May 29, 2018/Press

Editorial Boards Across NC Blast Republican Budget Priorities

Raleigh – Republicans announced their secretive budget last night, but even before diving into the specifics, newspapers from across the state blasted Republicans’ political cowardice and priorities. Republicans are terrified of facing voters this fall who are frustrated and angry after a decade of Republican efforts to rig our state for their wealthy donors and corporations instead of investing in the middle class and public education. Since coming back to town, Republicans have made clear that their priorities lay with protecting their seats and continuing to stack the deck for corporations, and only breaking the majority will bring new priorities to the General Assembly.

Charlotte Observer: A ‘futile and stupid gesture’ by NC Republicans
By the Editorial Board
May 28, 2018

Toward the end of Animal House, the Delta House fraternity brothers make a decision. They are in so much hot water that, as Otter puts it, “this situation absolutely requires a really futile and stupid gesture be done on somebody’s part.” Bluto adds, “We’re just the guys to do it.”

In Raleigh, Republican legislative leaders are poised this week to launch their own futile and stupid gesture, and they’re just the guys to do it.

The Deltas, about to be kicked out of college, figured they had nothing to lose. The Republicans, ensconced in safe gerrymandered districts, figure they have nothing to lose. So far, they’ve been right.

The Republicans are upending generations of history with a maneuver that blocks rank-and-file legislators from formally proposing any changes to the budget, either in committee or on the floor. Instead of having a budget bill go through the normal process, Republican leaders are putting a final budget into a conference report that requires an up-or-down vote with no proposed changes. The conference committee creating that report includes 65 Republicans and zero Democrats.

It’s the height of arrogance, and it should offend all North Carolinians, no one more than fiscal conservatives. Legislative leaders are about to spend $24 billion in taxpayer money with almost no review, no alterations and no input from most legislators.

Why would they do this? Not so much to keep Democratic amendments from being passed. Facing Republican super-majorities, those would fail anyway. With elections just months away, it appears Republicans want to avoid voting against politically popular or sensitive proposals, such as higher teacher pay than they’re offering. They can see the ads now showing their “no” votes against teachers.

That makes sense, so why is this gesture futile? Because they are not fooling anyone. Their political opponents – and voters – will know what they’ve done (or not done, to be precise) for teachers and students. Preventing Democrats (or Republicans, for that matter) from offering amendments will not prevent them from having to defend their misguided policies.

Budget writer Rep. Chuck McGrady, a Hendersonville Republican, said he recognized Republicans would be criticized for a lack of transparency. “This process that we used, while it may be not real transparent, has been very efficient,” he said.

This is too efficient. Legislators are rolling out the budget on Tuesday and expect to have it passed by Friday. That’s a full month before the start of the budget year. Clearly there’s plenty of time for discussion.

It’s almost as if Republicans want to get out of session quickly so they can start accepting special interest campaign money again before the election. After all, this gimmick makes clear that legislators are focused on politics, not deliberative discourse to craft the best budget for North Carolinians.

So the ball ends up, as it always does, in voters’ court. Will they at last make legislators face consequences for their arrogance?

News & Observer: Cut from the NC budget: Democracy
By the Editorial Board
May 26, 2018

Just a week after more than 15,000 North Carolina teachers marched on the State Capitol demanding change, they got a change – but not the one they wanted. Instead of lawmakers debating how much the state should spend to increase teacher pay and boost funding for school support personnel, textbooks and school safety, the General Assembly’s Republican leaders have shut down the discussion.

Legislative leaders have announced that the second half of the current two-year budget will be settled behind closed doors, then offered for a vote as a conference report. That means lawmakers can vote yes or no, but no amendments are allowed.

Traditionally, lawmakers come back for a short session a year after passing a two-year budget to adjust the second year’s spending. And Republicans have made adjustments, including adding funds for school safety and raises for state employees. But the full extent of their changes won’t be known until the budget is released, probably this week.

This bit of parliamentary chicanery is the Republicans’ latest assault on the democratic process. They’ve undermined voting rights, illegally gerrymandered voting districts, truncated the public hearing process and arrested more than a thousand protesters. Now they want to put a plan on how to spend billions of taxpayers’ dollars into law without giving any lawmaker a chance to propose changes.

