Fiscal Cliff Notes: all you need to know

  1. Everyone believes we should fix the debt. That’s a no-brainer.
  2. The key question Congress faces is who should pay to reduce the debt. Should the wealthiest 2% of Americans — many of whom helped get us into this mess — help pay or should the middle and lower class bear all the burden?
  3. Generating savings and revenue from any source other than the top 2% shifts the burden to the middle and lower class. Either by broadening the tax code, domestic spending cuts or by cutting entitlement benefits, the middle and lower classes will feel the most pain.
  4. We just had a Presidential election where the question “Who Should Pay?” was the central issue and Barack Obama won.
  5. In fact, a large majority of Americans agree that the top 2% should pay their fair share. According to the Pew Research Center, 64% of Americans support raising taxes on incomes over $250,000 per year.
  6. The best solution to fixing the debt is to get the economy moving again. Allowing the economy to go over the fiscal cliff won’t help the economy either.
  7. Ending the Bush Tax Cuts for the top 2% means a return to the Clinton-era tax rates when the economy was booming.
  8. Unlike tax cuts for the wealthy, middle-class tax cuts can help the economy by getting more cash in the pockets of people looking to buy things. Tax cuts for the top 2% are just another attempt at the failed approach of trickle-down economics.
  9. Some Members of Congress are holding the middle-class hostage to tax cuts for the rich. The Senate has already approved extending Bush Tax Cuts for the lower 98% and the President is ready to sign the bill if the House will act.  House Republicans claim they have a mandate for gridlock because they maintain a House majority.  But Democrats in the House got more votes on election day than Republicans did.
  10. Despite the bombast and rhetoric, small businesses are protected. 97% of all small businesses are under the $250,000 threshold. Even if they are not, the tax rates are marginal – meaning only income about the threshold is taxed at a higher rate.  That means if a small business makes $250,100, only $100 is taxed at the higher rate, while $250,000 is taxed at the lower rate.

It’s just plain wrong. Period.

fatcatNC GOP leaders chose fat cats over our state’s children in this year’s budget debate — and they really don’t want you to notice.

It’s one of the most revealing chapters from this year’s General Assembly session. And it’s one that perfectly illustrates the far right’s misguided priorities for our state. Here’s what happened: Senate Republicans used a procedural gimmick during the recent state budget debate in order to dodge a vote on closing a tax loophole for NC’s wealthiest residents. Their tax loophole for millionaires is going to cost NC $336 million in annual revenues during a time in which our public schools face a $500 million funding gap.

Learn more here and sign our petition that condemns Senate Republicans and asks Governor Perdue to veto the budget if it has this provision in it.

Time to take a look in the mirror

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Update: After Governor Perdue vetoed the legislation described below, both the NC Senate and the NC House voted to override her veto — making North Carolina once again a state where the color of your skin determines whether you live or die.

We’ve seen some low points in North Carolina General Assembly moral leadership since it fell under the control of the far right faction of the GOP, but we truly hit a new low last week when 67 Republican and five Democratic members of the NC House went on record as saying it is okay for the color of a person’s skin to determine whether they live or die.

Hiding Behind Closed Doors

This successful effort to institutionalize racism in our judicial system began, as many cowardly moves do, behind closed doors, when a bill about school buses was hijacked by House GOP members and loaded with amendments that crippled NC’s groundbreaking 2009 Racial Justice Act. Unable to repeal the Act in daylight, House leadership resorted, as is their habit, to closed meetings and obscure procedures to get their way. However much the wording of SB416 changed, though, its essential intent remained the same: by making it impossible for death row inmates to 1) prove racism led to their death sentences and 2) if successful, have their sentences converted to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, lawmakers voting for SB416 put our state on record as saying it’s okay in North Carolina for the color of a person’s skin to determine whether they live or die.

Every single Republican member of the NC House and five conservative Democrats endorsed this belief. Take a look at most of the Republicans supporting the bill here.  These are the faces of people willing to live with the fact that, thanks to them, North Carolina may once again allow the color of a person’s skin to determine whether they live or die. They were joined by these five Democrats: Jim Crawford of Oxford, Bill Owens of Elizabeth City, William Brisson of Bladen County, Dewey Hill of Columbus County and Timothy Spear of Washington County. Not surprisingly, you won’t find a person of color among these ranks.

Moral Tap Dancing to an Immoral Tune

The lawmakers who voted for SB416 won’t tell you that they support one system of justice for white people and another for people with darker skin. In fact, they will deny it even as their actions make it inevitable. They cannot face such appalling moral weakness in themselves. So instead of owning up to it, far right lawmakers did what they always do when they don’t want to face their own insupportable moral arguments: they rejected the science at work (in this case, statistics), and they evaded responsibility for outright repealing the law (in this case, by drowning it in rules that render it useless and calling it “reform”).

Most of all, though, they climbed up on their moral high horses and sought to deflect attention from what they were about to do. They talked, with righteous indignation, of guilt and innocence (even though the Racial Justice Act does not change guilty verdicts) and of protecting the public (even though the Racial Justice Act does not free anyone, ever). The longer and louder they talked, the more it became apparent that even these lawmakers knew, on some level, that what they were doing was wrong, that it is morally repugnant to institutionalize the belief that it is okay for the color of a person’s skin to determine whether they live or die.

