Commentary

Two fine essays sum up the dreadful state of affairs at the General Assembly

In case you missed them, a pair of fine essays — one a weekend Charlotte Observer/News & Observer editorial and the other an op-ed by UNC law professor Gene Nichol that was featured in this morning’s N&O — do a great job of capturing the toxic essence of the 2019 General Assembly.

After pointing out the destructive folly of Trump’s giveaway to corporate America at the national level, the two McClatchy editorial boards put it this way in “The verdict is in on NC tax cuts. They’re not working.”:

This umpteenth example of the false promise of trickle-down economics raises anew questions about North Carolina’s aggressive cutting of corporate taxes. The Republican-led General Assembly started phasing in tax cuts in 2013 that now cost about $3.6 billion a year in lost revenue. The estate tax was eliminated and the progressive income tax was reduced to a flat tax, but the most dramatic cut was a reduction in the corporate tax rate. Since 2013 it has been reduced from a high of 6.9 percent — then the highest in the Southeast — to 2.5 percent today. Among 44 states that have a corporate tax, North Carolina’s is the lowest.

What has been the effect? State employees, teachers and state services have certainly felt the reduction in state revenue. But the boom that was supposed to come with making the state more “business friendly” hasn’t happened. The economy has grown as the state’s population has increased and the national economic recovery has lifted all states, but North Carolina’s mix of tax cuts and spending austerity has produced more pain than gain.

Michael Mazerov, senior fellow with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a nonpartisan research and policy institute based in Washington, D.C., analyzed data for North Carolina’s job growth and overall economic growth since passage of the tax cuts. His conclusion: “Looking back to when (the cuts) started at the end of 2013, the state has underperformed most of its neighbors in terms of overall economic growth as measured by GDP.”

“…The bottom line is that North Carolina, like Kansas before it, has shown that cutting taxes does not have much, if any, positive impact on job creation,” Mazerov said.

Gene Nichol

Jeff Jackson

Nichol’s essay (“The arrogance of abusive power in NC”) is an indictment of the abusive behavior that Republican leaders have made their trademark in running state government in recent years. In it, he lauds the recent speech of Democratic state senator Jeff Jackson, who challenged Republicans to have an “up or down” vote on a budget veto override and who was then responded to with churlish — even juvenile — behavior from his GOP colleagues in the Senate. Here’s the conclusion:

“Republican Sen. Jerry Tillman of Randolph County then rose, with a sneer on his face, asking “for a moment of personal privilege.” Facing Jackson, Tillman said:

“I might expect some criticism about calling the vote from many people. But you’d be the last one to advise me on that. I don’t believe we need your advice on when to call the vote. We’ll call the vote at the right time. I hope you’ll miss it. But nevertheless we’ll call it.”

When Tillman said “I hope you’ll miss it” the Republican senators erupted in derisive laughter. Jackson stood tall. The Republicans oozed slime. Sen. Berger deemed Jackson’s opposition to vote manipulation “infantile.” Watch the tape. Decide which camp disgusts.

It might be helpful to recall that this Republican General Assembly has repeatedly been found by every kind of court in the land – federal, state, trial, appellate, Republican, Democrat and bi-partisan – to have boldly and deliberately abused its power and prerogative. Judges have consistently determined that Republican leaders have lied about proffered justifications for their constitutionally violative schemes. On the House side, they misled and cheated their Democratic colleagues to get an override vote. And both chambers have forced Tar Heel taxpayers to pay millions of dollars to defend their illicit ventures in federal and state tribunals. Yet they remain, apparently, unchastened.

Tillman’s profane arrogance is, of course, his own. His leader, and his Republican colleagues, no doubt, enjoyed sharing the fun. But this dishonorable train wreck demeans us all, not just the Republican senators who demonstrated how despicable they can be.

We can’t allow the nation to believe, one minute longer, that this represents North Carolina.”

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