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The warped ideological prism through which the leaders of the North Carolina Senate view reality continues to give rise to new and maddeningly counterproductive policy proposals. The latest came yesterday afternoon when, fresh off of wrecking the state revenue picture for years and handicapping core services like education, the courts and environmental protection with the regressive 2013 tax package, senators proposed another round of corporate tax cuts.

As Alexandra Sirota of the Budget and Tax Center explained it rather politely last night, this is the absolute last thing North Carolina needs right now:

“The corporate tax cuts in the Senate’s proposal would further reduce revenue for investments in our public schools and universities and other building blocks that help drive the success of businesses. Businesses need an educated workforce and modern infrastructure to be successful. Cuts to the tax rates for profitable corporations or changes to the way corporate income is considered for purposes of taxation also won’t address falling wages for the average North Carolinian. Furthermore, the Senate proposal changes to taxes paid by profitable multi-state corporations would not guarantee reinvest in our state and be at the expense of small, home-grown North Carolina businesses.”

In other (and less gracious words), the Senate’s unrequited love affair with trickledown economics continues and will, if unchecked, continue to spur North Carolina’s ongoing and destructive spiral back down into the realm of its backward neighbors like Tennessee, South Carolina, Alabama and Mississippi.

 

Commentary
Rep. Barbara Lee

Rep. Barbara Lee (Photo: Inequality.org)

We’re now a decade and a half into the 21st Century and the notion that our nation’s runaway inequality is going to get any better anytime soon via the “genius of the market” has been shown to be utter nonsense. To the contrary, the incomes of the nation’s ruling class continue to skyrocket at such an astounding rate that the idea of the U.S. as a “middle class society” has come to seem quaint.

Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that congressional Republicans can’t get their act together to do much of anything.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be this way. If a majority of the members of Congress possessed a modicum of courage and common sense, they’d be rushing through this bill as soon as possible.

As Congresswoman Barbara S. Lee of California explained here about the Income Equity Act of 2015 that she introduced last week:

“Few realize that CEO bonuses and ‘performance pay’ are subsidized by the American people. Corporations are given major tax breaks for providing exorbitant compensation.

Surely we can agree that corporations don’t need taxpayers to subsidize massive CEO pay?—?pay that’s grown nearly 1000 percent since 1978.

In America, corporations and executives are playing with a deck stacked against hardworking families.

And the Republican response to this profound income inequality has been a collective yawn.

It’s wrong for any business to keep workers in poverty while padding CEO’s wallets.

It’s even worse that some of these same businesses take huge tax deductions for millions in bonuses.

Clearly, our tax code is not designed to work for all Americans?—?just the select few.

My bill, the Income Equity Act, prohibits employers from taking tax deductions for excessive compensation—defined as any pay more than 25 times that of the company’s median wage worker or $500,000.

Congress should get to work for hardworking families, not millionaires and billionaires that want to get even richer on the backs of taxpayers.”

Amen, Congresswoman.

Commentary

As Raleigh’s News & Observer reported this morning, a study committee at the General Assembly appears to be in the process of advancing a legislative proposal for the 2015 session that would reverse a controversial Utilities Commission decision from last fall that provided a windfall to big utility companies.

As I explained in the Weekly Briefing last October, the ruling allowed utility companies the option to keep charging consumers for income taxes that the companies no longer paid as a result of recent corporate tax cuts. The ruling was especially controversial in that it came in the form of a direct about-face from a previous 6-1 Commission decision from just months before. In the latter ruling, three new McCrory appointees joined with the Commission chair to overrule the previous decision — a move that sparked bitter dissent from three holdover Perdue appointees.

According to news reports, most companies have not actually been collecting the windfall. Only Dominion North Carolina Power — which serves a swath of northeastern North Carolina — has been pocketing the cash thus far. Nothing, however, would prevent Duke and the other big guys from following suit at some point unless the courts and/or the General Assembly step in.

This brings us back to the Revenue Laws Study Committee which included language in its draft report to the 2015 session reversing the decision yet again — see pages 4-6. This morning’s N&O story — especially the headline (“NC lawmakers to end policy letting utilities overcharge customers”) indicated that the draft report would be adopted today and that the legislature would pass the legislation into law.

A closer look, however, shows that such an optimistic take may well be premature. Read More

Commentary

Conservative politicians whose campaigns are funded by corporate interests love to talk about the “genius of the market” and “clamping down on burdensome business regulations.” And while there are no doubt many important virtues associated with both of those concepts, here’s what the genius of the market and business deregulation produce much too often in modern America: exploitation and rip-offs.

A new WRAL news story last night explored a classic example: the targeting of military personnel by scamming, high-cost sales outlets like USA Living. As reporter Monica Laliberte explained:

USA Discounters targeted the military with its patriotic vibe by posting advertisements on a Fort Bragg website and sponsoring military events. The company sells everything from furniture and TVs to jewelry and appliances and even car rims. It promises military members are “always approved for credit.”

Trill’s contract included fees of $1,057 for a warranty and $828.84 for debt cancellation, which covers the debt if something happens to him. The finance charge was $2,065.47. All paid, the furniture that was priced at $5,000 would ultimately cost him $10,513.88.

The next time someone feeds you the line about burdensome business regulations (like next week across the Thanksgiving table, for example) tell them about scams like this in which American heroes are targeted every day. And then remind them that this is why we have to have business regulation in America; not just to protect consumers (because if companies will rip off military families, you know they won’t hesitate to do the same to anyone else), but also to level the playing filed for businesses that operate ethically and honestly. After all, as the veteran/victim in the WRAL story noted:

“Is this the world we fought for? I mean, is this really what you fought for?” Trill said. “Everybody’s scamming everybody. Everyone’s trying to dip into your pockets for a little bit extra. It absolutely makes me sick.”

Commentary

corporate20welfareThe phenomenon of big special interests literally buying public officials via the obscene spectacle of modern elections has become so ingrained in our culture these days that nearly everyone has become numbed by and immune to the whole thing. It’s gotten to the point that when a political operative goes on TV to brag about how much special interest money he forked over to elect a candidate, we’re more shocked by the operative’s, uh, demeanor than we are by his message.

In the interest, therefore, of reminding folks of what we’re really talking about, you are hereby urged to read (or re-read if you’ve already glanced at it) last week’s New York Times story entitled “Lobbyists, Bearing Gifts, Pursue Attorneys General.” The story is the first in what appears to be a new series entitled “Courting Favor,” and it tells in straightforward and disturbing terms just how blatant corporate mouthpieces have become in their efforts to — there’s no other way to say this — buy and bribe public officials. This is from the story:

Attorneys general are now the object of aggressive pursuit by lobbyists and lawyers who use campaign contributions, personal appeals at lavish corporate-sponsored conferences and other means to push them to drop investigations, change policies, negotiate favorable settlements or pressure federal regulators, an investigation by The New York Times has found. Read More