Jim Alexrod of CBS News, in the clip above, reports on how NC is cutting unemployment benefits and actually eliminating unemployment benefits for anyone jobless more than six months. Alexrod profiles a man from Goldsboro, NC who has been unemployed for six months and has less than $200 in his bank account. He's willing to move to another state to seek work, but doesn't even have enough money for gas in his truck to get there. (Details from CBSNews.com)
I've been having a discussion on Facebook with my Republican and Democratic friends over the NYT editorial, "The Decline of North Carolina," my home state. Click.
I seriously doubt all Republicans approve of the actions of the NC legislature slashing more than 5,000 teaching positions and 4,500 teacher assistants, cutting education spending to 46th in the nation per capita; refusing raises for teachers and other state employees for five years (with no prospect of a raise next year); eliminating funding for pre-k and disabled children; slashing Medicaid funding; ending federal unemployment benefits for 170,000 residents; closing many of the state's abortion clinics -- all justified to cut taxes for some businesses and individuals. My guess is that the legislature is misreading the public and over-reaching. They are certainly endangering the 'moderate' image of the new governor, who must either acquiesce or fight his own party.
Cutting long-term unemployment benefits is necessary to prevent the unemployed from, in the immortal words of Rep. Paul Ryan, "turning the safety net into a hammock." The 2013-14 NC budget also cut $120 million in spending for teaching assistants (by 21%); eliminated the Rural Economic Development Center which gave grants to spur job growth in small towns; raised out-of-state tuition at NC universities by as much as 12.3 percent; and increased tuition at community colleges to $71.50 per credit hour for in-state students. It also provided $10 million in vouchers for private school tuition for families that meet certain income guidelines.
Even though North Carolina teachers rank dead last in teacher salary growth since year 2001, and 48th in teacher salaries nationwide, the legislature refused to give teachers a raise for the fifth straight year. It eliminated extra pay for teachers with advanced degrees like masters, giving teachers no incentives to advance their knowledge or skill set. Chris Fitzsimon of NC Public Policy Watch explained:
Funding is cut for instructional support personnel, school buses, limited English proficiency students, and a host of other programs.
The bottom line is that lawmakers made deep cuts to public schools and higher education this year at the same time they were doling out tax cuts to millionaires. Overall education spending falls $481 million short over the next two years of what it would take to keep services at the same level as 2012-2013.
The General Assembly passed legislation restricting access to abortion, barring insurance plans of public employees from covering abortion services; barring the new Obamacare plans from offering abortion coverage; and setting such rigid standards for abortion clinics that advocates fear many clinics will be forced to close.
Republicans are betting that reducing benefits, cutting personal taxes from 7.5% to 5.75% by 2015, cutting corporate taxes from 6.9% to 5%, and eliminating the state estate tax will spur job growth. North Carolina in July 2013 had a jobless rate of 8.8%.
And yet after five straight years in the top 10 states for good business climate, North Carolina in 2013 fell to 12th nationwide, in a ranking by CNBC. And yet even conservative economists acknowledge that little job growth will occur as a result of these cuts.
Governor McCrory says that he and the legislature are aggressively paying off the state's debt to the federal government. But the $475 million cut from unemployment benefits would stimulate NC's economy at a time the state has one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation. That $474 million could possibly prevent thousands from becoming homeless. Will the state's homeless population increase? We will soon find out.
Alexandra Sirota, Director of the NC Budget and Tax Center, blasted the legislature's priorities:
"Lawmakers chose to drain available revenues by $524 million over the next two years through an ill-advised series of tax cuts that primarily benefit the wealthy and profitable corporations. This revenue loss isn’t just a number on a piece of paper—it means fewer teachers in more crowded classrooms, higher tuition rates and elevated debt load for families, scarcer economic development opportunities for distressed communities, and longer waiting lists for senior services."
In an earlier statement, Sirota noted that the GOP legislature's budget "cuts taxes for the wealthiest, and takes away the highly effective state Earned Income Tax Credit from low-income working families. We’ll all pay the price for this sweet deal for wealthy taxpayers and profitable corporations. Our state will be the poorer for it – less attractive to businesses, less hospitable to families."
These are the kinds of details that should be made into political advertisements.
The NC BTC produced a graphic showing how the legislature's tax "reform," while giving huge tax breaks to the wealthy and corporations -- a $10,000 tax cut for someone making a million dollars a year -- actually costs married couples with kids thousands of dollars (through loss of the child and dependent care tax credit) and senior citizens living on modest incomes hundreds of dollars in taxes. Other analysis show how the so-called tax reforms will hurt low and moderate income taxpayers.
The GOP legislature's expansion of the regressive sales tax also hurts low and moderate income families, because they spend more of their income on taxable goods and services.
Gerrymandered Legislative Districts
A major problem in holding NC legislators accountable for these big changes in priorities is that redistricting in 2011 greatly favored Republicans. In 2012, Democrats garnered a majority of the votes for Congress. However, due to the way the districts were redrawn or gerrymandered,
"the GOP gained three congressional seats and now hold nine of the state’s 13. In the General Assembly, the party gained veto-proof, super majorities in the House and Senate. Catawba College political scientist Michael Bitzer has said only 11 of 120 House seats and three of 50 Senate seats are truly toss-ups." (News and Observer: "NC House Coalition Proposes Independent Commission for Redistricting.")
While reducing the veto-proof, super majorities for Republicans in the legislature may be possible in 2014, eliminating the GOP's legislative advantages in 2014 or 2016 may be impossible unless there is overwhelming Democratic turnout.
"Freed of federal election supervision by the Supreme Court, the North Carolina legislature passed a bill that combines every idea for suppressing voter turnout that Republicans have advanced in other states. Rick Hasen, an election-law expert at the University of California, Irvine, called it “the most sweeping anti-voter law in at least decades.”
"The law requires a government-issued photo ID card to vote, but doesn’t allow student IDs, public-employee IDs, or photo IDs issued by public assistance agencies. It shortens the early voting window, bans same-day registration during early voting and prohibits paid voter registration drives. Counties will not be able to extend voting hours in cases of long lines, or allow provisional voting if someone arrives at the wrong precinct. Poll “observers” are encouraged to challenge people who show up to vote, and are given new powers to do so.""...(Some) 319,000 people who lack a photo ID will have a hard time voting, a disproportionate number of whom are black or poor. (No back-up IDs or sworn statements are allowed.) Eliminating same-day registration during early voting — two provisions that have been popular among Democratic-leaning voters — would have eliminated 4,766 votes in Durham County alone, according to one estimate. And as all Republican lawmakers know, President Obama won North Carolina by about 14,000 votes in 2008."