NC’s response to the COVID-19 crises: Hindered by the “The Big Lie”

Failure to allocate billions in available dollars while North Carolinians suffer is beyond the pale

For decades, community leaders have pleaded with General Assembly members for expanded access to health care, housing supports, and educational opportunities. When COVID-19 and economic recession began to ravage communities and small businesses, state agencies joined the chorus of advocates asking for more public resources to help respond to the pandemic.

Today, additional state dollars are needed to address ongoing threats to our public health, economy, and democracy. Yet, continued cries for help are met with one response: “We can’t afford it.”

In North Carolina, that is a Big Lie.

According to the Office of the State Controller, North Carolina currently has more than $4 billion in unreserved public funds available today. That’s above and beyond the more than $1 billion in the state Savings Reserve, commonly known as the Rainy Day Fund. This unprecedented amount of cash on hand is the result of a delayed tax deadline in 2020, revenue collections that came in ahead of predictions, failure to pass a comprehensive budget, and tax cuts for the few combined with chronic underinvestment over time.

This cash-rich reality has failed to change the “we can’t afford it” approach of lawmakers who will reconvene in Raleigh to start the legislative session in earnest on January 27.

When asked about their priorities for the session, leaders of the General Assembly focused on COVID-19 relief, expediting the vaccine rollout, and constraining the Governor’s powers. If Senate and House leadership truly cared about expanding COVID-19 relief, they would not have restricted 2020 appropriations to federal dollars when they knew North Carolina had an abundance of money sitting in a bank account ready to be deployed.

The Big Lie is not exclusively a Republican problem. Democrats perpetuate the lie when they fail to propose, support, and fund transformative policy changes that have the power to raise people out of poverty, boost economic growth, and undo discriminatory policies and practices that exacerbate inequities.

The only antidote to a Big Lie is a Big Truth.

The Big Truth is that in 2021, North Carolina can afford to provide health care for all, pay people a living wage, ensure everyone is safely housed, and make good on our constitutional obligation to adequately educate every child. The truth is we can’t afford not to.

By committing to truth, we can create the vibrant economy, resilient communities, and just society that we deserve while healing racial divisions, recognizing the contributions of immigrants, and protecting all people from the threat of poverty and discrimination. This future is only possible if we have leaders who are willing to propose and support the elimination of loopholes that allow profitable corporations to pay fewer taxes than working families do and if we have voters who are willing to support these changes.

Leila Pedersen is a policy analyst at the N.C. Budget & Tax Center.

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