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Mark Binker at WRAL.com has a story this afternoon that offers a classic example of what happens when the policies enacted (and driven) by tax cut zealots cause public structures to be dismantled:

— North Carolina lacks the ability to track and combat the spread of mosquitoes as the Zika virus that has been blamed for brain-damaged babies in Brazil makes its way into the United States, according to the state’s chief epidemiologist.

“Our biggest limitation is that mosquito surveillance and control is very limited in this state,” Megan Davies, epidemiology section chief in the North Carolina Division of Public Health told the Joint Legislative Emergency Management Oversight Committee on Thursday. “There used to be funding for localities to do mosquito control that is no longer available.”

Two different programs aimed at controlling mosquitoes and other pests were pared back, and then finally eliminated, under Gov. Bev Perdue, a Democrat, and Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, as both governors and the General Assembly struggled to get a hold on budget shortfalls that were symptoms of the recession.

In 2010, Perdue and the Democratic majority in the General Assembly made the first cut to grants that helped local governments control mosquitoes. In 2011, a Republican-controlled General Assembly voted to eliminate the “vector control program,” which monitored and analyzed the spread of mosquitoes as part of what is now the Department of Environmental Quality. The last of the mosquito control grants for local governments were eliminated in 2014.”

And while the story notes that Bev Perdue presided over the beginning of the program cuts, it should be noted that she did this in an environment in which conservatives were fighting her tooth and nail over every effort she made to find new revenues to pay for important programs. And clearly, it was the current conservative leaders who finished the program off.

The bottom line: The cuts to the mosquito program are emblematic of the disinvestment in all sorts of essential — often life-saving — public structures that conservatives have pushed on North Carolina in recent years. Think about that fact this summer when you’re lathering up with extra bug spray and ask yourself what would make you feel a greater sense of “freedom”: a few bucks in income tax cuts or the knowledge that public servants were working hard to protect you and your loved ones from a dangerous disease?

Commentary

Another day and another lead editorial in Raleigh’s News & Observer rightfully blasting lawmakers for heartless and shortsighted  cuts to people in need:

“North Carolina’s Republican legislators leave no stone unturned when it comes to cutting the state budget to make possible tax cuts most benefiting the wealthy and businesses. Then, they roll that stone toward the disadvantaged and people of modest means.

The latest action will cut $110 million from the budgets for the state’s eight regional mental health centers. The GOP solution? They say the centers can just use their savings to fill the gap, rather than use the money saved to look for new treatments and innovations.

So, while those who are able to afford private care can have access to new treatments that might improve or even save their lives, those who depend on state-assisted care will be denied those treatments.”

But, as the editorial concludes, we shouldn’t be surprised:

“The shortsightedness, the lack of any kind of sympathy for constituents in need of mental health care, would be astonishing were it not part of a disturbing pattern designed by Republican lawmakers to pound the defenseless poor at any opportunity.

And without new treatments that might help, those who depend upon the state for mental health treatment will hold the line at best and perhaps suffer more severe problems should their difficulties persist.”

Click here to read the entire editorial.

Commentary

In case you missed it the other day, the Charlotte Observer ran one of the best essays yet on the disastrous consequences that North Carolina can expect if the ALEC-inspired “Taxpayer Bill of Rights” becomes embedded in the state constitution and what we ought to do instead.

Leslie WinnerIncrease teacher pay without TABOR

By Leslie Winner

I was talking to the superintendent of a small school system last fall, and she mournfully told me about losing her best high school math teacher to South Carolina, where he would earn $10,000 more per year for doing the same job. We all know young adults who would be good teachers, who would like to teach in North Carolina, and who won’t go into teaching, or who are leaving or won’t come to North Carolina, because we do not pay enough for a teacher’s family to live on. We all know of schools that will open this month without a qualified teacher in each classroom, that are facing a shortage of math, science, and foreign language teachers, because those schools cannot find enough qualified teachers to hire.

Almost all of us in North Carolina deeply believe that our public schools should prepare each child for a meaningful and productive life. Kids are different from each other, and each child deserves to get a year’s worth of growth for a year’s worth of school. Parents also deserve to be confident that their children will finish school prepared for the future. We know that to accomplish this, schools must have good teachers in each classroom and enough up-to-date textbooks and technology.

Since North Carolina is currently significantly behind in providing enough funding for teachers, textbooks, and technology, I was surprised to read that talk of TABOR, the so called “tax-payer bill of rights,” has resurfaced in the legislature. This proposed amendment to the state’s Constitution would both cap North Carolina’s income tax at 5%, helping those with higher incomes, and cost the state $1.5 billion a year in revenue. It would also limit increases in state spending, based on inflation and population growth, limiting North Carolina, effectively, to the amount we are spending now, with no room for improving public schools even in prosperous times.

We are fortunate to have thousands of effective, dedicated teachers in our schools. To keep them, and to attract new ones, we need to recruit smart young adults into the profession, provide the best with prestigious teacher scholarships, prepare them well, respect and support them as teachers, and pay them enough so they can support their families while they work as teachers. Currently, about half our teachers quit in their first five years. If we invested in recruiting, preparing, supporting, and paying them well, more would stay longer, reducing the number we need to hire each year, and allowing us to invest more into recruiting, preparing and supporting the next round of new teachers. Read More

NC Budget and Tax Center

A report released yesterday by ThinkNC First argues that decision makers in Raleigh have walked away from many of the programs that helped to build a middle-class in North Carolina. Authors William Lester and Nichola Lowe of the University of North Carolina review data showing that middle-income jobs have become much harder to find over the last decade. The report ties this disturbing trend to recent policy decisions to underfund state programs that foster industries that create livable wages and ensure that all North Carolinians can access those jobs. The report makes a strong case that state leaders should heed our history and remember how North Carolina became an economic powerhouse in the Southeast in the first place.

The central problem documented in the report is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore. For the second half of the 20th century, North Carolina’s economy generated strong employment growth up a down the wage scale. Since the start of the Great Recession however, most of the job growth has been in either very high or very low paying industries. The labor market hollowed out, as many industries, particularly in manufacturing, saw employment decline. We here are the Budget and Tax Center have been watching this same trend, and its not pretty.

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Commentary

In case you missed it, be sure to check out today’s edition of the Fitzsimon File wherein Chris explains what’s really going on in the latest House budget proposal — part of which was unveiled today after having been written behind closed doors. As Chris notes in “A muddled start to the state budget dance”:

“Overall the parts of the budget made public so far are similar to proposals made by Governor Pat McCrory two months ago in his spending plan with the anemic status quo preserved in most agencies and programs, maintaining funding levels that after several years of deep budget cuts fail to meet the needs of a growing and still struggling state.

House leaders will tout increased funding for education but with a few notable exceptions like more funding for textbooks and restoring support for driver’s ed, most of the new education money will pay to keep services at current levels—funding enrollment increases and keeping the same number of teacher assistants in the classroom after their ranks were reduced significantly in the last few years.

It is much the same in health and human services where House leaders pay for the increased cost of Medicaid and provide some additional funding for programs that desperately need it, like the Home and Community Care Block that helps pay for Meals on Wheels and other services that allow seniors to stay in their homes.

The House budget restores a million dollar cut made to the program last year and while that’s certainly welcome news, bringing a vital program back to a previous level of funding isn’t exactly a cause for massive celebration.”

And sadly, as Chris also notes, this is probably the high point of this year’s budget process: Read More