One would think that legislative leaders would be proud of yet another round of cutting taxes for the wealthiest and shortchanging everyone else. Time and again they have heralded the benefits of trickle-down economics for boosting our economy in their rush to eliminate the income tax entirely.
But if they really are proud of what they have done in North Carolina, why did they develop their budget in secret and why are they limiting opportunities for debate and amendments?
Maybe they don’t want North Carolinians to know that they chose to keep the tax rate cuts scheduled for 2019 that will mean $900 million less for communities across the state.
Or that they are putting us on a path that will mean revenues will not be able to maintain current services for the state’s population in future years.
Maybe they don’t want North Carolinians to know that the tax cuts aren’t growing our economy.
Or maybe they don’t want to have to engage with teachers and students who know their classrooms need state investments to ensure a sound, basic education.
Maybe they don’t want to have to hear from older North Carolinians who won’t be able to stay in their homes due to a lack of investment in home health care and meal delivery. Or from the families who are living on bottled water because their water is toxic.
Maybe they just don’t want to deal with parents who want their kids to be cared for at a high-quality child care while they work, or the parents who can’t afford the rising tuition for their children’s education and training after high school.
Maybe they don’t know how to respond to concerns that they continue to redirect federal dollars that could go toward providing more young children with the tools to be ready for kindergarten and communities with the funding to keep housing affordable at a time when working families are feeling the crunch of increasingly out-of-reach child care and housing.
Maybe they don’t want to have to answer for their choices.
But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep asking them: Why prioritize tax cuts now and hurt our state further?
Their evading the reality of what their choices have wrought is only set to get worse over time. The full cost of their tax changes since 2013 means that for every dollar available for public purposes then, we have less than 90 cents next year. And next fiscal year, our state will have experienced a decade of declining public investments as a share of our economy.
As legislative leaders pursue increasingly desperate measures to lock in their tax cuts, like setting tax limits into the state Constitution, North Carolina will continue to fall behind. We are already below the national average in employment levels, below our neighbors to the South in GDP growth since 2013, and below South Carolina in our investments in each child’s education.
We are missing the moment to invest in every child’s early childhood and preparation for Kindergarten, to build thriving communities and regions that crisscross the urban-rural divide and keep the well-being of our greatest assets—our neighbors—at the center of our decision-making.
We are missing the moment to put forward a more ambitious strategy to grow our economy.
It is time to recognize our existing economic potential and unlock its power. Such a strategy would not seek to drive a wedge between communities and people but build deeper connections that serve to strengthen our collective well-being. It would pursue policies that close the wage gap for women and generate $21 billion each year in additional earnings for women that would circulate in local economies across the state. It would address the systemic barriers to employment and living wages faced by workers of color and boost the state’s productivity by $71 billion. It would focus on everyday North Carolinians and the rising costs of the basics in life to ensure that the next generation has the tools to get ahead. It would remove the double burden of underinvestment in communities that reduces lifetime earnings for children growing up in poverty. It would drive our public investments toward connecting more people to opportunity and removing barriers to prosperity. It would deliver a budget that reflects on the needs of every North Carolinian, not just a certain wealthy few.
Why not stop cutting taxes and start unlocking the economic potential of North Carolina? I’ll keep waiting for a good answer.