When we hear the term “the two Carolinas” we generally think of North Carolina and South Carolina. But there are two more Carolinas—the one where I live today and the one where I grew up. Those two Carolinas share few similarities.
The Carolina I live in today has a vibrant downtown with plenty of restaurants and a healthy merchant class. Our schools are among the best in the state and some are ranked among the best in the nation. We have well-groomed parks, bike trails, bus service and sidewalks. We’re fifteen miles from a major airport and both north-south and east-west interstates are just minutes away. Our crime rate is low and our biggest struggles concern balancing growth with maintaining our quality of life.
In contrast, the Carolina where I was raised is losing population and the unemployment rate is above the state as a whole. The downtown of Wadesboro is a shell of the place where I sold newspapers and bought everything from clothes to bicycles to baseball gloves. A major artery connecting downtown to Highway 74, the major road running through the county, stayed closed for more than year because the town didn’t have resources to repair a collapsing bridge. Other towns in the county are essentially empty, devoid of any businesses other than a convenience store or two.
So, when the state Senate rolled out their budget touting tax cuts, especially for big corporations, guess who benefits? That’s right. My neighbors today, not the ones who grew up with me. But guess who supports these regressive tax cuts that disproportionally benefit the wealthy and urban/suburban areas? Those rural legislators whose constituents are increasingly getting left behind.
Republicans claim their tax cuts have led to magazines citing North Carolina as among the best states for business. That may be true, but those national publications are talking about places like the Triangle, the Triad, and Charlotte, not places like Anson County, Scotland County or Wilkes County. The GOP budget has hung those places out to dry. To add insult to injury, the Trump administration announced yesterday that it was sending just $6 million of a requested $900 million for Hurricane Matthew relief. The areas hurt most by Matthew are home to some of North Carolina’s poorest citizens.
In many of those areas, the state is the largest employer, but the Senate would stop providing health insurance to state government retirees for anybody joining the state workforce after 2020. That’s a great recruiting tool. It’s like throwing an anchor to a sinking boat.
If rural North Carolina is going to catch up and compete they need a serious investment in infrastructure including broadband internet, not more tax cuts. They need the resources to train a workforce that will attract businesses and give residents the skills and tools to start their own. The companies of the 21st century aren’t moving to places with outdated services and local entrepreneurs are going to leave for places with the amenities they need to thrive.
The Senate budget reflects the Republican philosophy. Much of rural North Carolina is a casualty of the free trade agreements of the 1990s and the GOP is not going to put government resources into helping them compete. In Republican parlance, that’s picking winners. Unfortunately, the people who represent too many of the areas struggling the most have turned their backs on the plight of the places they represent.
In contrast, Governor Roy Cooper submitted a budget that invested in people and infrastructure. It used the budget surplus to invest in rural broadband and rural economic development projects. It increases funding for schools and community colleges far above what the Senate proposes. In short, it offers the areas suffering the most a big boost, while the Senate budget stiffs our small towns and rural communities. Cooper is working to breach the divide. The Senate budget expands it.