Commentary, News

Tillis, Berger to speak at invitation only “tax reform summit” on Monday at UNC

Sen. Phil Berger

U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis

How’s this for a rather strange development? Part of the old gang is getting back together. North Carolina’s flagship public university will be holding an “invitation only” event on Monday featuring the state’s junior United States Senator, Thom Tillis and state Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger that it is billing as a “tax reform summit” (see below). The whole thing is weirdly shrouded in secrecy and the announcement doesn’t even say where and at what time the event is taking place or who else is speaking. Almost makes you think Tillis and Berger are afraid of an open public debate about the regressive and destructive tax changes they enacted during their tag team leadership tenure in Raleigh. And why in the heck is our taxpayer-supported public university acting as the vehicle for such an event?

When I contacted the person listed on the website she did send me the agenda late yesterday and an invitation to attend, so we’ll try to get someone there to watch. Click here to check it out. The event is in the Magnolia Ballroom at the Rizzo Center in Chapel Hill. It starts at 11:30 a.m. and concludes with a “networking reception” at 5;30. State Senator Jay Chaudhuri of Wake County has been given the unenviable task of delivering closing remarks and serving as the sole progressive person of prominence on the agenda.

Fortunately, some people are not afraid of discussing such issues in an open, public venue. People like Michael Leachman of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and Alexandra Sirota of the N.C. Budget and Tax Center, who will tell the real story about Tillis’ tax slashing policies the following day, Tuesday May 15 at an NC Policy Watch Crucial Conversation luncheon. Click here to learn more about (and RSVP for) that event — which is open to the public — scholarships are available!).

Commentary, News

This week’s top five on NC Policy Watch

#1 – Teachers, advocates: May 16th shaping up as an “historic day” for public education in NC — In the 11 years since she became a North Carolina teacher, Fayetteville’s Tamika Walker Kelly has seen more than a few changes in the state’s public schools.

In 2009, she watched North Carolina, then under the control of a Democratic General Assembly and governor, push sweeping cuts and pay freezes in the midst of an economic recession. And she’s seen a new legislative majority—seized by Republicans in 2010—sidestep major teacher raises while jettisoning teaching assistants, local discretionary funds, scrapping tenure and bypassing funding for textbooks and classroom supplies, even as the economy recovered.

All the while, lawmakers pumped millions into blossoming school choice initiatives and billions into broad state tax cuts for businesses and individuals.

But perhaps the most alarming change, according to Kelly, is the change in how educators and public school systems are viewed by some of North Carolina’s most powerful political leaders. [Read more…]

***Bonus read: That’s funny – Berger and Johnson didn’t oppose January education rally

#2 – Governor’s suggested budget includes teacher, state employee raises — Gov. Roy Cooper rolled out office’s recommended state budget Thursday, ahead of the legislative session that begins May 16. The $24.54 billion proposal  includes some major proposals that do not sit well with the Republican-led legislature, including freezing tax cuts for businesses and wealthy North Carolinians to fund raises for every teacher in the state of at least 5 percent. [Read more…]

#3 – Department of Labor records document dangerous conditions inside Chemours facility — On Halloween afternoon in 2013, a worker at DuPont’s Fayetteville Works plant was replacing a valve in a room that produces membranes containing Nafion. This is the same perfluorinated compound that for years flowed through an illegal, unlined “Nafion ditch” from the facility into the Cape Fear River and downstream to Wilmington’s drinking water supply. [Read more…]

*** Bonus read: Chemours responds to DEQ with promises of new technology sandwiched with a veiled threat to leave North Carolina

#4 – PW exclusive: Unregistered agents pushing landowners to make way for proposed central NC gas pipeline — On a recent spring afternoon, Kelly and Daniel Bollinger were checking in on one of their fields, zigzagging on foot between furrows where Daniel had just planted pine seeds.

“There’s one,” Daniel said, pointing to a finger-size conifer that had taken root and begun to grow. [Read more…]

#5 – It’s long overdue, but a vitally important reform movement is finally catching on — If there is a top lesson for caring and thinking people to glean from the first 16 months of the Trump presidency, it has to be the importance of not taking the basic premises of our American experiment for granted. Now that we have learned once more the hard truth that our nation is perfectly capable of electing a blatantly dishonest would-be despot possessed of only the most superficial grasp of constitutional government, the urgency of rededicating ourselves to the active protection of basic human and constitutional rights is quite clear. [Read more…]

Commentary

Don’t miss next Tuesday’s preview of the legislative budget debate

By far the most important piece of legislation that will be debated during the upcoming “short session” of the General Assembly is the budget bill. Teacher pay, healthcare, environmental protection, courts and prisons — all of these areas and scores more depend on adequate appropriations and, ultimately, a just and healthy state tax structure. It’s critical, therefore, that advocates arm themselves with the best and most up-to-date facts and data in order to be informed contributors to the debate.

To this very important end, you won’t want to miss next Tuesday’s Crucial Conversation luncheon:

America’s most dangerous policy addiction (and the threat it poses to the common good)

Featuring Dr. Michael Leachman, Director of State Fiscal Research with the State Fiscal Policy division of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

Click here to register

America’s addiction to regressive tax policy – at both the national and state levels – poses an increasingly serious threat to the national wellbeing. Whether it’s abetting the ongoing demise of the middle class and broadly shared prosperity, starving and endangering the essential public structures and services that knit together our society or undermining people’s belief in government as an honest broker and impartial arbiter, the relentless drive to slash taxes on wealthy individuals and profitable corporations is changing our country dramatically and for the worse.

Dr. Michael Leachman of the Washington, DC-based Center on Budget and Policy Priorities is one of the most insightful observers and prolific analysts of this troubling trend. For the past decade, Leachman has researched a range of state fiscal policy issues including the impact of federal aid, the debt states owe in their Unemployment Insurance trust funds, and the wisdom of state spending limits. Prior to joining the Center on Budget, he was a policy analyst for nine years at the Oregon Center for Public Policy (OCPP), a member of the State Priorities Partnership. His work at OCPP included research on corporate income taxes, reserve funds, spending limits, the Earned Income Tax Credit, food stamps, and TANF.

Leachman will be joined by Alexandra Sirota, Director of the North Carolina Budget and Tax Center, who will provide a preview of the critical fiscal policy debates that are expected during the upcoming legislative short session that commences May 16.

When: Tuesday May 15 at 12:00 noon — Box lunches will be available at 11:45 a.m.

Where: ***NOTE: DIFFERENT LOCATION THAN USUAL*** The North Carolina Advocates for Justice Building at 1312 Annapolis Drive (near the intersection of Wade Ave. and Oberlin Rd.) in Raleigh.

Space is limited – preregistration required.

Cost: $15, admission includes a box lunch. Scholarships available.

Questions?? Contact Rob Schofield at 919-861-2065 or rob@ncpolicywatch.com

Commentary

Leading NC faith group is planning teach-in to support education rally on May 16 – Here’s why

As part of their effort to support next Wednesday’s mass education march on Raleigh and the broader effort to support public schools, the good people at the NC Council of Churches are planning a teach-in next Wednesday. See the brief explainer from staffer Mary Elizabeth Hanchey below for details:

Faith communities have work to do on May 16th , and in the days to come. May 16th is a significant opportunity for advocacy on behalf of our public schools, the students whom they serve, and the teachers who serve in them.

Some have suggested that teachers should not be absent from the classroom to advocate for themselves and the students in their care. This is not reasonable. Teachers must advocate for fair pay and excellent schools. We all deserve a statewide system of public schools that are safe, clean, sufficiently supplied, and well-staffed by adequately paid professionals. Those who work in them daily are well-poised to teach about what is needed and what is lacking.

Without question, students all over the state rely on public schools to provide food, structure, safety, and social services which are not always available when school is not in session. But this is precisely why advocacy for public schools is absolutely necessary. This is why faith communities must join teachers in advocating for fair pay and excellent schools.

Many of us know first-hand the all too familiar story: caring for others engenders self-sacrificial decisions that cause one’s own needs to become secondary. This expectation has caused much brokenness and emotional abuse in the lives of caregivers. Telling our teachers that they can’t speak up for their needs and the needs of the children they teach is part of this malignancy. And when 80% of our teachers are female, telling our teachers they can’t speak up continues the legacy of telling women to be quiet and work without regard for worth or well-being.

Faith communities have a tremendous opportunity to step into this chaos. They can start by learning about all the wrap-around caregiving schools are providing for students and their families – the services that help them mitigate the realities of poverty and hunger and inequity and injustice so that our children and their families can be supported and strengthened. Faith communities have an opportunity to ask: how can we support this work for the children in our district? Our region? Our county? Our state?

