Commentary, News

This week’s Top 5 on N.C. Policy Watch

Abortion TRAP1. U.S. Supreme Court steps into the abortion TRAP

For the first time in nearly a decade, the U.S. Supreme Court steps back into the battle over abortion rights today, hearing argument in a Texas case that threatens the core principles underlying a woman’s right to choose as first set down in Roe v. Wade.
The question for the justices in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt is just how far a state can go in regulating abortion before it unduly burdens a woman’s constitutionally protected rights.

More than 80 groups of scholars, advocates, physicians and others sharply divided on the issue have filed friend-of-the court briefs with the court, and many will likely also be gathered outside the court this morning as well in protest — testaments to the interest in the outcome.
Here’s a look at what’s at stake.  [Continue Reading…]

Great Tax Shift2. New sales taxes highlight NC’s “worst of all worlds” fiscal policy

Here’s one thing you can say for the conservative elected leaders running North Carolina state government these days: they don’t lack for audacity. Whereas some politicians might hesitate or display at least a small measure of hesitancy or sheepishness about implementing tax changes that dramatically shift the responsibility for funding our public structures and services away from the rich and onto the backs of the poor and middle class, North Carolina’s leaders are in “full steam ahead” mode.

In an era in which the one-percenters are already rapidly leaving the rest of society further and further in their rear view mirrors, Governor McCrory and the leaders of the General Assembly have enacted policies to, in effect, turbocharge their Ferraris, Mercedes and Teslas. [Continue Reading…]

School dropouts3. Limited resources, poverty, academic problems drive NC’s higher dropout rate

For the better part of a decade, North Carolina’s dropout rate has been on the decline. But this week, in the midst of ongoing bickering between public education activists and budget leaders in the N.C. General Assembly over shortfalls in state funding in recent years, state school officials will present data that marks North Carolina’s first increase in the dropout rate in eight years.

The report, bundled along with a massive presentation that includes suspension and other disciplinary data for the N.C. State Board of Education, marks a nearly 8 percent increase in the state’s dropout count, totaling 11,190 dropouts, in the 2014-2015 academic year. And the state’s dropout rate, which factors in enrollment growth in school systems, was up almost 5 percent during the year. [Continue Reading…]

Bonds-ConnectNC4. Connecting bonds and jobs in North Carolina

The folks running the Connect NC bond campaign have to be getting a little nervous these days, now less than two weeks away from voters deciding if the state should borrow $2 billion for much-needed higher education and infrastructure projects.

There haven’t been a lot of polls released publicly about the bond. One done by the conservative Civitas Institute a few weeks ago found that a significant majority of Democrats supported the bond and a plurality of Republicans said they were for it, though by a relatively close margin with a high percentage of GOP voters undecided.

The Tea Party wing of the Republican world is mounting a spirited campaign against borrowing the money and in this bizarre and unpredictable Donald Trump election year, anything is possible given the high turnout expected March 15th in the Republican presidential primary. [Continue Reading…]

Sexual violence5. The truth about sexual violence and the new Charlotte nondiscrimination ordinance

As a long-time advocate for victims of sexual violence, I am always grateful for an opportunity to talk about how we, as a society, can prevent this kind of horrific and criminal behavior. That said, I am also frequently angered and frustrated by many of the conversations that do take place. A classic example is the current debate in North Carolina surrounding Charlotte’s new non-discrimination ordinance.

This ordinance, which provides new protections from discrimination for the LGBTQ community, is long overdue. In 2016 America, we cannot pay mere lip service to our belief in equality and fairness for all.

Sadly, the main sticking point in the debate over this new law is the same contentious provision that sank a similar proposal when it was introduced last March, and one that has been used whenever opponents of gender equality feel threatened — the use and safety of public restrooms. [Continue Reading…]

Commentary

Editorial: Further shift onto sales tax is a bad move for NC

Tax shiftIn their never ending quest to tilt it more and more in favor of themselves and their wealthy backers, state lawmakers are again touting a plan to shift North Carolina’s tax system away from income taxes and further onto the sales tax.

As Raleigh’s News & Observer reported in this article, the move was endorsed this week at a legislative hearing by a right-wing group that calls itself the Tax Foundation. Critics of the idea were not invited to speak.

Such a shift is a dreadful idea.

Not only will it make our tax system more regressive than it already is (thereby taxing the wealthy at much lower rates than the poor and middle class), it will make the system much less flexible and resilient to meet the needs of a growing state. While it does make sense to broaden the base of the sales tax to capture more economic transactions, this should be married with a plan to lower sales tax rates so that the tax does not become a monster.

For a healthy revenue system that remains stable and is better able to withstand the ups and downs of the economy, North Carolina needs a healthy balance of a progressive personal income tax, a broad-based sales tax and reasonable property taxes at the local level.

An editorial in this morning’s Fayetteville Observer puts it gently but accurately in assessing this week’s hearing:

“Legislators didn’t invite any opposing viewpoints. It’s clear that the architects of state tax policy want to more aggressively cut corporate and personal income taxes.

If the lawmakers had invited tax experts with differing views, they might have considered the impact that a shift to broader sales taxes has on the poor, who spend a larger percentage of their incomes on basic goods and services. It’s the same problem that plagues proposals for a “flat tax.” Wealthier people who don’t need all of their income for living expenses pay a far smaller share of their earnings in taxes. The shift away from income taxes and toward consumption taxes is one of the driving forces behind the growing gap between rich and poor in the U.S.

While we agree that some shift of sales taxes to services was unavoidable in an increasingly service-based economy, we hope state tax code writers move with caution there, lest they create even broader gulfs between the haves and the have-nots.”

