February 1, 2011
LEGISLATIVE AGENDA: Investments and reform needed now
The NC Justice Center's 2011 legislative agenda outlines ways the state should invest in its people and its future during this difficult year.
North Carolina's public investments—such as its public schools, community colleges and public-safety resources—are at risk, and with them, jobs and the state's future economic prosperity. Fortunately, our leaders have some effective tools at their disposal, including programs that create jobs, provide new opportunities for workers, improve education and provide needed care for the state's vulnerable citizens.
Perhaps the most important tool legislators have is the ability to modernize North Carolina's outdated revenue system. Successful revenue reform can set the state on a sustainable path to long-term economic growth by delivering adequate resources to support a growing economy. It would also creating a system that is less vulnerable to economic shocks and is fairer to low-income families and local businesses (who are at a significant disadvantage under the current system).
Plus, revenue reform could help tens of thousands of public- and private-sector workers keep their jobs.
HEALTH CARE: NC Republicans take aim at federal reform law
The state legislature is back in session, and the first bill passed by a Republican-controlled House committee is an effort to rob thousands of North Carolinians of health coverage provided through the federal health reform law.
The bill challenges the part of the law that would require people to buy health insurance or pay a penalty—commonly referred to as the "individual mandate." As a new report from the Justice Center's NC Health Access Coalition points out, getting rid of the individual mandate would undermine other parts of the law, such as the provision that bars insurers from denying coverage for those with pre-existing conditions. The report explains:
"If insurance companies are obligated to sell policies to people with pre-existing conditions, then it is the responsibility of the public to not only purchase insurance after the onset of an illness. If most people, including the young and healthy, purchase insurance, then the system can contain premiums while eliminating pre-existing condition exclusions.
"Some states have attempted to eliminate pre-existing condition clauses without requiring that everyone contribute to the cost. In those states individual health insurance premiums rose sharply and many insurers stopped offering individual policies. When Maine tried to eliminate pre-existing condition exclusions without an individual mandate, premiums doubled in five years and most insurance companies fled the market."
VOTERS' RIGHTS: ID laws are expensive and unnecessary
Another priority for the new legislative leadership—robbing citizens of their right to vote. They want to institute a requirement that everyone produce a photo ID before voting. For those of us who drive and live or work in urban parts of the state, this seems like no big deal. But there are many people who don't have picture IDs, can't afford one and can't easily get to a government office to get one. This includes elderly residents who live in rest homes, college students, anyone who doesn't drive, and others. By and large, it will be low-income citizens, people with disabilities, and people of color who will be disenfranchised.
Plus, enforcing a photo ID law would waste millions of tax dollars. And the kicker is, voter fraud is not a problem! The director of the State Board of Elections says there were less than two-dozen cases of voter fraud out of 4.3 million ballots cast in North Carolina in 2008. You're more likely to get hit by lightning!
TOGETHER NC: New ad shows importance of public investments
Together NC, a budget coalition of more than 120 organizations, released a new animated web advertisement calling on North Carolina to maintain vital public investments in the state's future. The ad contains a pointed and humorous commentary on North Carolina's future while making the serious point that public investment is the best way to keep North Carolina great. Check it out!
HIGHER EDUCATION: Obama points to successes in NC
In his State of the Union address, President Obama recognized the important role that community colleges play in meeting the demands for an educated workforce and supporting those who are unemployed and need retraining. He highlighted North Carolina's own Forsyth Tech Community College, where innovative strategies connect post-secondary education to emerging industries like bio-tech. Joining the president as his guest that night was Kathy Proctor, a North Carolina worker who returned to Forsyth Tech after losing her job in manufacturing.
Recent analyses from a variety of sources demonstrate the role post-secondary education will need to play in elevating completion rates to meet the demand for jobs. One study finds that North Carolina would need to graduate an additional 9,440 people with associate's or bachelor's degrees every year between now and 2025.
As state policymakers consider what it will take to rebuild the state’s economy, continuing to fund growing enrollment at these community colleges and ensuring that all students— young and old and with low incomes—can complete an educational program is critical. The state's investment in need-based financial aid and access to federal student loans for all students are policies that can help students and move the state closer to meeting the demands of the future economy.
PUBLIC EDUCATION: Rallies tonight for greater opportunities
Some of them aren't old enough to vote, but students from around North Carolina are taking a stand against discriminatory policies and planned cuts to education funding. More than 40 students and activists rallied in front of the legislature last week to call for greater investments in schools, the end of the resegregation of public schools, and equitable treatment for undocumented students seeking higher education in North Carolina.
If you missed that rally, you have another opportunity tonight. The Adelante Education Coalition and supporters will hold vigils across North Carolina in defense of access to higher education for all. The key to creating jobs, stimulating the economy and reducing the state deficit is to invest in educating all people of North Carolina. Exclusion and resegregation will cost North Carolina dearly.
Rallies are planned in Raleigh, Greensboro, Charlotte, Greenville and Asheville.