Commentary

If there’s a “most frustrating set of tax facts” to be considered today as this year’s Tax Week comes to a close, it’s got to be this: the billions of dollars that tax scofflaws cheat their fellow citizens out of and the conservative, budget-cutting policies that help enable it.

As Citizens for Tax Justice reported earlier this month:

“All told, American Fortune 500 corporations are avoiding up to$600 billion in U.S. federal income taxes by holding more than $2.1 trillion of “permanently reinvested” profits offshore. In their latest annual financial reports, twenty-eight of these corporations reveal that they have paid an income tax rate of 10 percent or less in countries where these profits are officially held, indicating that most of these profits are likely in offshore tax havens”

Meanwhile, billions of tax dollars go uncollected each year from corporate and individual taxpayers, in large measure because of conservative budget cuts at the I.R.S. As former National Association of Manufacturers chief Jerry Jasinowski wrote on the Huffington Post earlier this week:

“For five consecutive years Congress has taken an axe to the IRS budget imposing total budget cuts thus far of $1.2 billion. As a result, the IRS has lost 13,000 employees, 11 percent of the total. Last year, the IRS began 19 percent fewer criminal investigations than the year before. This year the agency expects to close at least 46,000 fewer audits. With 5,000 fewer revenue agents, revenue officers and criminal investigators, the IRS expects at least $2 billion that taxpayers owe to the government will go uncollected in 2015.”

And don’t think North Carolina tax collections are immune to this toxic pattern. The Charlotte Observer reported earlier this week that more than 300,000 people owe more than a $1 billion to North Carolina in delinquent taxes. Noticed any proposals on Jones Street in recent years to meaningfully beef up the state Department of Revenue?

The sad bottom line on all this: It isn’t an accident. The conservative campaign to undermine the legitimacy of public structures by underfunding them and thereby eroding public confidence in (and support for) them has been ongoing for many decades. Here in North Carolina, the war on public education has been the most visible example of this Koch-Pope ideology in action, but the efforts to undermine the agencies that administer and enforce tax collections is another.

We’re all suffering as a result of this disturbing cynicism.

Commentary

sexeducationIn the barrage of bad bills introduced at the legislature in recent days, there is one that would result in great harm to sexual health education but that has thus far drawn little attention. House Bill 596 would rewrite the current requirements for sex education in schools, making an already flawed law even worse. The current law requires students to be taught mostly about abstinence but at least includes some discussion of contraception methods and safe sex practices. However, the new law, if passed, would forbid schools from teaching students about emergency contraceptive measures like Plan B, commonly known as the morning-after-pill.

Plan B and other methods of emergency contraception allow women to take a pill within five days of unprotected sex in order to prevent pregnancy. Based on approval by the FDA, these pills are currently available at pharmacies over-the-counter. Easier access to the pill has resulted in a lower rate of teenage pregnancy in the state (not to mention, been vital in cases of rape). Currently, all FDA-approved contraceptive methods in preventing pregnancy can be taught in the classroom.

Representative Chris Whitmire, sponsor of HB 596, however, believes that the schools should not be teaching students about such products, even if they are FDA-approved. According to Whitmire’s logic, which doesn’t appear to be based on medical training of any kind, Plan B can cause spontaneous abortions and, therefore, schools should not teach students about it. However, according to doctors with actual medical training, Plan B “works like other birth control pills to prevent pregnancy. The drug acts primarily by stopping the release of an egg from the ovary.” In fact, Plan B does not even have the ability to cause an abortion. In cases where the fertilized egg has been implanted, the drug is ineffective and the pregnancy proceeds as normal.

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Commentary, NC Budget and Tax Center, Raising the Bar 2015

Raising the Bar in North CarolinaEditor’s note: The following post by Beth Messersmith, NC Campaign Director with MomsRising.org, is the latest installment in “Raising the Bar,” a new series of essays and blog posts authored by North Carolina leaders highlighting ways in which North Carolina public investments are falling short and where and how they can be improved.

This week found my husband and I scrambling to make sure we had all of our I’s dotted and our T’s crossed as we hurried to make sure we had our taxes filed on time.

As he sat watching us from the couch, my almost ten-year old remarked about what a bummer it is to have to pay taxes. His sister stopped doing cartwheels across the living room long enough to agree and opine that she was glad that she didn’t have to pay them out of her allowance.