In a backhanded way, this is a response to those marching teachers and the political pressure they’ve generated.

With an election looming in November, the Republicans’ veto-proof majorities in both the House and Senate are in jeopardy. Energized Democrats have launched a blitz that includes fielding a Democratic candidate in all 170 legislative districts.

Barring the offering of amendments will block all rank-in-file members, but particularly Democrats, from forcing votes on more pay for teachers, changes in gun laws in response to school shootings or whether the state should go ahead with another $900 million in tax cuts scheduled for 2019.

“We’re supposed to be a deliberative body,” said Rep. Billy Richardson, a Cumberland County Democrat. “We’re supposed to have public input. We’re supposed to have all members participate in the process and essentially the vast majority of the members have been excluded.”

Rather than concede that they’re ducking those debates, Republicans are claiming there’s nothing left to discuss. Rep. Nelson Dollar, a Cary Republican and the House’s chief budget writer, said, “Most of the budgeting was done for the second year last year in the budget. It was obviously fully debated, fully discussed, fully amended.”

In other words, the Republicans did the democracy thing last year. This year, they’re doing a mix of autocracy and plutocracy.

Senate leader Phil Berger considers offering amendments to the budget an affront to what he’s decided about how the state should spend taxpayers’ money. But steamrolling the state budget shows a lack of confidence on the part of Republican leaders that their legislative priorities have or can gain popular support.

When Republicans were in the legislative minority, they criticized Democrats for ramming the state budget through near the end of the session and limiting debate. Those Republicans were right (and their comments were widely reported in the press).

Now that Republican are in control, they’ve doubled-down on the Democrats’ shortcomings and made the legislative budget process something only a Soviet leader would admire. For the first time in more than 30 years — and maybe the first time ever — budget bills will not be open to amendment in our new N.C. Politburo. Comrades Berger and Tim Moore can rest assured that Vladimir Putin must be proud.

Fayetteville Observer: Our View: School safety gets shortchanged in budget
By the Editorial Board
May 24, 2018

Gov. Roy Cooper was in Fayetteville Tuesday to campaign for his proposed boost in education funding. As he visited Massey Hill Classical High School, he called for state lawmakers to back his proposals for increasing teacher and principal pay and for investing in school safety.

While the Republican leaders of the General Assembly have proposed a 6 percent average teacher raise for the fiscal year that begins July 1, Cooper wants 8 percent. He’s pushing for a more aggressive effort to return teacher salaries to the middle of the national pack, where is where they stood before the Great Recession. “I have proposed a budget, which is now currently with the General Assembly, that puts us on track to get to at least the national average,” he said Tuesday. “Thirty-seventh in the country in teacher pay is unacceptable. Thirty-ninth in the country in per-pupil expenditure for our public schools in unacceptable.”

He’s right, but the Democratic governor didn’t win over any of the Republicans who own a veto-proof majority and can do pretty much what they want. On Thursday, they made that clear — as they have so many times before. Anything Cooper wants has a snowball-in-Hades chance of passage. So it is with the school budget. The GOP is sticking with its own plan for raises and is only appropriating $35 million for school safety enhancements. Cooper wanted about $100 million more than that to hire more school resource officers, nurses, counselors and psychologists, in addition to making improvements in school buildings that would make them better defended against active shooters.

How far will $35 million go in providing safety improvements? Not far at all. The funding breaks down to a little over $300,000 for each of the state’s 115 school districts, or just over $13,000 for each of the state’s more than 2,500 public school buildings — about enough to put nice new locks on all the school doors, and just forget about hiring more safety personnel.

It’s no surprise, though, that legislative leaders balked at Cooper’s plan, because he was going to finance all these investments in teacher pay and student safety by holding up personal income tax cuts for people making more than $200,000 a year and another cut in the state’s corporate income tax, which is already two percentage points lower than any other state’s rate. The Republican theory is that previous cuts are a key reason why business is booming in North Carolina, and there is likely some truth in that, although overall improvements in the national business climate are probably a larger factor. The trouble is, those cuts aren’t a gift that keeps on giving — at some point, the tax cuts will fail to stimulate further growth and will instead compromise government’s ability to respond to the needs of a fast-growing state.

