The GOP-dominated North Carolina state legislature is closing in on the end of what is turning out to be one of the most extraordinary sessions in recent American history. The full scale attack on public education, the poor, the elderly, voting rights (the bill now before the legislature is a real doozy), access to women's health services, the indefensible decision to reject Medicaid expansion and more has been breath-taking in its scope and mendacity.
State Republican leaders have now agreed on a unified budget that cuts personal income and corporate taxes and eliminates the estate tax. GOP leaders, despite their previous insistence that they are the stewards of fiscal prudence, themselves now admit that these tax cuts will create budget shortfalls, perhaps a billion dollars or more over the next five years. These will paid for by steep cuts to public education, including elimination of thousands of teaching assistant positions, the university system, as well as cuts to other vital services. The cuts to education are particularly gratuitous -- they are only necessary in order to pay for the tax cuts for the wealthy. Teacher pay in North Carolina currently ranks 46th and is declining -- no state has experienced harsher education cuts over the past five years than has North Carolina. The News and Observer reports this morning on a high school English teacher in Buncombe county whose two kids are Medicaid eligible. And in a further nod to Governor McCrory's insistence on improving teaching quality (not), pay increases for teachers with relevant master's degrees have been eliminated in the new budget. Adding the senseless to the pernicious, GOP lawmakers have approved a provision allowing armed volunteers into the schools as 'safety officers.' Seriously, what could go wrong? All of this damage has prompted the state superintendent of schools, June Atkinson, to say that "for the first time in my career of more than 30 years in public education, I am truly worried about students in our care."
For months, Republicans have insisted that everyone would be paying fewer taxes under their plan. Never mind that even by their own reckoning, this meant lots of people getting tax breaks of under $100, while the rich would be reaping tax breaks in the tens of thousands of dollars.
But the GOP's own legislative researchers say that claim is false -- that a significant number of low and moderate income families will actually pay more, when all the approved regressive tax provisions are accounted for. The only real beneficiaries are -- surprise, surprise -- the wealthiest North Carolinians and corporations. Now that they completed the budget, even GOP leaders are no longer claiming that everyone benefits from the tax breaks directly. But still, they insist, their tax cuts will create jobs. This is unsurprising, since Republicans literally have only one "idea" left when it comes to the economy -- cut taxes for rich people. Amazingly, this is repeatedly trotted out as if it's a bold and innovative approach that's never been tried before. But of course, we've been cutting taxes locally and nationally for a long time, and the numbers -- not that data are relevant to today's GOP -- simply don't bear out the claimed benefits. In North Carolina, when Republicans first took over the state legislature in 2011, they cut state income, sales and corporate taxes and have no results to show for it -- NC unemployment remains close to 9 percent, among the highest in the country and job growth here has trailed job growth nationally over the past two years.
But we already know they don't care about new jobs. Medicaid expansion, in addition to saving lives and improving health in the state, would have created thousands of new jobs. They only care about indulging their wealthy friends and sticking it to everybody else. In yesterday's New York Times, David Leonhardt reported in detail on an about-to-be-released study of economic mobility. The large-scale study found that the real regional outlier was the South -- in our slice of heaven, economic mobility is, on average, significantly lower than it is elsewhere in America. As Kevin Drum puts it, "poor kids don't exactly have a great chance in life no matter where they live, but in the South, they have almost no chance at all. If you take a look at the policy preferences of Southern governors and legislatures, that's apparently exactly the way they like it."
Since that makes for a really crappy campaign slogan, North Carolina Republicans have resorted to one lie after another as they've wormed their way through this most dishonorable of legislative sessions.
For my previous take on the GOP in North Carolina, click here.