As the Senate debates its version on tax reform, North Carolina Republicans are touting the reform they passed as the model to follow. They claim the economy is one of the fastest growing in the nation and they proudly point to surplus revenue that’s filled out coffers. They conveniently ignore a lot of other realities.
Sure, North Carolina’s economy grew a little faster the last few years, but that’s mainly because it was playing catch up for the first few years of GOP control when we lagged behind our neighbors and everybody else. Since 2006, our GDP lags slight behind the nation as a whole. Our median income is just now reaching levels of where it was in 2007, before the Great Recession. Almost all of the growth has come from Raleigh and Charlotte despite legislators’ efforts to politically hamstring those economic engines.
On a personal level, I’m solidly middle class and I’ve seen no real adjustment in my personal financial well-being under the Republicans. I took a huge hit following the recession in 2009, but I’ve since recovered, though I’m still trying to pay off a little debt from that time. A look back at my state income taxes indicates that I’m paying about the same as I’ve always paid.
However, I pay hidden, voluntary taxes that I never paid before. I’ve had children in public schools for almost 25 straight years. Back in the 1990s and early 2000s, most school programs were free. Today, we’re asked to contribute for everything from online math programs to school dances in addition to the PTA dues that have been around forever. They also ask for parents to help provide financial assistance for students from economically disadvantaged families. Per pupil spending is among the lowest in the nation.
The legislature also quietly passed a myriad of other fees that disproportionally hurt poorer families. They raised rates at state parks, places where families on a budget can go for vacations or weekend getaways. They raised vehicle registration fees that, again, hurt families who are struggling. When they increased the sales tax, they included services like automobile repair, taxes that will disproportionally hurt people who drive older model cars.
While legislators brag about cutting the size of government and putting money away for a rainy day, state agencies and employees are suffering. Our prisons are so understaffed they’ve become dangerous to guards and other employees. The death of three guards in Pasquotank County highlighted the low pay that’s preventing the state from finding the qualified employees they need. The state is saving money at the expense of the safety of its employees and citizens.
It’s no wonder Republicans brag about North Carolina tax reform. It’s all they’ve got. They’ve damaged the state in so many other ways. Our reputation has taken a huge hit from ill-conceived laws like HB2 and the voter suppression bill. The GOP claims about the benefits of their tax reform law are dramatically overstated and disproportionally benefit the wealthy and big corporations. We’re not a model for tax reform. We’re a model for putting more money into the pockets of rich people at the expense of our services and on the backs of the less fortunate. That’s not a model worth following.
Thomas Mills is the founder and publisher of PoliticsNC.com. Before beginning PoliticsNC, Thomas spent twenty years as a political and public affairs consultant. Learn more >