MEET THE STAFF: Tazra Mitchell, Public Policy Analyst, Budget & Tax Center
We all know elections can change lives. Tazra Mitchell, a Public Policy Analyst with the NC Justice Center's Budget & Tax Center, is living proof of that.
When Tazra started as an undergraduate at North Carolina State University, she originally thought she’d be a criminology major. The 2004 presidential election changed all of that as well as the direction of Tazra's life. The election pulled her into public policy debates, and soon Tazra found herself switching to a major in political science. At first, her passion for policy was at a global level, as Tazra wanted to look at the role the U.S. played in diplomatic efforts across the globe.
“I was torn between my love for international relations and becoming increasingly aware of the needs of our state,” says Tazra, who moved to North Carolina with her family from West Virginia when she was 10 years old. An internship at the North Carolina General Assembly helped lead her down the path that would eventually lead to the BTC.
Tazra was one of 14 students from across the state selected for an internship program with the state legislature. She worked for Rep. Becky Carney, who kept Tazra as her legislative aid past her internship summer and graduation. But Rep. Carney was determined that Tazra continue on her own path.
“Rep. Carney knew I was first person in my family to apply to graduate school, so she nudged me towards applying to school sooner rather than later. She continues to be one of my closest mentors,” Tazra says.
Tazra ultimately pursued her Master of Public Policy at Duke University, as Rep. Carney had urged her to do. She initially focused on global policy work but decided she wanted to stay in North Carolina and focus on fiscal research.
While at Duke, Tazra applied for a Public Policy Fellowship with the State Fiscal Analysis Institute (now the State Priorities Partnership), hoping to join a cadre of young people who had similar interests. She joined the Justice Center in August 2011 as an SFAI fellow, as it offered her the chance to stay in North Carolina and work on the issues she cared about.
“Today's constituents of the Justice Center are like my family, who grew up the way I did—without a lot of funds but a father who really understood the value of education despite not having much of one himself,” Tazra says. “The Justice Center is protecting and improving policies that support the ladder to economic opportunity, and it was those same policies that gave me a chance and allowed me to go to graduate school. I want to make sure those policies are available to the people we work with – people with backgrounds like mine.”
Tazra’s work with the Budget & Tax Center has covered a myriad of issues, including transportation. She worked closely with Rep. Carney at the time the Representative was working on the intermodal transportation bill.
“Transportation policy ended up being more interesting than I thought it would,” Tazra says. “Beautification efforts, how special license plate money funds rest stops… if something seems boring and straightforward, look at the weeds. It’s really interesting.”
Tazra also works on budget policy, a particular challenge during the latest legislative session. Tazra cites the difficulty of showing lawmakers – and in turn, the public – that putting North Carolina on a better path requires an honest look at the empirical data that guides better policies for the state.
“We all want to put North Carolina on a better path,” Tazra says. “We want to get legislators to do that in a way that uses data and not just theories that we know aren't working in other states, like Kansas for example. Our big challenge moving forward is reversing tax cuts and correcting the worst parts of the recession and its aftermath.”
Tazra cites the incredible collaboration of the Justice Center and all of its partners during this legislative session and throughout the budget debate, as well as the broader Moral Monday movement. “During the tax fight, they know any vital public service can be on the chopping block due to a lack of funds. Our partners were great about coming together and connecting the tax-cuts issue to the broader public policy debates which we couldn’t do on our own,” she says. “They recognize how all of the issues are interconnected.”
Help Tazra and the Budget & Tax Center continue doing their work by making a donation today.
BUDGET & TAXES: New estimates show cuts cost even more than projected
Several weeks after the end of the fiscal year and budget deadline, it appears that legislators are in the final stages of hashing out a budget compromise. While details haven’t been released, it appears education will receive cuts, and some of North Carolina’s most vulnerable residents will be hurt by cuts to Medicaid. It’s been said but bears repeating: the reason North Carolina finds itself in this predicament is due to the reckless and costly tax plan that legislators passed in 2013.
