A few weeks ago I wrote in the New York Times that North Carolinians were so distracted by legislation they had no time to focus on what may be coming in a state budget. Our state struggles with the fifth-highest unemployment rate in the U.S., high unemployment in rural areas, contrasted with growth in and around cities. Republicans, elected in 2010 and 2012 after promising to create jobs, spent little time on the topic.
So, what did the Republicans do for NC?
Economics of high unemployment
Republicans cut taxes across the board. Cutting taxes is not the same as reforming an outdated tax code. The structure is the same, most loopholes remain but revenues will go down and over five years the state will have $2.5 billion less for our schools and other needs in addition to little stability through the economic cycle. There’s a new 5.75 individual income tax rate if you make $40k or $1million. Many economists and independent studies confirm tax cuts, continuing loopholes and not expanding the tax base will not result in the type of economic growth our state needs. “Trickle-down” has been tried and failed
Republicans made large, permanent cuts to unemployment benefits and small, temporary tax hikes on companies. Legislators cut off benefits for 70,000 long-term unemployed and we became the only state to lose federally funded benefits. This loss to the cycle of money in small communities will have devastating effects to people beyond the unemployed.
Republicans decided to forgo health care for 500,000, paid for almost entirely by the federal government- Medicaid expansion. While other Republican Governors recognized the bargain offered, we took a retribution effort aimed at President Obama. Physicians say the system is now broken and many contemplate closing, lacking Medicaid payments for months. In another six months, I am betting the Governor begs forgiveness.
Education is the staircase to prosperity. Republicans wrote a budget that puts the brunt of cuts on teachers who get no state pay raise and cuts back on teacher assistants. North Carolina ranks 46th nationally in teacher pay and will probably fall even further under this budget. Further it devalues higher education for teachers by not rewarding higher degrees with pay. As one teacher said, “I am going back to South Carolina to teach.” Ouch. Republicans continued the devaluation of education by expanding a separate system of charter schools, and let the camel’s nose under the tent with opportunity scholarships aka vouchers.
Republicans dropped the Earned Income Tax Credit, labeled by President Reagan as “the best anti-poverty, the best pro-family, the best job creation measure to come out of Congress.” Now, we will hurt more than 900,000 low-wage workers, including 64,000 veterans as well as the incentive to work.
Republicans, in the dark of night without public discussion, schemed and took an airport from the city of Charlotte. This will be a costly battle. Republicans seized a water system from the city of Asheville. Do we see a pattern? Cities in NC are doing well economically and the assets they manage are part of the reason.
And, let’s not forget the poor. Republicans mandated drug testing for certain applicants for public assistance. Counties could also fingerprint applicants as they search for felony suspects. And, entrepreneurs. Republicans let a state tax credit expire that was designed to spur investments in early-stage businesses. Now, a tough climate and the expiring credit will make it harder for young technology companies to raise the capital they need to survive. This was one of the bright spots in our economy.
Our life in NC
Republicans will allow guns in bars, on playgrounds and in locked cars on school grounds. Time will tell if this is a wise decision.
Republicans went after the heart of our state and its model for integrity and modernism in our elections and voting systems. They are requiring voter identification but along the way they eliminated public financing for appellate court races, increased campaign contribution maximums, limited disclosure, shortened early voting, eliminated straight ticket ballots and repealed the law that makes candidates appear in their own campaign ads to say they approved the message. “I don’t know enough, I’m sorry, I haven’t seen that part of the bill,” McCrory about voter pre-registration for 16 and 17 year-olds but he is signing the bill any way.
Republicans made easier the rules for landfills near parks. They forced Durham to annex and provide services to a proposed large development in the sensitive Jordan Lake watershed. They removed scientists and environmental experts from state oversight boards and rolled back clean water protections.
And, after the Governor made a campaign promise to not support new restrictions onabortion, the Republicans, in the name of better healthcare, approved new requirements that may force most of the state’s abortion clinics to close. If this bill closes reputable clinics, women’s health could actually be endangered.
Quality of life and economic prosperity go hand-in-hand. Companies want their employees to enjoy high quality of life, good schools, good healthcare and a robust real estate market where their home values will soar. The candidates in 2010 and 2012, and the Governor promised us jobs. Will that happen in the face of globally bad branding by major newspapers and television? Is that how this Legislature and Governor will be remembered at the voting booth in 2014?
Jeanne Milliken Bonds is a PR Consultant and Former Mayor, NC Spin Panelist and host of Plain Talk Politics.