Some had more trouble than others convincing themselves that they were not bad people. Nelson Dollar had to wax long, and then even longer, to justify his support for SB416. “This is about monsters,” Dollar said. “Monsters. Evil people doing unspeakable, inhuman acts. That’s what this is about.” All that, even though the bill at hand… wasn’t about that. Not at all. Not unless you think it is monstrous for a society to condone letting the color of a person’s skin determine whether they live or die.

Many lawmakers also talked of justice, but they were not talking of justice for people of color. Not one of them stood up to advocate that, instead of disabling the Racial Justice Act, steps should be taken to ensure a single justice system for all people, regardless of their skin color. Certainly, none of them suggested that white “monsters” be put to death at higher rates in order to rectify the appalling double standard in sentencing. Instead, they voted to reinstate a system that lets the color of a person’s skin determine whether they live or die. They were perfectly willing to accept that trade-off in return for their chance to grandstand.

Make Them Own It

The 67 Republicans and five Democrats who voted to gut the Racial Justice Act don’t want you to notice that they support letting the color of a person’s skin determine whether they live or die. They want you to believe that they are champions of law and order, that they are speaking up for the victims, that they are simply saving the state a few bucks. Don’t believe them. If they are going to pass laws that say it is okay, here in North Carolina, for the color of a person’s skin to determine whether they live or die — than make them own that belief. Hold them to it on the campaign trail and make sure that every single person you know who has ever been affected by racial prejudice understands that these lawmakers believe it is okay for racism to play a role in life and death decisions.

What You Can About It

SB416 is now headed for the North Carolina Senate. If you do not believe it is okay for the color of a person’s skin to determine whether they live or die, then sign this petition calling to protect the Racial Justice Act. It emails your state senator and NC House rep automatically as well. Or visit here and tell your state reps that a civilized society does not impose different sets of rules for citizens based on their skin color. Tell them to reject SB416 and all it stands for. Let them know that, while their own moral underpinnings may be shaky, you are standing on firm ground, thank you very much, and quite sure that it’s wrong to let the color of a person’s skin determine whether they live or die.

Dragging Our State Backwards

Once again, North Carolina’s state legislators are passing a budget that takes our state backwards. They’re making deep cuts to vital public investments like public schools, community colleges, health care and infrastructure. It doesn’t have to be this way. Lawmakers can make better choices about revenues and choose to align their priorities with the priorities of the people of North Carolina. Join our friends at Together NC for an upcoming action in Raleigh to demonstrate that the legislature’s state budget takes our state back in time by registering here:

Together NC will provide T-shirts and refreshments. We hope to see you there!

Tell NC lawmakers it’s time to face the facts:

Lawmakers will be back in session on Wednesday and they are staring at a $750 MILLION HOLE in North Carolina’s K-12 public school budget. The Chairman of the State Board of Education knows we’re in troubleSchool superintendents know we’re in trouble. Parents and students know their schools are in trouble. Even the media knows our schools are in trouble. All of these are reasons why Gov. Perdue devoted much of her budget this year to trying to save our schoolsDespite this consensus that our school system is in peril, GOP leaders continue to insist that they added classroom staff last year, rather than cutting the thousands of teachers and teaching assistants who were laid off. They continue to deny that our schools and our children are suffering, despite the relentless and overwhelming evidence to the contrary. 

Tell NC’s lawmakers to listen to school superintendents and make badly-needed changes in our public school budget policies.

Please sign our petition to lawmakers today.


Why we fight

Progress North Carolina fights to preserve many things that make NC great. But no issue has been more important to us then the battle to save public education in our state. Under the guise of fiscal responsibility, the far right has attacked our public schools by ramming through devastating budget cuts and turning our teachers into public villains. In doing so, they have attacked the heart of what makes North Carolina great. Progress NC has responded by fighting back on-the-ground, in the media, online and in the halls of state government. Why do we fight so hard? Here’s why:

NC Education - flag.jpgEducation built modern North Carolina. It allowed us to transition from an agricultural economy to one that now includes some of the most innovative ventures in the world. In doing so, it helped our state escape the poverty that too many other states suffer. Strong public schools and a well-prepared workforce have led to North Carolina consistently ranking at the very top of the best places in America for families and employers alike. Most of all, the breadth of our state’s commitment to education, from Pre-K and Smart Start all the way through to our community colleges and public universities, has proved North Carolina’s willingness to invest in its citizens and to support their right to work hard, be rewarded for that work and shape their own destinies.

NC education crowd- diversified.jpgCritics of public education say that it is too expensive. They take isolated incidences of failure and attempt to paint the entire public education system as worthless. They talk of expenses and nothing of the benefits. They highlight the problems while ignoring the lessons of the successes. In short, they have wrapped the reality around their beliefs rather than basing their beliefs on the reality. Education is not the single greatest expense of our government — it is the single greatest investment that our government makes. And it provides the greatest, most enduring return of any investment our government makes. Why? Because public education makes America possible. It nurtures the success of the individual and remains essential to keeping the promise of the American dream alive. It is the great equalizer and the only thing left in our society that keeps us from fragmenting into a country of haves and have-nots. Public education lets people born into poverty lift themselves out of that poverty and build a better life for their families. It creates leaders and problem-solvers who keep our state moving forward into the future. In short, it is the last thing on earth we should sacrifice to the “no taxes for any reason” crowd.

