Last week, Kansas ended its disastrous conservative experiment when the legislature passed tax increases to start filling the massive budget hole caused by radical tax cuts. Gov. Sam Brownback came into office promising that huge tax cuts would spur enough growth to offset the loss of revenue. He was so wrong.
North Carolina followed a similar path, slashing taxes for corporations and the wealthy and promising a “powerful comeback.” That comeback never materialized. The state recovered from the Great Recession more slowly than many states and the jobs created so far have been lower paying than the ones that left.
North Carolina avoided debt that sunk the Kansas experiment, though, and, as Republicans like note, now the state is running a surplus. However, instead of seeing a big increase in revenue, the GOP slashed funding for the institutions that built the state. They cut funding to our public schools and universities. North Carolina now has among the stingiest unemployment benefits in the nation, ensuring that the next recession will be more painful for working families. They’ve ignored infrastructure needs, particularly in rural areas. They’ve cut funding for mental health services. They funded the tax cuts by undermining services that help the most vulnerable survive and increase social and economic mobility.
No, North Carolina is not Kansas. We won’t watch our state wallow in debt with no growth. We’re following the path South Carolina and Mississippi and Alabama did 50 years ago. Back then, North Carolina made a decision to invest in the state while our Southern neighbors did not. We built a world-class university system and one of the best community college systems in the nation. We created the Research Triangle Park to attract high-paying industries and became a leader in pharmaceuticals, communications and technology. We built roads that connected the state and built water and sewer plants to support industry. We became one of the fastest growing states in the nation and became a destination for businesses, tourists and families.
The damage Republicans are doing to the state will play out over a longer period of time as our institutions lose their luster. Already our nationally recognized UNC School of Law has dropped in ranking from 22nd in the nation to 38th. We don’t need to see a long, slow decline in our schools and universities. And many of our rural areas need extensive upgrades in infrastructure like broadband if they hope to compete for the jobs of the 21st century.
When Gov. Roy Cooper says he wants to see more “vision” in the budget, he’s talking about the conscious decisions our leaders made twenty years ago and fifty years ago to invest in our state. He wants the foresight that brought about community colleges and investments in our universities. He wants to see the commitment that made North Carolina a leader in early childhood education. He’s looking new ways to restore North Carolina’s battered reputation, not small-minded policies that only put more money into the pockets of rich people.