Statement from NC Justice Center on State Constitutional Amendments

Proposed changes to the state constitution put at risk the integrity of our constitution and the ability of every North Carolina community to thrive

RALEIGH (September 18, 2018) – The week began with Constitution Day as well as the ongoing effects of Hurricane Florence. We are reminded of the need to be ready for the unexpected and join together to collectively commit to rebuilding our communities.

Our state constitution should be a guiding light — not a roadblock — to our efforts to build a strong, thriving state.  From enshrining the freedoms that we each should have a right to enjoy, to advancing equality of opportunity and the pursuit of equity, our constitution can be a durable foundation for how we live together as a community.

The proposed changes to North Carolina’s state constitution that will be on the ballot in November put at risk the integrity of our constitution and the ability of every community in our state to thrive.

There are real issues across the proposed amendments, with a lack of clear language about the implementation of these changes. As a result, their full impact can’t be fully known. But what we do know is that many of these proposals have been considered legislatively; some, like tax cuts for the wealthy, have been implemented to ill effect. There are real costs associated with changing the state constitution, from opening the door to costly litigation and reputational risk to increasing the cost of delivering government services to erecting barriers to opportunity and failing to push forward investments and commitment to govern for all.

Given the NC Justice Center’s commitment to advancing opportunity for people and communities with low incomes and those living in poverty, the following are of particular concern to our organization:

Against the Change to the Maximum Income Tax Rate Cap: This amendment would cap the state’s income tax rate at the arbitrary 7 percent rate, below where it has been historically on individuals with higher incomes and above where it is today at 5.499 percent for individuals and 3 percent for corporations. The result is a limit on the tools available to future policymakers and voters to fund public schools, health, disaster recovery, and well-being in communities since the income tax is their primary source of funding. Given the experience of other states, the likely result would be increases in sales and property tax to ensure revenue is available for these priorities, resulting in taxpayers with middle and low incomes paying more as a share of their income than millionaires do. The NC Justice Center opposes a change to cap the income tax rate at 7 percent.

Against the Requirement of a Photo Identification for Voting: This amendment would require a photo identification for voting, a policy already deemed illegal by the courts and demonstrated to erect barriers to civic participation for people of color, people living in poverty, people living with low incomes, and people with disabilities. The amendment is unclear as to the types of photo identification that would be considered acceptable, the process for securing identification, and the potential for voting provisionally. The amendment is costly, fails to protect the integrity of elections, and serves only to block participation in the democratic process. The NC Justice Center opposes the requirement that a photo ID be presented to vote.

Against the Change to Judicial Appointment Procedures: As the North Carolina Center for Nonprofits writes: “The proposed amendment provides no details for the ‘merit-based’ system for judicial appointments, so legislators would be able to choose the process by which they would select the individuals to recommend to the Governor to fill judicial vacancies. Effectively, this would replace one political appointment system with another political appointment system, and it would further limit the (already limited) powers of the Governor. Also, this could enable the General Assembly to engage in political ‘court packing’ by creating additional positions on the Supreme Court or other state courts and choosing the individuals who will fill these positions.” North Carolina’s residents depend on a balance of power in their government that ensures no one branch (or party) is able to set the rules of the game in their favor. The NC Justice Center opposes the change to the judicial appointment procedure that limits the powers of the Governor.

Against the Change to Board of Elections and Ethics: This amendment changes the number of members of the Board of Elections and Ethics to eight and requires that each party have representation on the Board. Such a composition could deadlock decisions. The NC Justice Center opposes the change to the Board of Elections and Ethics.

It should be noted that the two additional amendments also raise concerns for our organization although we have not taken a formal position on them.

The proposed change to the state constitution to secure hunting and fishing rights has largely been deemed unnecessary given the existence of these rights in statute. The amendment could create confusion around existing statutes around wildlife management and animal cruelty, and open the door to litigation.

The proposed change to the state constitution to establish additional rights for victims of crime raises concerns about the costs and unintended but real potential effects. This amendment would require at least an additional annual commitment of $11 million to the courts and could detract from other much-needed investments such as those in our juvenile justice system to ensure the full implementation of the recently passed Raise the Age legislation.

The NC Justice Center joins with our partners and residents across the state in celebrating the values of our states’ founding document. We urge North Carolina voters to vote against costly, unnecessary changes that won’t further our goals of a more equitable and thriving state.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT Alexandra Sirota, alexandra@ncjustice.org; Julia Hawes, julia@ncjustice.org, 919.863.2406.

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