Monday, June 20, 2011

F-: The State Legislative Report Card

Can someone help me understand North Carolina’s recent state budget? The budget, combined with a number of hard to understand decisions, makes it virtually impossible to uncover how lawmakers perceive their roles as crafters of public policy.

Thanks to Lisa Sorg of the Independent Weekly for providing a timely and concise review of what happened during this past legislative session (Truth in Legislative Bill Naming: June 15). After reading her column it seems that the goal of this past legislative session was to undo the hard work that progressive minded folks have fought to secure over the past few decades while shifting the burden of human service delivery to the local level.

As countless citizens of the state continue to endure life void of medical insurance, legislators pushed the Protect Health Care Freedom Act that would force the state to sue the federal government to protect insurance companies from the implications of Romney Care. The notion that health care reform is a bad idea was further enhanced by lobbying in support of Medical Liability Reform which places caps on the damages one can claim from medical malpractice in emergency rooms.

While most North Carolinians celebrate the contributions Latinos add to our state, legislators sought ways to limit their political power by proposing measures comparable to the voting tax and test that disenfranchised African American voters prior to the passage of the Voting Rights Act. They pushed bills that would require all voting material be in English and Voter Identification at the Polls which would make it difficult to vote if you don’t have a driver’s license. The Safe Students Act requires that parents disclose the immigration status of their children prior to enrolling them in public schools. This legislative session was an attack on Latinos who overwhelmingly vote Democratic.

They fought to repeal the Racial Justice Act, passed in 2010 after it was proven that race played a major factor in how the death penalty was handed down. They also passed the NC Firearms Freedom Act which prohibits the federal government from regulating the sale of firearms in the state. It’s the old state versus federal government argument that landed us in the war between the North and the South.

The Consumer Finance Act Amendments allows predatory lenders to increase the size of loans they offer to an amount one is incapable of paying while adding fees and increasing the interest rate to as much as 36 percent. This pro business session left most citizens worse off than before it all got started.

This session was an attack on public education. The cap on charter schools was lifted. Tax credits are now available for parents with incomes less than $100,000. They can receive a tax credit of $2,500 per child if they withdraw them from public schools and enroll them in private schools or homeschool them. The measure paves the way for the private school industry to reap the benefits of those seduced into believing public schools are the highway leading to educational death.

The state budget was cut leaving local governments pressed to find a way to continue the level of service needed to meet the needs of the children in their district. Members of the Durham County Commission will vote on a quarter-cent sales-tax increase for Durham schools. If approved during the June 27th meeting of the Board of County Commissioners, it will be left in the hands of voters in November.

It all comes at a time when the county is considering a half-cent sales tax for public transportation improvements. That increase would support the much anticipated rail system that would connect Durham with Raleigh and Chapel Hill.

Local leaders are forced to go to voters to approve a tax increase while state legislators push to decrease funding for public education. Put another way, voters are receiving less from the state to support the education of their children while having to, potentially, pay more just to keep pace with the local education needs.

It could be argued that both proposed tax increases are regressive taxes-placing a greater burden on the poor. Given that they are proposed increases in sales taxes, we must be careful not to shift the burden on those unable to keep pace with the cost of living.

It is clear that state legislators are decreasing the size of state government at the expense of local municipalities. I’m certain the folks we voted in to serve on the national front would say the same thing-that we need to downsize government. There’s one problem with that notion. The cost to maintain those services we all need is simply passed down to the citizen at the local level. It is up to us to vote for more taxes-either sales or property-to pay for the advancements we need.

So, when we listen to politicians talk about government out of control and the need to reduce taxes to stimulate spending, ask yourself how those reductions impacts those on the local level. What can be done to continue to provide services when those at the state and federal level play politics with our dollars? It only comes back on those at the local level to decide. One way or another, we have to pay for those services.

As for the rest of what was voted on-who profits from those decisions? Someone help me understand.

1 comment:

  1. Legislators not only decrease the size of state government at the expense of local municipalities, but to the advantage and expansion of corporate influence, now setting municipalities in competition in a race to the bottom. The corporations profiting from such decisions will remember their friends in Raleigh. Would that voters showed such good memories also! Throughout the Piedmont, voters still seem to keep voting for the same corporatist politicians that endorsed exporting our manufacturing economy abroad with NAFTA almost 20 years ago. All for the sake of Mammon's siren song!