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There are good choices for NC to be made in the upcoming legislative session

There is something dangerous happening in North Carolina.

While we give our all as parents, teachers, neighbors, and volunteers to ensure our families have what they need and our communities are better for those to come, some policymakers are blocking us from delivering the quality schools, affordable health care, and good-paying jobs that ensure all of our families can thrive.​

We live in the richest country in the world, in a state with more than enough resources to ensure all of us — Black, brown, or white — have what we need to live in dignity.

However, for more than a decade, our policy process and policymakers have redirected the resources that our work has created to profitable corporations and the wealthy.  The thinking dominating state policymaking that we are better served by private action than public goods has put a stranglehold on what is possible in each successive legislative session and moved our public process even further from what most of us actually experience every day.

I write this post as we head into what will be my 12th year of analyzing how legislative proposals, the budget, and debate among policymakers are moving our state forward in getting to the root causes of hardship and inequality. Unfortunately, over these years, our state leaders haven’t done nearly enough.

Despite the pessimism around me, I remain forever optimistic, and here’s why.

We can come together to call on our legislators to create the foundation for a more just, prosperous, and healthy future for us all.

We have done it before in North Carolina — when poverty blocked opportunity, we designed a national model for fighting hardship. Across the country we have seen that when we come together to demand our policymakers act, we can secure free vaccines to fight a pandemic and stimulus checks that help people struggling to make ends meet.

During the past two years, we collectively witnessed the damaging and disproportionate effects of underinvestment and exclusion that put communities at greater risk of employment loss, housing insecurity, and COVID-19, but there is still good reason to think that we can move forward on pressing challenges.

We know what works to stabilize households and entire economies. For example, getting income through the federal Child Tax Credit to those most harmed and previously excluded cut poverty nearly in half and kept money flowing through our communities, which stabilized local businesses.

We also have the collective resources right now to attack the root causes of disproportionate harm and lay a foundation for families. If we make sure the wealthy and profitable corporations pay what they owe in taxes, programs that cut poverty could be sustained into the future.

While there may be reason (and rumors) to suggest that our elected leaders will take shortcuts this session to move quickly through the legislative session, we should be very clear of the risks that will create.

  • Federal aid is drying up and we’re still in the middle of a pandemic. Without ensuring that those facing hardship have the income they need to meet the basics, a host of ripple effects throughout communities would extend suffering. Federal income supports to families have nearly all stopped, and wages have not nearly kept up with the rising costs of the basics.
  • Repeating past recoveries will deepen inequalities, ratcheting down our long-term progress rather than leveling up our pathway out of the pandemic downturn. Without keeping inequality in check, the recovery from the pandemic downturn will only build upon the gains for the very well-off in the last recovery, growing inequality and threatening the sustainability of our economy and democracy. The stock market has delivered unprecedented gains to households at the very top, and corporations have reaped record profits.
  • Leaving demonstrated vulnerabilities will keep us less resilient in the face of future threats to well-being, whatever form they take. Without committing to durable public institutions that can respond and connect with every community, we will not make progress toward building the ability to bounce back quickly from future shocks in ways that don’t exclude communities with low incomes and Black, Indigenous, and other people of color.

Fund our lives, fund our future

As the second year of a two-year budget, the direction that elected leaders wanted to aim our state was set in 2021. Over the next decade, that direction would deliver tax breaks to profitable corporations and very wealthy individuals with no regard for what may be happening in NC communities and for families.

So while this year is typically reserved for revisions or tweaks to the budget, this legislative session presents an opportunity for us to demand that our shared resources deliver the programs, schools and supports all of our families need. ​

This session, our elected leaders can resource a future in North Carolina where every family can do well and every community is resilient.  It will take will. It will take us all engaging to support those who would stand with the priorities people have identified as urgent.  Together, we can demand our lawmakers rewrite the rules so nothing stands in the way of us providing a great life for our families.​

When we join together to make wealthy corporations pay what they owe our country through taxes, we will make this a place where we all have what we need to overcome our challenges and keep our families safe and well. For more than a decade in North Carolina, certain elected leaders have rigged the rules so the powerful few divert the wealth our work creates to the rich and corporations, taking resources from the rest of our communities. Imagine what we could do if the rich and wealthy corporations paid what they owe.

Policy choices for the people this year

Repealing income tax rate reductions scheduled for the next decade, to keep the personal income tax at 4.99 percent and the corporate income tax rate at 2.5 percent, would provide billions to prepare our kids for the future, keep our communities healthy, and demand the programs all our families need.

We can help people realize their full potential by guaranteeing a basic level of income to ensure their well-being and build a foundation for them to thrive. Wealthy corporations have refused to pay people the true value of our work, and people across the state continue to face barriers to making ends meet and living in dignity. 

Policy choices for the people this year

A refundable tax credit for working families that gets people back more of what they earn through an Earned Income Tax Credit and a refundable Child Tax Credit, modeled after the successful federal program that cut child poverty in half, are foundational tax policies that better recognize the problem facing families with low incomes who are asked to carry a heavy tax load. Increasing the benefit level in the state’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program to keep up with the rising cost of housing and removing the required parent contribution for households with low incomes to access child-care assistance would put income in the hands of families struggling to make ends meet.

No matter what we look like or where we come from, most of us believe in caring for our families and leaving things better for those to come. North Carolina can demonstrate how we show up for each other by delivering the quality public education, affordable health care, and good-paying jobs that ensure all of our families can thrive.

Policy choices for the people this year

Providing quality, affordable child care in every community so that families are supported in securing their children’s healthy development requires state funding for the early childhood system that better matches the cost of delivering care and paying educators for the value of their work.  Delivering on the constitutional requirement affirmed under Leandro that every children receive a sound, basic education can strengthen opportunities for us all. Removing barriers to food assistance will ensure North Carolinians who are looking but haven’t found jobs can continue to receive food assistance as long as they need it and that North Carolinians who have certain drug-related convictions can receive food assistance when they have completed all aspects of their sentence. Ensuring North Carolinians have access to health care through Medicaid expansion must be combined with reinforcing the state’s public health infrastructure and making sure rural hospitals and providers in every part of the state stay open to serve families.

When we provide resources like broadband infrastructure, access to capital, and programs to help people expand their businesses to people in the communities that have been denied resources for decades, we enable them the opportunity to thrive and build wealth with their communities.  North Carolina has too often looked outside our state to wealthy corporations rather than focusing on the entrepreneurs and working people already in our communities.

Policy choices for the people this year

Building from the North Carolina Small Business Plan, providing small business support and centralized access to public contracts through the Office of Historically Underutilized Businesses can stabilize businesses owned by people of color that were hardest hit during the pandemic. Providing support to business owners seeking to transition to employee ownership can retain jobs and build wealth. Targeting broadband and water and wastewater infrastructure development to underserved areas will provide a foundation for every community to thrive and prosper.

This session, I look forward to joining with you to demand our shared resources deliver the programs, schools, and supports all of our families need. ​ Nothing should stand in the way of us providing a great life for our families.​