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised. Anti-tax rhetoric is everywhere in the weeks leading up to tax day. Just that morning on the way to school the deejay on the morning radio show was talking about how much he hates paying taxes.

But their remarks were enough to make me stop my hunt for receipts and pull the kids onto the couch to talk to them about why —as a parent and a part of this country —I don’t mind paying taxes. In fact, I see it as part of my duty as someone who loves this country and benefits every single day from the investments we make as a society. And why, as a parent, I feel especially grateful for the investments we make in our children.

We started off by talking about their schools and the things that make schools work. They listed off their teachers, their supplies, the buses, even the buildings. Then I asked them who they thought owns our schools and employs our teachers. They’d never really thought about it. Explaining it to them gave me a chance to talk about how taxes are actually investments in our community and, in the case of schools, in the futures of the children who attend them. I shared how I benefited from public schools even before they were born as a student myself, as an employer looking to hire qualified people, and as a community member who benefits from an educated society. Read More

News
N.C. Community College President Scott Ralls

N.C. Community College President Scott Ralls

North Carolina is now on the hunt for new leaders of both its higher education systems, with today’s announcement that N.C. Community College President Scott Ralls is taking a job in Virginia.

The News & Observer’s Jane Stancill reported early this afternoon that Ralls is taking a new job to head the Northern Virginia Community College, a campus with 75,000 students.

In North Carolina, Rawls has headed the 58-campus state community college system that serves 850,000 students since 2008. He will start his new job in September. (Click here to read the announcement from the Virginia community college.)

From the N&O:

Ralls has led the North Carolina community college system since 2008. The system had phenomenal growth — 28 percent — in the first three years of his tenure, which was during the depths of the recession.

At the same time, the system experienced a budget crunch, all while embarking on a strategy to revamp curriculum, improve graduation rates and forge new transfer agreements with the state’s university system.

A former president of Craven Community College in New Bern and Havelock, Ralls said Thursday he had always intended to return to a campus setting, where he could interact with students and faculty.

“That’s who I am and where my heart is,” Ralls said Thursday. “I’ve always aspired to go back to a campus.”

Ralls’ forthcoming departure comes at the state’s university system is also looking for its new leader, after the UNC Board of Governors moved in January to push out President Tom Ross.

UNC Board of Governors Chairman John Fennebresque denied that politics played a roll in Ross’ ouster, but no reasons other than a general desire for change have been given.

Ross is staying in his position until January, and a successor is expected to be announced this fall.

News

SCOTUS redistricting mapsOn tomorrow’s calendar of petitions for review by the U.S. Supreme Court is Dickson v. Rucho, the challenge to the state’s 2010 redistricting plan.

The groups and individuals who initially sued lawmakers in state court — contending that the plan constituted an unlawful racial gerrymander — filed papers in January asking the justices to review the state Supreme Court’s 2014 decision upholding the plan.

Since then, the nation’s highest court decided a similar case out of Alabama — applying a different analysis than that used by our state justices and sending that state’s plan back to the trial court for further review. (For more on the relationship between the Alabama and the North Carolina cases read here.)

The Court ruled that race predominated in an Alabama redistricting plan which moved black voters into majority-minority districts in order to prevent the percentage of minority voters from declining, and that such race-based redistricting must be strictly scrutinized.

Five days later, the court likewise sent a case raising similar issues regarding Virginia’s 3rd Congressional District, Cantor v. Personhuballah, back down for further review.

The challengers of the North Carolina plan — relying in part upon the analysis in the Alabama decision — contend that our state maps should also be strictly scrutinized and rejected as race-based gerrymanders.

Citing the Alabama opinion, they argue:

Certiorari must be granted in this case to end the use of irregularly shaped race-based election districts in North Carolina because “[r]acial gerrymandering strikes at the heart of our democratic process, undermining the electorate’s confidence in its government as representative of a cohesive body politic in which all citizens are equal before the law.”

They also point out that state lawmakers’ use of “mechanical racial targets” led to the drawing of districts that were “even more bizarrely shaped” than those examined by the justices in the Alabama case — as illustrated in the image above. (The enacted district as opposed to alternatives is in the bottom right corner.)