- State Budget
- Suggested Action
- Unemployed Workers
- Racial Justice Act
- Health Benefit Exchange
- Interest Rates for Low-Income People
- Age of Jurisdiction for Juvenile Justice
- Discrimination in the State Constitution
- Election Issues
- Contacting State Leaders
The State Budget and Other Items Needing Your Attention
(Editor’s note: This issue of Raleigh Report focuses on a handful of the most important items currently under consideration at the General Assembly. In each case, these are issues significant to members of the RR network, issues on which you have worked hard and often successfully, and they are under challenge by the current majorities in both houses. In order to keep this RR to a manageable size, I am giving you links for more information or suggested action. These links take you to organizations with which we are working on a particular issue. Also note that some of these links give you quick ways to send letters or e-mails to legislators. Let me just add my usual caveat that it’s better to write something in your own words than to use suggested language which may be picked up by multiple writers.)
The 2011-13 state budget was approved by the House and sent to the Senate. While many amendments were proposed and a few adopted, nothing has changed the overall picture that we reported in the April 18 Raleigh Report. Severe cuts, especially in education, human services, and environmental protection, will set the state back years, maybe decades. And, the cuts are sure to produce tens of thousands of lay-offs in positions funded by the state.
The budget passed by the House and up for consideration in the Senate (H 200) has a couple of disturbing new pieces too.
Elimination of the Health and Wellness Trust Fund and Tobacco Trust Fund
These two Funds were part of the tobacco settlement. Health and Wellness supports many important health programs, including tobacco cessation, while the Tobacco Fund helps individuals hurt by the decline of tobacco and supports sustainable agriculture. H 200 would not merely divert their money for a period of time; it would shut down the Funds entirely.
For more information and to take action regarding Health and Wellness, click here.
For Tobacco, click here.
Increases in Fees
House leaders were completely unwilling to balance even part of the budget shortfall with additional revenues, even by continuing temporary increases in the sales tax and income tax which are scheduled to expire. But those same leaders found a whole lot of fees that they were more than willing to increase. And, while there is a certain logic about making the people who use services of state government pay for what they use, some of these increases will place undue burden on people of low income, and all ignore the concept that state government provides some core services which we all benefit from, at least indirectly. Among the fees which would be raised are:
- Drivers Ed classes – local school boards could charge up to $75 for training which has been free. Speaking of services we all benefit from, do you want to be on the highway with new teen-aged drivers who haven’t taken drivers ed because they can’t afford it?
- Court fees – Court costs, which vary based on which court and the kind of case, are mostly at or below $100. They will be increased by around 50%. At the same time, the part of those fees which is used to pay for legal services for poor people will be cut in half, from $2.05 per case to $1.00.
- Agricultural fees – Soil tests, fertilizer inspection fees, licensing and inspection of antifreeze, and a variety of other fees and licenses that most of us do not pay directly would go up.
- Part of the fees we pay to dispose of scrap tires and appliances would be diverted from those uses to the General Fund.
Amazingly . . .
, , , the Senate thinks that the House budget was entirely too generous (dare I say “liberal”?). So they plan to cut it even further.
Even if you’ve already communicated with Senate President Pro Tem Berger and your senator, do it again. The Senate could vote on the budget as early as next week, and we need to flood legislative offices with the message that the proposed cuts, especially in education, human services, and environmental protection, are just too severe. Legislative leaders have said repeatedly that “everything is on the table,” but it’s clear that what they really meant was that everything was on the cutting board, not that any additional tax revenue was still an option.
Any contacts you make with Senate members must be done right away. If you don’t have contact information, see “Contacting State Leaders,” below. Communicate (respectfully, of course) with:
- Your Senator.
- President Pro Tem Phil Berger (NOT Sen. Doug Berger – two different Bergers)
- Governor Bev Perdue – Ask her to veto the state budget if it comes to her with draconian cuts in spending and the elimination of the emergency tax increases.
- Cuts are too severe and will cause the state to fall back years or decades in education, care for vulnerable people, and protection of the environment. If a cut will affect you personally, tell your story.
- The budget should keep at least the emergency tax increases from 2009. The state’s fiscal emergency has not yet gone away. Keeping the 2009 tax increases (on the sales tax and the income tax on the wealthiest) could bring in $1.4 billion in additional revenue. Tell those you contact if you are willing to continue to pay small tax increases in order to protect the common good.
