TAX "FREEDOM" DAY: Free of logic and common sense
A quick look reveals serious flaws in the conservative Tax Foundation's Tax Freedom Day report -- a supposed calculation of the day Americans have earned enough to pay their taxes for the year. For example, the report includes taxes paid primarly by higher-income taxpayers and businesses in its calculation of the "average tax burden."
Even if you accept this methodology, take note that what actually happens on "Tax Freedom Day" (April 9) is not merely that we are finished paying this year’s tax bills but rather that we are finished paying for the stuff we have decided to purchase collectively, like Social Security, Medicare, roads, schools, disease research, health inspections, national defense, Pell Grants, etc. etc. The report seems to assume that the money that goes to taxes simply evaporates. As if that money doesn't pay the salaries of hundreds of thousands of people across the country, including everyone in law enforcement and the court system, every public school or university teacher, scads of engineers, health professionals, therapists, social workers, and on and on.
Just think, we could be "free" so much earlier if state leaders would just release a few thousand prisoners early, shave a few weeks off the public school year, close the doors to the community colleges and universities, and stop providing health care to children in low-income families, lay off some fire-fighters and police officers, and stop building or maintaining roads. Sounds like an awfully high price to pay.
BUSINESS CLIMATE: Yes, NC is good to businesses
North Carolina once again has the lowest taxes on business in the nation. That's according to the Council on State Taxation and Ernst & Young accounting firm, which recently released their annual analysis of state taxes on business. North Carolina's state and local taxes paid by businesses represent 3.5% of total Gross State Product, which ties the state with Oregon for the lowest taxes on business. The analysis certainly isn’t perfect. A good argument can be made that it actually overstates the share of state and local taxes that are paid by businesses and understates the benefits to businesses of some types of government spending (educating current and future workers, administering the courts, etc.). Nonetheless, the report makes it pretty obvious that cutting business taxes in North Carolina is not the ticket to growing the state’s economy.
HEALTH REFORM: Fighting reform would waste time, money
The Tea Partiers can whine all they want, but the new health reform law is constitutional. Attorneys General of 14 states have asked the federal courts to prevent the law's implementation, claiming that it violates the Interstate Commerce Clause and state sovereignty. Legal scholars around the country have shot down these arguments, but that hasn't stopped some North Carolina state lawmakers, in particular Senate Minority Leader Phil Berger, from calling on NC Attorney General Roy Cooper to join the lawsuits against health care reform. Cooper has thus far refused. Which is good, because North Carolina's uninsured need this reform, and the state doesn't have money to waste on silliness.
WORK & FAMILY: Speakers line up for committee meeting
North Carolina can help its families juggle the competing demands of work and family with a few simple, common-sense policies. Community groups are urging legislators to enact some of these programs, such as guaranteed paid sick days, family medical leave and flexible workplace policies that would decrease employee turnover, increase worker productivity, and therefore benefit businesses and boost economic activity.
The General Assembly's Joint Select Committee on Work & Family Balance meets Wednesday, and speakers are scheduled to testify on a range of issues, including the challenges facing working parents, caregivers, older workers, and workers with disabilities. Speakers will also address how businesses can make changes to help workers balance the needs of employment and family, and what the legislature can do to make workplaces more family-friendly.
Legislators and residents in North Carolina support family values, but state policies haven't kept up with the changes in the workforce, such as the increase in the number of working mothers. In addition, the nation's elderly population is expected to double by 2030, creating new strains on workers who must juggle caregiving needs and their careers. It's time North Carolina put its family values to work.
STATE BUDGET: How better policy can save $ on prisons
North Carolina's leaders face another big budget shortfall this year, so they're looking for ways to save money. One smart place to look is state spending on prisons and jails. Right now, there are about 40,000 people in NC's prison system, and that number is expected to grow to more than 50,000 over the next decade. All but 2% of thses individuals will eventually be released, but more than a third will end up back behind bars. It costs an average of $26,000 per year to incarcerate one person.
The General Assembly's Joint Select Committee on Ex-Offender Reintegration into Society and Governor Perdue's StreetSafe Task Force to Reduce Repeat Offenders are looking at ways to reduce prison spending and recidivism. Here are some of the ideas they can borrow from other states:
Conduct a thorough assessment of barriers: A criminal record, which in North Carolina includes arrests that didn't result in conviction, is essentially a scarlet letter that banishes one from accessing employment, housing, and needed services and supports.
Establish a comprehensive prisoner re-entry plan: States that have an integrated strategy that starts with conviction, continues during incarceration and includes post-release supports have been most successful in reducing recidivism.
Maintain support for existing state programs related to successful reintegration: One such successful program is the Prisoner Education Program, a partnership with the state's community colleges that provides basic adult education and specialized degree certifications in 80 correctional institutions across the state.
Lawmakers will surely face "soft on crime" accusations for investigating these options, but considering that the status quo is eroding public safety, draining precious state resources, and failing those who have paid their debts to society, it's time to worry less about being "soft" and more about being "smart."
CRUCIAL CONVERSATION: Lunch with Dr. Heather Boushey
NC Policy Watch and the NC Justice Center invite you to a Crucial Conversation Luncheon on Wednesday, April 14, featuring nationally recognized economist, author, and commentator Dr. Heather Boushey of the Washington, DC-based Center for American Progress. She will speak on "Valuing Families at Work: Policy Prescriptions for the 21st Century." Much of her current research focuses on the Great Recession's impact on workers and their families, as well as policies to promote job creation.
Join us for this Crucial Conversation luncheon to hear Dr. Boushey's thoughts on the actions that state and national policymakers can take to help the country adapt to the needs of today's working economy. The event will be held at the Campbell University School of Law in downtown Raleigh.
Recent articles by Heather Boushey: