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Yesterday, the Charlotte Observer labeled the Senate’s latest plan to amend the state constitution to impose tax and spending cuts “a stink bomb” and  “a gimmick” and urged lawmakers to “let it die.”

This morning, Raleigh’s News & Observer is equally complimentary:

“The notion of constitutional amendments to cap the state income tax rate at 5 percent and to cap spending in the state budget by connecting any budget hikes to population growth and inflation is just zany. So is the idea of creating an emergency fund that couldn’t be tapped without two-thirds approval by members of the General Assembly….

State Treasurer Janet Cowell, whose management of the state retirement fund and other investments has been exemplary, is rightly alarmed by the idea. That’s why she sent all 170 lawmakers a strong cautionary warning against it….

For the state to adopt these amendments in the name of cutting government would be akin to putting on handcuffs before going into a boxing ring. You can bob and weave for a while, but what happens when you get hit?”

Of course, none of this seems to be dissuading the Senate, which is likely to pass these ridiculous changes this afternoon. The future of North Carolina as we know it, therefore, is likely to soon rest on the the thin reed that is the North Carolina House of Representatives. Here’s hoping there’s a large supply of duct tape on Jones Street.

Commentary
State Treasurer Janet Cowell opposes TABOR asa trhreat to NC's AAA bond rating.

State Treasurer Janet Cowell opposes TABOR as a threat to NC’s AAA bond rating.

Colorado is the only state in the nation to have enacted the ALEC-inspired “Taxpayer Bill of Rights” or “TABOR” constitutional amendment. The results were disastrous — so disastrous that many in Colorado started referring to the law as “TABOG” — the “Taxpayer Bill of Goods.”

Now, the North Carolina Senate is trying to foist this failed gimmick on on us. Here, as reported by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities,  are just some of the dreadful things that happened to Colorado and that led state business leaders to push through a five-year suspension of the law:

“Colorado’s national rankings on a number of public services plummeted under TABOR.  For example:

  • Colorado fell from 35th to 49th in the nation in K-12 spending as a percentage of personal income.
  • College and university funding as a share of personal income declined from 35th in the nation to 48th.
  • Colorado fell to near the bottom of national rankings in providing children with full, on-time vaccinations.
  • The share of low-income children in the state who lacked health insurance doubled, making Colorado the worst in the nation by this measure.

In addition, TABOR failed to improve Colorado’s business climate or economy, contrary to the predictions of its supporters.  Instead it contributed to a credit rating downgrade and alarmed business leaders by undermining the state’s ability to invest in its basic infrastructure and workforce.”

It is because of reasons like these that, since Colorado adopted TABOR, every other state that has gotten close has rejected it. In several instances, it was voters themselves who said “no.”

Today, in an extremely positive development, North Carolina Treasurer Janet Cowell stated her strong opposition to the Senate proposal based on the threat it would pose to the state’s hard won AAA bond rating. This makes sense given that bond houses specifically cited TABOR in downgrading Colorado’s credit rating.

Let’s hope that Cowell’s statement helps tip the scale on this disastrous proposal. Stay tuned.

Commentary

The Senate is up to its Medieval medicine routine again. Seeing that its “patient,” the state of North Carolina, continues to struggle, the Senate leaders are calling for — you can’t make this up — more leeches and another good bloodletting.

That’s the only way to characterize the terrible proposal unveiled and blasted through a committee yesterday in less than 90 minutes to place three — count ’em, three — constitutional amendments on the state ballot to eviscerate state government for generations to come.  As N.C. Budget and Tax Center Director Alexandra Sirota explained yesterday afternoon in an understated post, the dreadful changes in the proposal would:

“make it harder – not easier – for lawmakers to budget responsibly and they will weaken the foundation of our economy by ensuring the state cannot invest in its people and places. A budget that includes these flawed policy ideas will not help North Carolina move forward.”

Here’s a less polite way to put it: Of all the horrific and destructive proposals advanced by the state’s far right elected leaders over the past five years, this is almost certainly the worst. These deceptive, ALEC-inspired amendments would, if somehow written into the state constitution, devastate North Carolina for decades to come.

Think about it: If the state were to adopt these amendments, North Carolina teachers would never — literally never — get another significant raise again. That’s because if state spending can only go up as fast as inflation and population, any and all new money will be taken up with enrollment growth and higher-than-inflation price increases in areas like health care — and that’s if we’re lucky.

In other words, what the proposal would do is lock in place the destructive policies of the past half decade permanently. Even when conservatives fall, as they inevitably will, from power, it would be virtually impossible to pass new laws to repair the damage. This has, of course, been the disastrous experience in Colorado — the only state to try a full embrace of ALEC spending caps. No wonder they legalized marijuana — they need something to dull the pain and embarrassment of their plight. You like the state of  of public services in North Carolina right now? Well get used to them (and hold on to the memory) because we will never do any better if these changes go through.

The bottom line: There have been a lot of important policy battles in recent years in North Carolina that caring and thinking people have waged to hold back the worst of far right’s agenda. But none of those fights were as important as this one. This is the Big Kahuna. If this battle is lost, North Carolina truly will never be the same again.

Commentary

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.”