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“Healthywealthy” by threestooges.net. Licensed under Fair use of copyrighted material in the context of Healthy, Wealthy and Dumb via Wikipedia

No, this post is not an attempt to personally disparage the folks running North Carolina government. Rather it is an attempt to conjure up an image that captures the impact of the decisions that state leaders have been inflicting of late on their brethren and sistren at the local level.

As some readers will recall, The Three Stooges were an outlandish and slapstick comedy trio that had a long run in the middle part of the last century. In one of the trio’s recurring bits, one Stooge (usually Moe – pictured on the left) would slap or punch the second Stooge, who would then, in turn punch the third member of the group. The third and most hapless Stooge would then turn beside him and find that he only had thin air to punch.

Sadly, this comedy bit pretty well captures the essence of what’s going on in North Carolina government right now: Whether it’s the McCrory-Pope team or the General Assembly that starts the punching, the ones left flailing at thin air are local governments.

For the latest classic example, check out the bill under consideration in the state Senate during the waning days of the 2014 session that would hamstring local governments in their ability to raise local sales taxes for important needs. While Senators sought to alter some of the the impacts of the bill last evening, it still promises to have a deleterious impact — especially on big counties like Wake and Mecklenburg. And, of course, this comes on the heels of several previous haymakers in which state leaders have slashed state support for locals.

The bottom line is that the overarching policy of the current conservative state leadership when it comes to local government is this: We’re all for local control that’s closest to the voters — except when we’re not (i.e. any time anyone at the local level even thinks about doing something — like raising taxes to provide essential public services — with which we disagree). SLAP!!!

Jobs11-5During the debate over last year’s billion-dollar-a-year tax cut plan, supporters made a lot of big promises about the supposed economic benefits of cutting corporate and personal income taxes for wealthy individuals and highly profitable corporations. The problem—as many warned at the time—is that tax cuts almost never live up to their promises.

And that’s the point made in a recent piece by the well-respected Fiscal Times. In order for the tax proponents’ claims to be true, North Carolina would have needed to generate job growth that is significantly better than other states and the national average. According to the Fiscal Times:

The trouble is that the promised job growth hasn’t really materialized.

To be sure, with the U.S. economy as a whole adding jobs at a pace of 250,000 per month, there aren’t many states seeing a downturn in employment anymore. But the promises that went along with the tax cuts and reduced spending weren’t about keeping up with the rest of the country, but about surging ahead.

The Fiscal Times examined the job creation record of North Carolina and two other states that have experimented with deep tax cuts—Kansas and Wisconsin—and found that:

The dramatic tax cutting doesn’t appear to have done nearly as much for job growth as promised.

Wisconsin and Kansas, for example, have actually lagged the national average in job creation since their big tax cuts and budget cuts were enacted:

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State budget writers are currently grappling with the task of ironing out a final budget in the face of last year’s huge tax cuts that are hampering our ability to invest in the building blocks of a strong economy. As we entered into the new fiscal year without a revised budget, the News and Observer Editorial Board called upon lawmakers to reconsider their revenue-losing, lopsided tax plan. Here’s more from their editorial that ran over the weekend:

As North Carolina lawmakers struggle to agree on the second year of the state budget, it’s becoming clear that last year’s decision to cut taxes came too early and went too far. The state compressed its three-level personal income tax rates of 6, 7 and 7.75 percent to a flat 5.8 percent and reduced the corporate tax rate from 6.5 to 6 percent.

Had the Republican-led General Assembly held off on these cuts, North Carolina would be enjoying a budget surplus now. There would be money to increase teacher pay without cutting education elsewhere. There would be money to invest in the University of North Carolina and in the state’s neglected roads, bridges and water systems. And there would be money for modest, well-targeted tax cuts.

Instead, the legislature’s Republican leaders and Republican Gov. Pat McCrory cut taxes in a way that is creating an artificial crisis. The state doesn’t have enough money to meet the needs of its growing population and can’t find a sustainable way to lift the public schools teachers’ pay that has sunk to 48th in the nation. In North Carolina, the rich are getting richer as the stock market hits all-time highs and corporations are profiting from a rising economy, but the state has forgone the tax boom that should have come with that recovery.

….

Lawmakers should take another look at taxes and find a way to generate revenues that will meet the state’s needs and support its ambitions.

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One of the top Democrats in the state House or Representatives owed more than $100,000 in unpaid taxes, according to court filings and tax records reviewed by the Carolina Journal for this report.

State Rep. Michael Wray

State Rep. Michael H. Wray, a Gaston Democrat serving as the deputy minority leader, owed more than $100,000 for federal, state and local taxes that went unpaid on businesses and properties he owned, according to the investigative report by the Carolina Journal’s Don Carrington. (The Carolina Journal is part of the John Locke Foundation, a conservative Raleigh-based thinktank.)

Wray, who describes himself as a small business owner on his legislative website, has been in the state House since 2005, and recently defeated a Democratic challenger in the Mary primary. He has no Republican opponent in the general election this November for his district in northeastern North Carolina that covers parts of Halifax and Northampton counties.

Federal IRS officials also filed two tax liens in February on Wray’s property in Northampton County, seeking $83,979 in unpaid taxes.

Wray did not respond to requests from the Carolina Journal for comment, though an attorney for Wray told Carrington the taxes had been paid off.

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The WRAL story about the Senate Finance Committee approving another round of tax cuts includes an exchange which summarizes this legislative session so far and the disdain the folks running the General Assembly seem to have for the people they represent.

The committee was considering legislation that among other things would cost cities and towns millions of dollars in revenue by ending the local business privilege license tax.  Even some Republicans thought that might be worth some input from folks outside the committee.

“Are we going to have any public comment that’s going to be made before the vote, sir?” asked Sen. Tommy Tucker, R-Union. Rucho replied, “We hadn’t opened it up to that so, at this point, no.”

No reason to hear from anybody else. Senate leaders know what’s best for all of us.