time limit. Most states will have to reimpose the time limit for at least part of their state in 2016. North Carolina has already applied for a waiver for 77 of the state’s 100 counties — i.e. the ones with high unemployment rates.

Absurdly, however, under the new provision (click here and scroll to page 6) the Department of Health and Human Services would be barred from applying for a waiver, effectively reimposing the time limit even though parts of the state qualify for a waiver due to high unemployment. This unnecessarily restricts food assistance for poor childless adults in areas where the economy has not yet fully recovered.

This bill would further prevent the state from ever requesting a waiver, removing an important state response to future economic downturns.

The bottom line: If the bill becomes law, a large number of hurting North Carolinians in some of the state’s least healthy communities will lose yet another small lifeline that allows them to survive. On the day Pope Francis is receiving global accolades for calling on Americans to help the poor, North Carolina lawmakers are, once more, doing the exact opposite.

Adjournment of the 2015 session cannot come soon enough.