CHRIS FITZSIMON: Just Who Is The Real Grinch?
While most of Raleigh was trying to assess the impact on the House Speaker's race of Jim Black's decision not to run, the radical right and the elected officials who support them were busy cranking out misguided press releases blasting Gov. Mike Easley about tax policy.
Easley told reporters this week that he was considering a proposal to make part of the temporary sales tax increase passed in 2001 permanent and to use the money to help poor families with an earned income tax credit or other programs.
The General Assembly raised both the sales tax and the income tax on the state's wealthiest taxpayers by half of 1 percent in 2001 with the intention of repealing both when the state's fiscal picture improved.
Last session, lawmakers lowered both tax rates by one-quarter of one percent, and with the other one-quarter scheduled to come off this coming year. Keeping the quarter-cent sales tax increase on the books would bring in $200 million, which lawmakers may need this year to cope with a budget shortfall and to keep making progress on investments in education and human services.
Easley can be fairly criticized for only keeping the sales tax increase and letting the income tax hike on the wealthy disappear. The best policy would be to cut no taxes until the state can make more progress addressing a long list of problems that affect the quality of life in the state, like the shortage of affordable housing, access to health care, and expansion of mental health services.
But the right wing is angry that he may not reduce both taxes. The misnamed group Americans for Prosperity and Senate Minority Leader Phil Berger both sent out press releases Wednesday blasting Easley for breaking a promise to the taxpayers if he proposes leaving the sales tax on the books.
The folks at Americans for Only the Prosperous went so far as to Photoshop a picture of Easley and create a poster of him as the Grinch of North Carolina because he doesn't want to cut taxes.
Apparently Berger and the folks for the Prosperous playing with their new software only want to talk about one promise that state officials have made. What about the promise to single mothers that if they go back to school or take a low-wage job that the state will help with child care? A record 39,000 children currently languish on the waiting list for a child-care subsidy.
What about the promise to families that they will get some help taking care of family members suffering from a disability or a mental illness? Waiting lists exist for those services too.
What about the promise to middle-class families made in the constitution that higher education will be as "free as practicable?" UNC President Erskine Bowles wants to raise tuition at UNC campuses up as much as 26 percent in the next four years.
If we are going to talk about promises to the people of North Carolina, let's talk about all of them, not just the tax cuts that are subject to legislative action every year anyway.
And if we are looking to name a Grinch for this holiday season, folks who never seem to remember children, the mentally ill, and others who are struggling are much better candidates than a governor who is trying to help.
Chris Fitzsimon is the executive director of N.C. Policy Watch.
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