Consider this…

[Editor’s note: Consider This is an e-mail update and analysis put out by the Common Sense Foundation, a nonpartisan public-policy organization formed in 1994 “to ensure that state government and the political process attend to the interrelated economic, political, social and cultural needs of those who are systematically denied access to power,” according to the group’s Web site. The following selection, culled from recent Consider This offerings, presents the foundation’s viewpoint on a variety of issues affecting North Carolinians.]

State residents need jobs, health care, childcare

A new publication shows just how hard it is for many North Carolinians to make ends meet. Not Making It, distributed by the N.C. Alliance for Economic Justice (of which the Common Sense Foundation is a founding member), documents what was heard at a series of open forums held across the state in 2004. The people profiled tell compelling stories about how hard it is to find jobs, health care and childcare in a state ravaged by plant closings and job loss.

State leaders talk about making jobs a top priority, but their answer to the problem — huge handouts to big corporations — is not the way to help these folks. Investing in education, job retraining, health care and childcare are much better ways to address the growing needs of the people featured in Not Making It.

To order a copy, contact the Common Sense Foundation (www.common-sense.org).

Juvenile executions halted

As of March 1, it’s no longer OK for state governments to kill their own children. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that executing juveniles amounts to cruel and unusual punishment (among other things) and is therefore unconstitutional.

The stunning decision by the conservative court has an immediate and direct impact on North Carolina’s death row. Four inmates there were younger than 18 when they committed the crimes for which they were sentenced to death; in all likelihood, this decision will result in new sentences for them.

Another inmate, formerly on death row but now awaiting a re-sentencing hearing, will also be ineligible for execution due to his age. And in the future, prosecutors will no longer be able to seek the death sentence for children.

The death-penalty debate has advanced slowly but inexorably in many venues. In 2003, the state Senate passed a bill halting executions for two years while the broken capital-punishment system could be studied, but the bill never reached the House floor.

What about the loopholes?

Surely banks racking up record profits can afford to pay their taxes. But judging by Gov. Mike Easley‘s proposed budget for this year, you wouldn’t think so.

As the General Assembly considers the governor’s budget proposal and crafts its own version, state legislators will have plenty to think about. Easley has proposed balancing the state budget on the backs of the poor and working class in North Carolina while giving tax breaks to the wealthy and corporate interests.

Raising cigarette excise taxes and other sin taxes, talking up a regressive lottery, and continuing the over-reliance on the regressive sales tax all show a reckless disregard for the less well-off. And while cutting taxes on the state’s wealthiest while ignoring expensive corporate loopholes may fall under the banner of “helping the job creators,” such strategies smack of coddling those who already benefit the most from our economy. Whatever happened to the politics of personal responsibility? And why is this basic concept conveniently forgotten whenever anyone suggests that the rich pay their fair share?

There’s been no serious discussion of closing any significant corporate loopholes — not even the infamous bank-tax loophole, which is unique to North Carolina and has been estimated to cost the state $100 million a year. Over the past two decades, the relative share of the tax burden paid by N.C. corporations has fallen sharply.

When will trickle-down, voodoo economics lose its grip on state leaders’ psyches? It’s time for our legislators to put on the brakes!

Local lottery a loser

Rumor has it that lottery advocates may be pushing for a “local-option lottery” in 2005. A similar bill was laughed at last session, but it may be part of a more serious effort this year.

Local-option laws (such as liquor by the drink and certain sales taxes) allow county residents to vote on whether they want to take part. The 2003 local-option-lottery proposal called for participating counties to get 25 percent of the net revenue, with the rest going into the state’s general fund (vaguely earmarked for education).

This is nothing but a back-door attempt to sneak a lottery into North Carolina, similar to the lottery-referendum trial balloons that have been deflated by charges of unconstitutionality.

From a public-policy standpoint, however, a local-option lottery would be even worse than a statewide lottery. There’s no need to rehearse why the latter is terrible public policy (go to www.common-sense.org/?fnoc=/common_sense_says/css and click on 04-99). But a local-option lottery adds two more reasons to oppose the whole idea.

First, it would pit county against county and victimize those that don’t participate (by taking money from residents of those counties who do play) — much as lottery shills claim that North Carolina is now being victimized by the surrounding lottery states. Extending that victimization to the county level is wrong, and state representatives shouldn’t tolerate it.

Second, a local-option lottery would do even less than a statewide lottery would to fill the hole in the state budget. At most, a statewide lottery might bring $400 million to the state’s general fund annually. And since 25 percent of the net proceeds from a local-option lottery would go to the participating counties and not every county would opt in, it would barely put a dent in the state’s budget deficit — projected to be nearly $2 billion.

In other words, making a lottery local-option defeats much of the reason for having one in the first place. Sounds like a terrible idea made even worse.

[Charlotte native David Mills is executive director of the Common Sense Foundation (www.common-sense.org). A resident of Durham since 1996, he holds an undergraduate degree in religion from Princeton University and a master’s degree from Union Theological Seminary in New York City.]

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