Commentary

C’mon, “free market” lovers, tell us how THIS promotes “liberty”

You have to hand it to the modern class of plutocrats that dominates the American economy. It’s increasingly clear that a goodly number of them really have no sense of shame or boundaries. The latest and powerful exhibit for this proposition can be found in a new story in the New York Times entitled “For the Wealthiest, a Private Tax System That Saves Them Billions.”

Here’s the gist:

“With inequality at its highest levels in nearly a century and public debate rising over whether the government should respond to it through higher taxes on the wealthy, the very richest Americans have financed a sophisticated and astonishingly effective apparatus for shielding their fortunes. Some call it the “income defense industry,” consisting of a high-priced phalanx of lawyers, estate planners, lobbyists and anti-tax activists who exploit and defend a dizzying array of tax maneuvers, virtually none of them available to taxpayers of more modest means.

In recent years, this apparatus has become one of the most powerful avenues of influence for wealthy Americans of all political stripes, including Mr. Loeb and Mr. Cohen, who give heavily to Republicans, and the liberal billionaire George Soros, who has called for higher levies on the rich while at the same time using tax loopholes to bolster his own fortune.

All are among a small group providing much of the early cash for the 2016 presidential campaign.

Operating largely out of public view — in tax court, through arcane legislative provisions and in private negotiations with the Internal Revenue Service — the wealthy have used their influence to steadily whittle away at the government’s ability to tax them. The effect has been to create a kind of private tax system, catering to only several thousand Americans.

The impact on their own fortunes has been stark. Two decades ago, when Bill Clinton was elected president, the 400 highest-earning taxpayers in America paid nearly 27 percent of their income in federal taxes, according to I.R.S. data. By 2012, when President Obama was re-elected, that figure had fallen to less than 17 percent, which is just slightly more than the typical family making $100,000 annually, when payroll taxes are included for both groups.”

The story goes on to explain the creepy and outrageous details of how this obscene money grab by hedge fund managers and other fabulously wealthy parasites has come to fruition (and has been greatly abetted by the Right’s ridiculous and destructive war on the I.R.S.).

All in all, it’s apt story for North Carolinians to ponder at the conclusion of another year in which their own state government has handed millions upon millions to the state’s wealthiest residents while actually raising taxes slightly on folks at the bottom. Let’s hope it causes even some local market fundamentalists to reevaluate their stance and spurs people of all ideologies to action in 2016.

Commentary

Day Two of “Altered State: How 5 years of conservative rule have redefined North Carolina”

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In case you missed it, be sure to check out today’s second installment in our new special report: “Altered State: How 5 years of conservative rule have redefined North Carolina.” “Public investment falls, tax responsibility shifts” is written by Alexandra Sirota of the North Carolina Budget and Tax Center and it documents the amazing shift that has occurred in how North Carolina funds government — a shift that has been engineered by the state’s conservative political leadership. Here’s the opening:

“Public investments are essential building blocks of long-term economic growth and shared prosperity. Decades ago, North Carolina diverged from its Southern neighbors by investing in good roads, quality public schools and universities and early childhood programs.

Since the official recovery began in 2009 — when rebuilding from the Great Recession would have been possible — state lawmakers have turned away from that tradition, choosing to sharply limit public spending in favor of tax cuts. Overall, state support for services in the 2016 fiscal year will be nearly a full percentage point below historic investment levels as a share of the economy.

"State spending as part of the economy — measured by state personal income — has consistently fallen in the past few years."— "A Summary of the Fiscal Year 2015–2017 Budget," BTC Reports, October 2014 (Source: N.C. Budget & Tax Center)

“State spending as part of the economy — measured by state personal income — has consistently fallen in the past few years.”— “A Summary of the Fiscal Year 2015–2017 Budget,” BTC Reports, October 2014 (Source: N.C. Budget & Tax Center)

In fact, state spending as a share of the economy — measured by state personal income — has fallen every year since 2009. The new budget continues this trend, and caps off the only period in more than four decades in which state spending declined as a part of the economy for more than five straight years.

The tax code has been radically transformed since 2010 in a way that makes adequate funding 0f core public services more difficult.

Click here to read the entire essay. And be sure to check back at the Altered State website tomorrow morning and each day through December 21. We’ll be rolling out new stories over the next two and a half weeks on everything from taxes to public education to environmental protection.

Commentary

Nichol neatly sums up legislative session in scathing op-ed

Gene NicholWhen it comes to eloquently assailing North Carolina’s far right political leadership for its shortsighted and mean-spirited policies, no one does it better than Gene Nichol. The UNC law professor is on his game this morning with an op-ed in Raleigh’s News & Observer entitled “An NC tax plan that’s an exercise in villainy.”

As Nichol notes, the decision to further shift the responsibility for funding government from the rich to the poor by raising sales taxes and cutting income taxes is as blatant as it is outrageous.

This section stands out in particular:

“I’ll be the first to concede that the governor and the General Assembly mean to do a lot. They want to make it harder for black people to vote. They want to stop women from controlling their bodies. They want to shame and stigmatize lesbians and gay men. They want to disparage and marginalize immigrants. They want to dismantle the public schools. They want to eliminate environmental regulation. They want to foster purchased elections. They want to lay low their political opponents. The list is long. They’re ambitious sorts.

But their true sweet spot, their principal raison d’etre, the campaign to which they return enthusiastically in each succeeding session, is taking money and benefits from the impoverished in order to give more to, and to demand less from, the wealthy. They seemingly believe the main thing wrong with North Carolina is that those at the bottom have too much and those at the top don’t have enough. They have converted our government to an exercise in villainy….

And this part too:

The McCrory era will be adjudged a dark and shameful chapter in North Carolina history – a last gasp effort to cling to legacies of privilege and subordination, to deny the promises of democracy and dignity.”

Click here to read the entire essay.