NC Justice News, June 15: Budget, Jobs, Labor, Environment, Health Care

JOBS: House and Senate Plans Don't Go Far Enough

State lawmakers' plans to stimulate job growth are neither bold enough nor targeted well enough to make a real impact on unemployment in North Carolina, a new report from the Budget & Tax Center says. Instead, state legislators should consider more aggressive job-creation tools.

"If you're putting out a campfire, a little bit of water might work," said NC Budget & Tax Center analyst Alexandra Forter Sirota, the report's author. "But if your house is on fire, you can't fool around -- and our economic house is still on fire." The report compares the North Carolina Senate's jobs plan with the one put forward by the House. Neither plan, Sirota writes, goes far enough. Also, the plans miss the mark on policies to encourage new investment.

An across-the-board tax cut proposed by the Senate is "by far the least effective tool to stimulate growth," the report says. In the current climate, businesses will be less likely to ramp up production and hire workers. Lawmakers should instead consider effective direct job creation tools, such as a Small Business Job Growth grant program, writes Sirota. This program would provide a direct subsidy of $10 per hour to the wages and benefits for jobs newly created by employers.

Benefits of such a program include not only creating temporary jobs where workers can gain experience, but permanent ones where workers can build long-term connections to work. Freeing up money from job creation strategies that have proven ineffective, such as the across-the-board tax cuts, could fund such a program.

Policymakers should also focus on preserving jobs in education, health and public safety, the report says. Doing so "will allow public-sector workers to maintain their spending activities in local communities," stimulating the economy and allowing recovery to continue.

HEALTH CARE: Expand, Don't Close, NC Health Choice

Helping children get health insurance is one of society's most effective investments. Among policies that try to achieve this goal, NC Health Choice is consistently ranked as among the most useful and cost-effective.

So why do some politicians want to close off access to it?

Even during a budget crisis and recession, spending a dollar now to save many dollars later makes too much sense to ignore. That's especially true given that 70 percent of the funding is supplied by the federal government.

Last week, pediatrician Dr. Kathleen Clarke Pearson spoke with the NC Health Access Coalition. Dr. Pearson said that far from cutting the Health Choice budget, legislators should follow the lead of the Governor and allow at least 8,000 more kids to enroll in NC Health Choice.

Keeping kids healthy now is an investment that will pay off many times over, for decades to come. Lawmakers must find a way to make this happen.


LABOR: HOPE (and Fight) For Collective Bargaining

Public employees make North Carolina run. But without collective bargaining rights, we do a disservice to hardworking people and justice in our state. That's the message the NC HOPE Coalition will send at an all-day event at the General Assembly in Raleigh this Tuesday.

Public employees and their allies will hold a speak out in Bicentennial Plaza from 10 a.m.-10:45 a.m. Coalition members will also lobby legislators at the General Assembly from 9 a.m.-1 p.m.

“Public employees are crucial to our quality of life,” said MaryBe McMillan of the NC State AFL-CIO. “What if we didn't have public sanitation workers and school bus drivers and teachers and firefighters and custodians? We need public employees and public services now more than ever, and it's long past time to treat these hardworking people fairly.”

Coalition members will urge their legislators to support House Bill 750 and Senate Bill 427, which would permit collective bargaining for public-sector workers.

BUDGET: Focus on These Five Programs for a Budget That Works

Creating a budget that works is a daunting task in the best of times. These, of course, are not the best of times. Our economic crisis is still the deepest since the Great Depression, and our recovery continues to be slow.

The budget we craft now can be our roadmap out of the recession and a way to support North Carolina’s struggling families. We believe -- and argue in this week's Legislative Bulletin, which goes out to North Carolina lawmakers -- that our top priority must be crafting a budget that helps those hardest hit by the recession.

There are sound practical reasons for taking this approach. Looking out for people who are working hard to pay the rent, pay the bills, and send their kids to school for a better life isn’t just the right thing to do -- it also helps everyone in North Carolina by creating economic prosperity from the bottom up.

To do so, we need to preserve key public investments that will help North Carolina meet the challenges of the future.

The Legislative Bulletin argues that the budget conference process should do five things: Put North Carolina to Work With Proven Job-Creation Strategies; Ensure Access to Quality, Affordable Health Services; Provide Excellent, Equitable Schools; Offer Effective Early Education and Meet the Needs of Working Parents; and Invest in Sustainable Communities.

ENVIRONMENT: Clean Air Act Survives Misguided Challenge

An effort to gut the Clean Air Act as we know it failed this past week, thankfully. A Senate resolution aimed to strip regulatory authority from the Environmental Protection Agency, effectively crippling the EPA's ability to fight the pollutants that cause climate change.

The resolution was sponsored by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) – and was dubbed the “Murky Air Resolution” by the Justice Center's Dr. Stephen Jackson on the Progressive Pulse blog. The resolution would have rejected the EPA finding that greenhouse gases are pollutants, and therefore can be limited under the Clean Air Act.

This would have forever curbed the EPA’s ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. Fortunately, it was defeated 53 votes to 47. Senator Kay Hagan voted against the resolution, with Sen. Richard Burr voting to eviscerate protections against deadly pollutants.

Writes Jackson: “It would appear that the EPA authority issue won’t be resolved unless an energy bill that addresses the issue of carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions comes to the Senate floor."

IMMIGRATION: DREAM Act Should Become a Reality

What qualities make up a good citizen? Many would say a commitment to education and public service are right at the top of the list.

A proposed bill at the federal level would allow young undocumented people who want to contribute to America in that way to have a path to citizenship. Progressives in North Carolina, including dedicated student activists, are ramping up their efforts in support of the legislation, known as the DREAM Act.

The DREAM Act – which stands for Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act – has four basic requirements. A person must have entered the country before the age of 16; graduated high school or obtained a GED; have good moral character with no criminal record; and have at least five years of continuous presence in the U.S.

If someone meets those criteria, the DREAM Act would provide a six-year window for them to either obtain a two-year college degree or complete two years of military service. If all of these conditions are met, the person would have the opportunity to adjust their conditional permanent residency status to U.S. Citizenship.

Supporters of the DREAM Act held a prayer vigil Monday night. Look for more actions backing this much-needed legislation in the future.


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