Commentary

Zika virus worries? NC’s mosquito program eliminated thanks to budget cuts

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

Americans pay the price for refusing to be honest about taxes

TaxesCatherine Rampell of the Washington Post has an excellent essay in this morning’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer about how the American aversion to taxes has become an irrational and destructive affliction. Not only are we leaving core public structures and services chronically underfunded, we’re skewing our entire political system by turning our public servants into scavengers who must concoct ever-more-elaborate schemes to pay for the services we demand.

“Voters hate taxes and will punish any politician who threatens to raise them (or, in many cases, does not accede to cutting them). But schools, roads, police forces, garbage collection, firefighters, jails and pensions still cost money, even when you cut them back as much as voters will tolerate. So instead of raising taxes, state and municipal governments have resorted to nickel-and-diming constituents through other kinds of piecemeal, non-tax revenue raisers, an outcome that is less transparent, and likely to worsen the economy, inequality and social injustice.

Think of recent, infuriating stories on civil asset forfeiture, in which law enforcement seizes cash and other property from people who are never charged with crimes. Often the departments that do the seizing get to keep the proceeds, which leads to terrible incentives. Officers around the country now attend workshops that offer tips on the best goodies to nab (go for flat-screen TVs, not jewelry).

Forcing cops to remit forfeiture proceeds to the state or local treasury, rather than allowing an eat-what-you-kill policy, might discourage bad behavior to some degree. But at heart, the reason such actions are so commonplace is that government revenue has to come from somewhere, if it ain’t coming from taxes.”

As Rampell goes on to point out, this ridiculous state of affairs is transforming how we fund government from a broadly-shared, democratic enterprise  into a regressive, market-distorting mess. She might’ve also mentioned that it’s helping to transform how we think about government as well. Where once all citizens were stakeholders/owners, we’re now becoming cheapskate bargain hunters looking only to get the best deals for ourselves (e.g. private school vouchers).

Her solution: “It’s time to take off the fiscal blinkers and start rewarding politicians who have the courage to advocate raising revenues the old-fashioned way: through taxes.”

Amen to that.

Uncategorized

Coming storm reminds us of need for public structures and services

Road crewsThere was a great cartoon in the New Yorker magazine a couple of years back in which a man whose house is on fire stands next to it with a bucket in his hand, waving away arriving firefighters and saying “No thanks–I’m a libertarian.” As North Carolina endures another major winter storm today and tomorrow, it’ll be interesting to see how many conservative, anti-government Tea Partiers have such a thing to say about the public services and structures that will save lives, bind our society together and expedite recovery.

The guess here is the number will be very small. When it comes to natural disasters, even the far right seems to forget its hate of government and all things public — if only temporarily. For some reason, all of the “government = slavery” talk and rants about monstrous commie plots seems to go by the wayside when roads need to be plowed and basic safety and utilities need to be delivered or made possible. Who wants to listen to Limbaugh when there’s a big snowstorm blowing?

While it would be tempting, however, to attack and deride anti-government folks for their hypocrisy at such a moment, we would all do better over the coming days to simply welcome them back into the communal fold. So hang in there, stay warm and keep an eye on your neighbors — whatever their political beliefs. Maybe just maybe, the experience of coming together during a crisis will even remind a few  of our conservative fellow citizens that society fares much better when it hangs together on warm and sunny days too.

Uncategorized

Congress begins to see the folly of sequestration, but not one cartoonist

Tired of incessant delays during their flights home caused by the furlough of FAA air controllers, Congress voted last night and this morning to find the money to end the furloughs. About time.

Of course, the controller cuts have been far from the only stupid and counter-productive cuts brought on by that ultimate of inside-the-Beltway ideas/terms: “sequestration.”

Think Progress  has 12 more that you can read by clicking here.

Meanwhile, in a related vein, it seems worth noting that this morning’s editorial cartoon by Dana Summers of Tribune Media Services that appeared in the print edition of Raleigh’s News & Obsever  (you can look at it by clicking here)  is a classic example of what happens when ill-informed people rely on inaccurate and offensive stereotypes as the basis for their “opinions.” Thanks goodness our safety isn’t in the hands of intellectually lazy knuckleheads like Mr. Summers.

Uncategorized

Somewhere, over the rainbow, tax “reform” is failing

In Kansas, tax reform isn’t exactly playing out the way some lawmakers had hoped.  The state that Grover Norquist once called “the starter gun for tax competition” has passed a series of income tax cuts over the past year with the stated goal of eventually eliminating income taxes altogether in the near future.  This “race to zero” is well underway in several states with conservative governors and legislatures.  Here’s a quick look at how that’s working out so far for Kansas:

A $2.5B budget shortfall

The Kansas Legislative Research Department is projecting a $2.5 billion revenue hole through 2018 because the legislature has yet to figure out an effective way to replace lost revenues as a result of the income tax cuts.

A threatened credit rating

Last month, a state court ruled that the Kansas legislature was breaking the law by underfunding public schools as a result of the income tax cuts, which prompted Moody’s Investors Service to warn of a negative credit risk for the state.

Less funding for public services

Concerns over the state’s credit rating aren’t the only thing that should give Kansans pause.  By starving public schools and other services critical to economic success, the state is jeopardizing future growth. Read more