It appears likely that this latest round of cuts marks exactly that point of vanishing returns. Just as top-paying high-tech businesses like Apple and Amazon are looking at serious investments here, bad budget decisions threaten to compromise our education system’s ability to provide the highly skilled workforce those industries need. All of our serious competitor states for those jobs invest more in public education. A WalletHub study last year of the best states for teachers ranked North Caroline 45th in the country, ahead of only Louisiana, Florida, Mississippi, South Carolina, Hawaii and Arizona. That’s likely one more indicator of our difficulties moving forward in attracting the best and brightest teachers to this state.

But the budget — for education and everything else as well — is a done deal. Legislative leaders are fast-tracking budget adjustments and not opening the process to debate or amendments. Instead, House and Senate GOP leaders have been secretly negotiating the details for the past few weeks and will unveil the budget plan sometime next week, as a done deal. A final vote approving it should follow quickly.

Cooper’s only consolation is that the GOP leaders are handing the Democrats a big campaign issue that may be a force in the November elections. This year, it may be the biggest issue on the ballot — it’s about time, isn’t it?

News & Record: Our Opinion: Let’s not reduce North Carolina’s corporate tax rate any lower
By the Editorial Board
May 25, 2018

We hope our state legislature will take seriously a new report from a left-leaning advocacy group that warns against the next round of corporate tax rate cuts. According to the N.C. Justice Center, the cuts won’t benefit the state, BH Media’s Richard Craver reported. And that — the good of the state — should be the determining factor.

A report from the center, “Corporations over Carolinians?” makes several points that are worth considering. For one, “North Carolina’s corporate tax rate cuts failed to fix our most pressing economic problems,” the report said. They “have failed to create pathways out of poverty or generate enough jobs that pay a living wage. Continuing to cut taxes will only undercut our ability to invest in people and communities.”

As a result of the legislature’s reduction of the corporate tax rate from 6.9 percent in 2013 to 3 percent in 2017, the state has taken in $600 million less in taxes. That hurts, for one thing, our ability to educate our children. It’s difficult to accept further corporate tax cuts when our schools are suffering from a lack of resources.

The report also notes that previous cuts may not have been as beneficial as they were portrayed. North Carolina’s job-creation record — 77,200 private-sector jobs since April 2017, up 2.1 percent — “is virtually indistinguishable from the average growth rate for the South Atlantic region, including Florida, Georgia and South Carolina, none of which have engaged in a rash of tax cuts in recent years.”

Many economists say much of North Carolina’s recovery has come from piggybacking on the U.S. recovery.

The report also notes that previous tax cuts, including last year’s federal cut, have failed to “trickle down” to workers. Forty-six corporations devoted at least 51 percent of that cut to shareholders — and some, such as Bank of America Corp. and Wells Fargo, more than 90 percent. Bank of America Corp. has dedicated only 8 percent of its cut toward its employees, and Wells Fargo 1 percent. To their credit, 31 percent and 4 percent, respectively, is going toward community philanthropy.

There’s no denying that North Carolina has benefitted in some ways from the legislature’s tax cuts. North Carolina “has performed the trifecta of state fiscal management in recent years — cut tax rates, increased spending but at a frugal rate, and fully funded the rainy-day fund,” Michael Walden, an economics professor at N.C. State University.

But with a vigorous corporate environment, perhaps it’s best to put the focus on our citizens’ needs now. Gov. Roy Cooper has proposed freezing additional corporate tax rate cuts, as well as those for individuals making more than $200,000 annually, to pay for an 8 percent average raise in teachers’ salaries for the 2018-19 school year. That seems a much better investment.

It’s typical to grumble over taxes. But, as Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. said, “I like paying taxes. With them, I buy civilization.”With our taxes, we buy police and fire protection, safe roads, economic development, schools and social programs that help those who need assistance, among other societal goods.

Corporations aren’t going to pay for our roads or our schools with their tax-rate cuts.

Even if we only consider our schools, which are seriously underfunded, they should take priority over another corporate tax rate cut.