NC JUSTICE NEWS: Public-Sector Layoffs + Corporate Tax Dodging + Farmworker Safety

July 26, 2011

PUBLIC SECTOR JOBS: How layoffs create a ripple effect

Public-sector layoffs threaten to cut off North Carolina’s economic recovery at the knees. North Carolina’s unemployment rate stood at 9.9% in June, and the 0.2% increase from May was driven largely by public-sector layoffs. At such a difficult time for workers and families, it seems preposterous to suggest that further public-sector layoffs would help the state’s economy.

Yet last week North Carolina GOP Chairman Robin Hayes suggested just that, saying that he hoped to see an increase in layoffs from state government. Apparently, he rejoices in seeing people out of work and the businesses suffering as their customers vanish. Suggesting that these layoffs would aid the state’s economic recovery is a complete falsehood. Public-sector layoffs don’t “rightsize” the state government—all they do is downsize North Carolina’s already struggling economy.

Public-sector jobs help the private-sector economy grow. There are two reasons for that. First, the people in those jobs provide services that benefit the private sector – from road construction to education to public safety to services for elderly or disabled individuals. Second, public-sector employees spend their incomes in private-sector businesses.

In the last month alone, North Carolina has laid off more than 7,600 public employees, the largest factor behind in June's disappointing job report. But the scenario has been playing out for a year now, as public-sector layoffs have essentially negated private-sector job growth. Over the past year, the state has laid off 20,000 public employees, almost entirely wiping out the 28,900 gains in the private sector. The balance between the public and private sectors is vital to the future of North Carolina’s economic recovery. The only way to maintain this balance is to support public investments and end the needless, devastating losses to the public sector workforce.

REDISTRICTING: Debate reaches floor of General Assembly

State legislators will return to the halls of the General Assembly this week to finally, officially debate the ongoing hot issue of the past month – redistricting.

The two sides have been clearly drawn, and both expect the maps will be challenged in court. The GOP will move to prove how the new congressional and legislative maps are “fair and legal,” while the Democrats will argue that the maps are partisan, minimize minority voters, and in certain cases, will ensure that fewer female Democrat leaders are reelected next year. If all goes according to plan, Republican leaders will hold floor votes on the map this week.

Democratic leaders have offered up alternative maps to the GOP-designed redistricting options, redrawing election district boundaries to their own liking. These boundaries are on the side of the law, Democrats say – the plan would only include one Senate district with a black voting-age population above 50 percent, unlike the GOP boundaries, which Democrats claim put too many minority voters in certain districts.

The upcoming weeks of debate and finalized redistricting could have significant effects on the 2012 elections. It’s more important than ever that North Carolina voters are heard, and yet it seems that if the proposed maps go into effect, the exact opposite will take place—thousands of North Carolinians will lose their voice in the political process.

CORPORATE INCOME TAXES: Corporations win, state loses

Squeezed in at the end of a disturbing callous and short-sighted legislative session was a measure that almost floored us in its complete disregard for fairness and common sense.

It’s a measure that makes it legal for multi-state corporations to dodge state corporate income taxes. The law lets corporations shift profits earned in North Carolina to tax-haven states like Delaware and Nevada. Now, corporations did this before, but the enforcement authority of the state Department of Revenue limited the extent of corporate tax shelter abuse. Now refusing to contribute to the state that helped to make these corporations profitable is perfectly legal.

There was no fiscal note on this bill, meaning lawmakers didn’t even bother to find out what impact it would have on state revenues before they passed it. In fact, legislative leaders insisted that the bill would have no fiscal impact, despite the Department of Revenue’s assertion that it would cost the state upwards of $100 million per year.

In the end, legislators rushed to pass the bill, promising to study and revisit the legislation before the next session. What an irresponsible way to make laws.

FARMWORKER RIGHTS: Addressing wage, health safety violations

Not only are migrant farmworkers in North Carolina often exposed to hazardous pesticides that are damaging to their health, but a new study finds that many of these same workers face wage violations as well.

A recent study by researchers at Wake Forest University and the North Carolina Farmworkers Project found that nearly 20 percent of all farmworkers had experienced wage violations in their work and many didn't even make minimum wage.

On top of their depleted earnings – not to mention poor housing and a lack of access to health care – migrant workers often experience grave pesticide safety violations. The study found that two-thirds of farmworkers had not been provided with required pesticide safety training, and only half were informed when pesticides had been applied to the fields where they worked. Unfortunately, farmworkers often remain silent for fear of retaliation should they report such violations.

More than anything, the research shows the grave need for stronger enforcement efforts and greater cooperation between regulatory agencies, particularly given the often linked relationship between pesticide safety and wage violations. Regulation and enforcement of that regulation could make all the difference in improving the safety and living conditions for farmworkers across North Carolina.

BALANCED BUDGET AMENDMENT: Cuts Medicaid, food stamps

The U.S. House has passed a bill to raise the national debt ceiling that includes a requirement that Congress vote on a balanced budget amendment. Despite the fact that it would increase poverty, homelessness and hunger in North Carolina, Senator Richard Burr supports the “Cut, Cap and Balance” bill, of which the balanced budget amendment is a part.

A balanced budget amendment would cut essential programs like Medicaid, Social Security Insurance, and food stamps in half within 10 years. Medicare would have to be turned into a voucher program, and spending for key programs like housing, education, child care, Head Start, public health, veterans’ health care, environmental protection, health research, food and water safety, and many others would be slashed by 70 percent.

The combination of a balanced budget requirement and annual spending caps would also take away the ability of the federal government to respond to recessions through policies – like expending unemployment insurance, medical coverage, and nutritional assistance - that boost the economy and extend critical assistance to families in financial hardship.

VIDEO TRAINING FOR ADVOCACY GROUPS: New manual covers video production

The NC Justice Center’s “Video Training Manual for Advocacy Organizations” pulls together the basics of short video production for nonprofit advocacy groups. Drawing on three years and hundreds of videos worth of experience, the manual not only provides technical advice but also explores the many different and surprising objectives advocacy groups can achieve using this powerful new tool. Click here to see the complete manual.


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