Unemployed Workers Still Waiting for Help
Perhaps the most offensive item in the budget war (so far . . .) is the plight of the 42,000 people in NC – a number which increases each week – whose unemployment benefits have run out while the General Assembly refuses to pass a simple bill which would draw down federal dollars to continue those benefits. That’s right – it wouldn’t cost the state a penny. It would even generate some tax revenue for the state as those unemployment benefits got spent.
Click here for more information from NC Policy Watch.
To take action, communicate with Senate President Pro Tem Berger, House Speaker Thom Tillis, and your senator and representative.
Racial Justice Act
You worked hard two years ago for the passage of the Racial Justice Act, which allows defendants in death penalty cases to introduce statistical evidence of racial bias in their cases. Now the new majority in the House and Senate is moving to gut the Racial Justice Act, apparently unmoved even by new data showing the impact of race on the imposition of the death penalty.
To take action, click here for a link to a site affiliated with People of Faith Against the Death Penalty.
Health Benefit Exchange
H 115 has been modified to reduce, but not eliminate, the influence of the insurance industry and health care providers. But it still leaves providers, insurers, and business in charge of the implementation of federal health care reform. There’s no guaranteed seat, for example, for someone who works with or advocates for the state’s uninsured population. Even the two seats designated for members of the general public who would be likely to qualify for coverage through the HBE could go to a tea partier who is self-employed or someone on the staff of an organization opposed to health care reform.
Increases in Interest Rates for Low-Income People
Current law already allows interest rates of 25% – 54% for small consumer loans, the kind which people of modest means turn to when banks won’t lend them money. H 810 and S 761 would raise those usury caps to as much as 100% or even more.
For more information and suggested action from the Center for Responsible Lending, click here.
For a faith-based sign-on letter, click here.
Age of Jurisdiction for Juvenile Justice
North Carolina is one of only two states which still treat 16- and 17-year-old offenders as adults, not juveniles, regardless of the seriousness of the offense. S 506/H 632 would raise that age of jurisdiction for those who commit misdemeanors and less serious felonies.
For more information and to take action, click here for information from Action for Children.
Bill to Put Discrimination in the State Constitution
S 106/H 777 would place in the state constitution a definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman, a provision already in the state’s statutes. To take action, use the contact information below to be in touch with your Senator and Representative. (Proposed constitutional amendments are not subject to a gubernatorial veto, so there’s no need to contact Gov. Perdue on this one.)
Several bills would make it more difficult to vote and reduce the number of people voting (as if the problem with our representative democracy is that just too darned many of us are turning out to vote). Among the issues are the requirement of having a photo ID, reducing the number of days for early voting, and eliminating Sunday voting (“Souls to the Polls”) and same-day registration during early voting.
Click here for more information from Democracy NC and the NC NAACP.
Click here for action steps from HKonJ and the NC NAACP.
Contacting State Leaders
General Assembly Members
By telephone: All legislative offices can be reached through the legislative switchboard – (919) 733-4111.
By e-mail: Legislative e-mail addresses follow the pattern of <first name dot last email@example.com>. (Example: Speaker Thom Tillis’ address is Thom.Tillis@ncleg.net.) If you have any question about the spelling of your legislator’s name or whether your legislator’s e-mail address uses a nickname, you can confirm addresses at the General Assembly’s web site: www.ncleg.net. Click on “House” or “Senate” and look for Member Lists.
By postal service mail: All legislators can be addressed at: North Carolina General Assembly, Raleigh, NC 27601-1096.
To find out who your legislators are, go to the General Assembly’s web site: www.ncleg.net. Look for “Who Represents Me?” near the top of the homepage. You will find a variety of ways to search, including through your nine-digit ZIP Code. (And there’s a link to the Postal Service if you don’t know yours.) For those without Internet access, local Boards of Elections can be asked for assistance.
A wealth of information is available at the General Assembly’s web site: www.ncleg.net. Look for bill information, texts of all bills, current status and legislative history for bills, information on all members (including e-mail addresses, office telephone numbers, etc.), committee memberships, calendars for the next legislative day, legislative districts, and links to state government agencies. You can even listen in on floor sessions.
By phone: (919) 733-4240
By Fax: (919) 733-2120
Governor Bev Perdue
Office of the Governor
20301 Mail Service Center
Raleigh, NC 27699-0301
By e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org