Just last week, the legislature’s non-partisan Fiscal Research Division released new estimates based on data released from the Internal Revenue Service on the incomes and taxes paid by North Carolinians through the personal income tax in 2012. Fiscal’s new numbers show that tax cuts will cost even more than original anticipated, amounting to a $5.3 billion loss over five years due to income tax cuts benefitting mostly wealthy taxpayers. Income tax cut costs will rise to more than $1 billion by 2016, raising serious concerns about whether the current budget negotiations are putting forward a fiscally responsible path to meet the priorities of our state.
Before the budget is finalized, legislative leadership must consider this newly available information that the tax cuts will cost more than originally estimated and move immediately to stop further revenue losses in 2015. This is the final chance for North Carolinians to make their voices heard and tell legislators and Gov. McCrory to stop the tax cuts so the state can make badly needed investments in our children, families, communities, and the future of our state.
AMENDMENT ONE: Court finds VA's same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional
The week started on a positive note for once. Yesterday the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional. The court decides appeals from Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia, and Maryland, meaning the ruling applies to all of these states.
Judge Henry F. Floyd said: “Inertia and apprehension are not legitimate bases for denying same-sex couples due process and equal protection of the laws. Civil marriage is one of the cornerstones of our way of life. It allows individuals to celebrate and publicly declare their intentions to form lifelong partnerships, which provide unparalleled intimacy, companionship, emotional support, and security.... Denying same-sex couples this choice prohibits them from participating fully in our society, which is precisely the type of segregation that the Fourteenth Amendment cannot countenance.”
NC Policy Watch reporter Sharon McCloskey reports on the ruling: "The decision is not effective immediately, though. Per the judgment entered by the court, the ruling will take effect after a mandate is issued in the case — '7 days after expiration of the time to file a petition for rehearing expires, or 7 days after entry of an order denying a timely petition for panel rehearing, rehearing en banc, or motion for stay of mandate, whichever is later.' A petition for review by the U.S. Supreme Court may also follow.
Several challenges to North Carolina’s bans on same-sex marriage are working their way through the federal courts, including two cases filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina in federal court in Greensboro. Fisher-Borne et al. v. Smith was filed in July 2013 on behalf of six families across the state headed by same-sex couples as an amendment to a 2012 lawsuit challenging North Carolina’s ban on second parent adoptions. Gerber and Berlin et al. v. Cooper was filed in April 2014 on behalf of three married, same-sex couples seeking state recognition of their marriages. Because of the serious medical condition of one member of each couple, they are asking the court to take swift action." Read more at the Progressive Pulse.
UNEMPLOYMENT: Insurance debt may be paid down early but at what cost?
The one-year anniversary of changes made to North Carolina’s unemployment insurance system in 2013 falls at an uncertain time. The state’s jobless rate has leveled off at 6.4 percent, yet it appears there are fewer workers actively hunting for jobs. In June 2014, the number of missing workers – those who would be in the labor market looking for work if there were better opportunities – rested at 241,445. If these workers were counted in the unemployment rate it would be closer to 11.5 percent rather than the official number.
In theory, there is “good” news. The unemployment insurance debt owed by North Carolina to the federal government will reportedly be paid down early, according to the NC Division of Employment Security. If the debt is resolved in August 2015 rather than November 2015 as predicted, employers will no longer have to pay an additional federal tax that represented the contribution employers made to address debt that was created as a result of tax cuts that they received in the 1990s and the historic job loss of the Great Recession. Yet one has to ask what is the real, human cost of this early “payoff”, particularly at a time when there are simply aren’t enough jobs for those seeking work?
Changes made to North Carolina’s unemployment insurance system came at great cost to the state’s economy and workers who are unemployed through no fault of their own. The vast majority of the savings that allowed for this accelerated repayment came from benefits cuts that primarily have reduced the maximum available weeks and the average weekly benefit amount.
As of July 1, North Carolinians will be only able to receive a maximum of only 14 weeks of unemployment insurance compared to the previous maximum of 26. No other state offers fewer weeks. Meanwhile, jobless workers qualifying for unemployment insurance will get nearly $300 less on average each month. This will significantly reduce workers’ ability to support their families, let alone put gas in their cars to get to job interviews. As jobless workers continue to struggle to find work in a labor market with too few jobs, there will be fewer consumers for goods and services, meaning local businesses have less demand and might lay off their own workers or be unable to sustain new positions.