And faith communities have the opportunity to advocate in the public square on behalf of teachers and students. To say to those whose life’s work is the protection and education of our children: you are not alone. We see you, we value your work, we will stand with you, and we will advocate for funding and policies that allow your work to flourish. And to the students: we will not fail you. We will provide what you need to thrive.

The North Carolina Council of Churches encourages faith communities to champion this opportunity for advocacy and this opportunity for partnership.  This resource packet offers a place to start as you approach May 16. It is our prayer that it will lead to questions and partnerships that will strengthen our schools and our communities in the days, months, and years ahead.

With that prayer at the fore, we also invite you to join us on May 16 in Raleigh. In the midst of the full day of advocacy, please join us at 1:00 in the Sanctuary of First Baptist Church, Raleigh, as we gather:

1:00 p.m. TEACH-IN:  Advocating for and Supporting our Public Schools
A lesson for faith communities about what’s at stake
Sponsored by the NC Council of Churches
First Baptist Church,  99 N Salisbury St, Raleigh, NC
After our time together, you may choose to join the rally at the Legislative Building.

You may email info@ncchurches.org with questions.

 

Commentary

National expert to May 16 marchers: This is why NC education spending is so inadequate

Michael Leachman — the headline speaker at next Tuesday’s NC Policy Watch Crucial Conversation (click here to learn more and RSVP) that will preview the legislature’s upcoming budget session, has a post today on the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities blog, Off the Charts.

North Carolina’s Deep Tax Cuts Impeding Adequate School Funding

North Carolina teachers plan to hold a “March for Students and Rally for Respect” on May 16 – the first day of the new legislative session — to protest low pay and inadequate school funding. As in Oklahoma and Arizona, excessive tax cuts have made it harder for North Carolina policymakers to devote adequate resources to K-12 public education.

North Carolina enacted sweeping tax cuts in 2013 that already have cost billions of dollars, with more tax cuts scheduled for next year. The changes to date include:

  • Across-the-board cuts to personal income tax rates that disproportionately benefit the wealthy by replacing the state’s graduated system (with rates of 6, 7, and 7.75 percent) with a flat rate, currently 5.499 percent.
  • A cut of more than half to the corporate income tax rate, which has fallen from 6.9 percent in 2013 to 3 percent today.
  • An end to the state’s estate tax, which will only benefit heirs of estates worth over $5.25 million — under 1 percent of estates.

This deep tax cutting hasn’t produced the promised economic boom. Instead, it’s put the state on a path to serious fiscal instability and worsened racial wealth disparities.

The revenue lost to tax cuts also made it much harder for the state to fund schools adequately. Only two states do a worse job in this area than North Carolina, according to an analysis by Education Law Center and Rutgers University that adjusted for student poverty, regional wage variations, and other factors that affect costs in different areas.

In fact, all but one of the other states with the worst-funded school systems according to the Education Law Center report, including Arizona and Oklahoma, also cut income tax rates in recent years (see graph).

Further, while most states have gradually restored the school funding they cut when the Great Recession hit in the 2007-2008 school year, North Carolina hasn’t come close. State “formula” funding for schools — the major form of state funding for public K-12 schools in North Carolina — is down 7.9 percent per student since the Great Recession hit, after adjusting for inflation.

Large state funding cuts have made improving teacher pay particularly challenging, since salaries and other compensation for teachers and other education workers comprise most K-12 education spending in North Carolina. Average teacher pay in North Carolina has fallen 5 percent since 2010, after adjusting for inflation. While average teacher pay has shrunk in inflation-adjusted terms in most other states in recent years, the drop in North Carolina came on top of harsh, earlier cuts. Since 2000, average teacher pay in the state has fallen 12 percent, after adjusting for inflation, the third deepest cut in the nation.

As lawmakers gather in Raleigh next week and hear from teachers around the state, they should focus on reversing the 2013 tax cuts — or, at the very least, put the brakes on further scheduled cuts. As the North Carolina Budget & Tax Center notes, North Carolina will lose another $900 million or so a year in revenue from the cuts scheduled to take effect next January, which would see the corporate income tax rate fall to 2.5 percent and the personal income tax rate fall to 5.25 percent.

These additional tax cuts would help put the state’s budget out of balance in future years, requiring budget cuts to K-12 education and other public services – exactly the opposite of what North Carolina needs to promote a brighter economic future.