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Budget see sawAs a one-time civics teacher, my job was to explain to 8th graders how our government works. On one level, it was simple: people vote for leaders who will represent them. The leaders make decisions on their behalf.

But, of course, that wasn’t the whole story. I usually stumbled through the part about politics and special interests. I labored to explain out how our tax system has grown increasingly regressive, shifting the responsibility off of large corporations and onto the pocketbooks of their parents. Inequality is an ugly reality, but a reality nonetheless.

North Carolinians understand the inequality that exists in our economy. They also understand how to fix it. On Wednesday, North Carolinians from across the state delivered a petition calling on lawmakers to listen to them – and not the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) – when it comes to budget and tax choices. The petition, which included more than 6,000 signatures (and which was accompanied by a sign-on letter from 17 organizations representing tens of thousands of individuals) calls for an equitable and adequate tax system that keeps North Carolina strong.

As legislators continue to work on a final budget, many North Carolinians are concerned that their leaders will ignore their voices and instead choose to listen to ALEC. ALEC, a national arch-conservative group funded by large corporations, has designed many of the policies, such as tax cuts, low investments for protecting our communities, and giveaways to big corporations, that have moved North Carolina backwards. Indeed, as the post below notes, many lawmakers left Raleigh early this week to attend ALEC’s annual conference in San Diego.

At a press conference announcing the delivery of the petition, Tazra Mitchell, a policy analyst with the Budget & Tax Center, explained, “The disproven theory that corporate tax cuts help our economy move forward is economic snake oil that ALEC sells to state legislators around the country … These policies are a prescription for poor results that hinder the ability of our state to set up a foundation for future growth.”

After Mitchell’s remarks, more than a dozen North Carolinas spoke out on why they felt investments are critical to a strong and equitable economy. Some examples: Read More

News

With a state budget nearly a month overdue, several Republican lawmakers headed to California this week to attend a conference with close ties to some of the nation’s largest corporations.

alecAt least three of the lawmakers will have their $700 registration costs for the American Legislative Exchange Council and a $104 per diem paid for by taxpayers, according to staff in the N.C. General Assembly’s legislative services division.

N.C House Speaker Tim Moore, state Sen. David Curtis, of Lincoln County, and state Rep. Hugh Blackwell, of Burke County, all requested reimbursement from the legislature.

The lawmakers will not receive the $104 per diem they generally get for being in session, and instead will get the travel per diem, which is the same amount.

It’s not all that unusual for the state legislature to pitch in for conferences like ALEC, which promotes free markets and limited government, or another annual conference by the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).

ALEC, however, has come under criticism in recent years, for its close ties to some of the nation’s largest corporations, with questions raised about the level of corporate influence making its way into Congress and state capitals through pieces of model legislation pushed by the group. Several high-profile companies have left ALEC, including Coca-Cola, Wal-Mart, General Electric, Google and Microsoft.

There are other lawmakers from North Carolina attending the event in addition to the trio who will be reimbursed by the state, though they may be paying for the conference themselves or through campaign funds.

WRAL reported that state Sen. Bob Rucho, of Mecklenburg County, and the following House GOP members are headed to San Diego for the ALEC conference: state Reps. Mark Brody of Union County; John Fraley, of Iredell County Craig Horn of Union County; George Robinson of Caldwell County Stephen Ross of Alamance County; Jason Saine of Lincoln County; Sarah Stevens of Surry County.

The ALEC schedule lists Saine as a panelist for a discussion Friday about technology creating efficiencies in government.

“What I’ve found is that the meetings are very much just informative. You learn a lot of things,” Moore told WRAL.  “I know some of the groups coming out and criticizing ALEC, a lot of them are the same groups that criticize us because we want to lower taxes. But I frankly believe that’s what most North Carolinians want.”
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Former House Speaker-turned lobbyist Harold Brubaker

Former House Speaker and current top-ranked lobbyist Harold Brubaker – Photo: NC General Assembly

The North Carolina Center for Public Policy Research is a fine and venerable organization that has done many great services to the state. Moreover, its commitment to sober and thorough research in which the focus is on getting things right more than getting them fast is a welcome departure from the norm in today’s hyper-fast-paced policy environment.

That said, here’s a vote for doing away with one of the organization’s signature products — its annual “rankings” of lobbyists and lawmakers.

Every year (or at least it seems like every year anyway — I’m actually not sure how often these darned things come out ), the Center releases the results of surveys it conducts of the denizens of the state Legislative Building on the “effectiveness” of lawmakers and lobbyists. The results are then converted into a “rankings” system and released with much fanfare. Think of it as a kind of once-per-year AP Top 25 football team poll for politicos. Today, the Center released its lobbyist list.

It’s hard to pinpoint what’s most offensive about the rankings. Maybe it’s the use of the word “effectiveness,” which as a practical matter, has come to mean “power and influence.” Surprise! This year, the “most effective” lobbyist is former House Speaker and ALEC chairman emeritus-turned corporate mouthpiece Harold Brubaker. Similarly, last spring’s rankings touted Phil Berger and Thom Tillis as the “most effective” legislators. What a shocker that was! (I mean, who’s kidding who? Saying Harold Brubaker is “more effective” than some underpaid nonprofit advocate for sick kids or the environment is like seriously reporting that Florida State has a “more effective” football team than N.C. Central.)

Maybe it’s the notion Read More

NC Budget and Tax Center

Supporters of the Senate’s billion-dollar-a-year tax cut proposal gave North Carolinians an earful last week about the need to improve our state’s “business climate.” Unfortunately, their comments in the debate on the tax plan reflected a measure  of business climate based on  a misleading and incomplete index manufactured by an organization dedicated to cutting all taxes, all the time and justifying it no matter what the facts might be.

Like many indices that claim to assess and compare states’ ability to compete for business investment, the Tax Foundation’s approach focuses entirely on taxes even though  a range of other policies are crucial for meeting the needs of business, creating jobs, and building a strong economy. So it’s no surprise that the results bear little resemblance to reality. 

So here are three reasons that the Tax Foundation rankings are the wrong foundation for making tax policy in North Carolina:

1.       They focus exclusively on cherry-picked tax policies the Tax Foundation just doesn’t like, rather than on the whole range of factors that genuinely drive business investment decisions.

Read More

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Raleigh will play host to two excellent events next week that will shine a light on the efforts by big money to purchase our government.

On Tuesday evening February 19, the national executive director of Common Cause, Bob Edgar, will be in town to lead a discussion of the growing and pernicious influence of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). The event will take place at Pullen Memorial Baptist Church, 1801 Hillsborough Street at 7:00 pm. RSVP by contacting NC Common Cause Director Bob Phillips at 919-836-0027 or bphillips@commoncause.org.

Two days later, at 12 noon on February 21, NC Policy Watch will team up with Common Cause for a special Crucial Conversation luncheon:

Big money, dark money: The threat posed to our democracy by media consolidation and secretly-funded elections – Featuring the former Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Dr. Michael Copps.

The luncheon will take place at the Center for Community Leadership Training Room at the Junior League of Raleigh Building, 711 Hillsborough St. at the corner of Hillsborough and St. Mary’s Streets).

Click here for more information and to register.