By Senator Foushee, News of Orange Column:
By official standards, the Great Recession ended eight years ago this summer. But the effects of the Great Recession have lingered, and some would argue that our economy has been permanently altered by it.
Certainly, the recession seems to stretch on for many communities across North Carolina. According to the recent employment report from the NC Department of Commerce, we have 80 counties with unemployment rates higher than the national average. Some remain in double digits, with Hyde County struggling with a 16 percent unemployment rate.
Add to that the thousands of people in this state that are underemployed and it is clear that we still have a long way to go to truly see that Carolina Comeback so often talked about.
From a fiscal standpoint, we’ve made modest gains through Republican spending cuts and tax cuts. It has served the state well to stabilize our economy.
But it’s time to turn the page and move North Carolina beyond the post-recession status quo. It’s time to reinvest in North Carolina again.
When it comes to money, the ideological debate between Republicans and Democrats goes something like this: tax and spend liberals versus fiscal watchdog conservatives.
The reality is much more complex.
But Republicans and Democrats need to take a hard look at where North Carolina is today and where we need to go in order to remain competitive in the 21st century global market.
Through the later part of the last century, North Carolina has made major investments in infrastructure, economic development plans and education that paid off in a big way for our state. From Smart Start to the Research Triangle Park, the frame work has been established to move North Carolina forward as an innovator and a leader.
But we are falling behind again. As it stands now, we are losing talented state workers to the private sector because they haven’t seen a significant pay raise in several years; our continued failure to fully fund our classrooms has school systems debating whether they should eliminate arts and physical education classes or increase class sizes. We are not meeting our core responsibilities as a state, and the people of North Carolina are paying the price.
Our top priority should be our people.
So it was incredibly discouraging to see Senate Bill 325 filed by Republicans last week. Rather than investing in our schools and our roads, Republicans again want to push a billion-dollar tax cut bill – some are for working families, most are for corporations. Historically, Republican tax cuts have benefitted the wealthiest North Carolinians. The NC Budget & Tax Center reports that 80 percent of the cumulative tax cuts since 2013 go to the wealthiest 20 percent of the people in the state.
And Republicans want more. How can they advocate for a billion dollar tax cut and then, in the same breath, say that state employees will have to pay higher insurance premiums and that there is inadequate funding for state mandated smaller class sizes?
Reducing our revenue further when the state is not meeting its financial responsibilities is fiscally irresponsible and would widely benefit corporations.
How then will we cover the art teacher’s salary? How then will we repair roads and bridges? How then will we provide nutrition and healthcare for the most vulnerable citizens?
We can do better for North Carolina – we’ve seen what happens when we invest in our people. Let’s do it again, and find common ground with Governor Cooper and legislative Republicans so that we can responsibly invest in our state’s resources.