NC Education - college students.jpgWhen Progress North Carolina decided to take the lead in holding the GOP leaders in the General Assembly responsible for their cuts to education, we suspected we would find support for our position on both sides of the aisle. After all, some of the strongest supporters of public schools in North Carolina have been Republicans and our education system has long been a source of bipartisan pride. But we have been both surprised and gratified to find that protecting public education truly is a nonpartisan issue, important to Democrats, Republicans and Unaffiliateds alike. As we have traveled around the state, holding lawmakers responsible, we have been welcomed by North Carolinians of all stripes and from all economic classes who are willing to join us in our fight to save public education. In a world as politically polarized as ours, it is remarkable to find such common agreement and further proof of public education’s importance to our lives.

 Could public education in North Carolina be improved? Absolutely. In many instances, we have adopted a one-size-fits-all approach to its challenges with poor results and we must back off from these failed solutions and acknowledge that, like politics, good education may very well be local. Can we cut costs? Possibly. We can certainly deploy education funding in more strategic ways, putting it where it will do the most good. But we cannot intelligently reform education by cutting its budget first and asking questions later, as the General Assembly did last year. Nor can we reform education intelligently by shutting teachers out of the process and making them the enemy — they are the only ones in a position to know what truly works where it matters the most: on the frontline, where our children sit and learn. And we certainly cannot reform education intelligently if we rely on the advice of those who stand to profit handsomely from the failure of our public schools.

NC Education - kids.jpgReal reform of our schools will take adopting a far different approach than the one our General Assembly employed last year. It will take better planning, the input of many and it most certainly will take a more open mind on the part of GOP leaders in Raleigh. They must begin by listening to those who work within and who are invested in the success of our public school system, including our state’s renowned educational experts, school superintendents, teachers, families and even students. It can be done. There is room at the table for everyone. But we cannot allow those who do not have a stake in our public schools to drive their reform — and that includes for-profit educational interests who stand to make money off their demise. It is foolish to believe that inviting the fox into the henhouse will yield anything but mayhem in return.

Don’t let our state’s leaders sacrifice public education simply to satisfy the vocal demands of an extremist base unwilling to back any government-financed program. Don’t let them cripple public education so business interests can profit. Don’t let them use fiscal responsibility as an excuse to gut the most important investment in the future that our state makes. Demand that they leave ideology out of the equation. Join Progress North Carolina in asking that our state take a more thoughtful, inclusive approach to saving our public education system.

We have seen the support for our schools on the ground. We know that it is out there. Our hope is that education will become a common ground for all North Carolinians, one that inspires us to work together to turn our public schools into a shining example of a modern system that serves students effectively while respecting those who are charged with their  education. North Carolina once led the nation in public education and we can lead it again. We just have to acknowledge how important it is and try.

Propaganda on wheels falls flat

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A mobile billboard is probably the safest place for the wild claim that the state budget actually added teachers. Before someone can corner the gypsy accountant with the real numbers — like the fact that there are 915 fewer teachers and 2,045 fewer teaching assistants in North Carolina’s classrooms this year — the wheels are rolling, the bullet points are blurry and back on the road, and people are left to scratch their heads. Soccer moms have to switch lanes. They don’t have time to look closer. Art Pope probably likes it that way.

So after dumping half a million dollars in deceptive ads onto the TV airwaves, Americans for Prosperity and the Civitas Institute billed their billboard tour as an effort to take their “message to large cities and small towns across North Carolina.” They hope people swallow the propaganda on the air and, now, on the ground. 


But if public interest in their mobile billboard is any sign of public support for the slick TV ads and their misleading slogans on schools, the extremist agenda on education may be too much for parents to believe. There are no press gatherings to greet the billboard. No grassroots rallies. No TV news cameras jockeying for good shots. Judging from the public and media indifference, an old bromide comes to mind about a tree falling in the forest and no one hearing it. Is this billboard tour for real? Is it really happening? Well yes, actually it is, and here are the pictures to prove it. But it’s more of a vanity parade, with the billboard’s promoters taking the pictures, not the local press (that’s a staffer of Americans For Prosperity shown at left).

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In fact, most newspapers refused to cover the “NC Real Solutions” tour, even as the mobile nonsense pulled straight up to the front door of newspapers in Greensboro, Winston-Salem, Monroe and other towns.  At right is the billboard pulling away from the High Point Enterprise before editors there said thanks, but no thanks.

But hey, below is a newspaper photo by Donnie Roberts at the Lexington Dispatch showing the only crowd which gathered to see the billboard on Day One of the tour. The only problem for billboard organizers: these were opponents of the tour who  gathered to refute the “NC Real Distortions.” 

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If hands could speak, those waves would say, “Quit cutting schools, and start leveling with parents and the public.”