Give Us a Budget
North Carolina needs a budget. With half the fiscal year gone (the year began July 1,… Continue Reading
Date: Advent 2 – Dec. 8, 2013
Topic: Responsible Leadership
Focus Text: Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19
If we are willing to read Psalm 72 with the early church as pointing to Christ and his kingship, we may see in the ministry of Jesus concrete steps which the church can take in serving the poor and needy among us in our local communities. In Jesus’ ministry and teaching, we come to glimpse a picture of the Kingdom of God with its eternal justice for the poor.
SalonEvery week prayers and gospel songs infuse the air and participants offer blessings to the latest batch of 100 or so activists entering the Raleigh General Assembly building to commit civil disobedience. If you’re not from here, it may all seem a little counter-intuitive: A movement for inclusive and just secular governance that is deeply inflected with Christian ethics and arguments.
The General Assembly has adjourned its 2013 session after a final cascade of disappointing and disturbing bills that now await review by Gov. Pat McCrory. Among the bills approved are ones that will make it less convenient for many citizens to vote and that weaken regulatory oversight of the environment.
There was at least one bright spot, as the House rejected a last-minute push by the Senate to speed up the environmentally risky natural gas extraction process known as fracking. But on the whole, legislators succeeded in putting the crowning touches on a session devoted to a conservative agenda the likes of which modern North Carolina has never before seen.
It could be said that the elephant – symbol of the Republicans who control North Carolina’s General Assembly and governor’s office — has labored and brought forth a mouse. But this is a mouse with sharp teeth.
After weeks of effort, the legislature’s Republican majorities and Gov. Pat McCrory have agreed on a spate of changes to the state’s tax laws centered on cuts in personal and corporate income taxes. The cuts aren’t as deep as some conservatives wanted. Still, they will sap revenues that finance the entire portfolio of state programs and services.
The News & ObserverThese are difficult times. We pray that our lawmakers and governor will demonstrate compassion for our fellow North Carolinians who need food, clothing, health care and shelter and for the many charitable nonprofit organizations that provide this support.
I finally had the chance to go my first Moral Monday earlier this week. Walking around Halifax Mall with our Executive Director, George Reed, I was struck by how many people we both knew. I’m deeply proud of the involvement by clergy and faith communities in particular. So many of our members are represented not only in the crowd but also in the faces of those participating in civil disobedience and getting arrested. As we celebrate Independence Day this week, we give thanks not only for the many freedoms our country offers, but in particular for the countless faithful voices speaking up and speaking out for those who are being pushed to the margins by this General Assembly.
As rabbis at this week’s event told reporters, the civil disobedience was not an option of first resort – Republican legislators repeatedly blew off meeting requests from clergy who are eager to discuss the impact the North Carolina GOP’s policies have on the common good. As the movement has gained steam, some politicians have resorted to insulting Moral Mondays participants. The governor dismissed it all as an effort led by “outsiders,” and one state legislator dubbed it “Moron Mondays.” It brings to mind Gandhi’s saying, “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”
Tune in as George Reed, our Executive Director here at the NC Council of Churches, explains the legislative process in North Carolina. How can “ordinary citizens” get involved? What strategies can we use to be as effective as possible? Listen as George crams 25 years of experience into one jam-packed hour.
A leader against economic injustice and two longtime advocates on the Council’s board have received the North Carolina Council of Churches’ highest honors.
Gene Nichol received the Faith Active in Public Life Award. Barbara Volk and Sydnor Thompson II were recognized with Distinguished Service awards. All three were presented at the Council’s 2013 Legislative Seminar which took place April 11 at St. Mark’s United Methodist Church in Raleigh.
Alexandra Forter Sirota (Director) and Cedric Johnson (Policy Analyst) from the NC Budget and Tax Center explain the debate about North Carolina’s tax system and offer a vision of a more progressive tax structure for the state. You can download and listen to the podcast above.
Speaking to 200 social justice advocates, Gene Nichol delivered a powerful luncheon address at the Council’s 2013 Legislative Seminar held April 11 at St. Mark’s United Methodist Church in Raleigh. He received the Council’s Faith Active in Public Life Award at the Seminar for his “courageous, dedicated, humane and compassionate witness in the political arena.” Rev. George Reed, the Council’s Executive Director, introduced Nichol by saying in part, “To know Gene is to see the embodiment of Catholic social teaching about social justice and the common good.”
The challenge of faith communities is not to deduct a set of moral principles from scripture that houses a model for a fair tax system. There are no formulas or bureaucratic maps that arise out of biblical texts that we might apply to our current context and tax system that will magically make the system fair. Rather, the biblical texts provide a framework to understand the Christian witness towards the common good and a Christian ethic of love and care for the vulnerable and exploited.
The General Assembly on Monday overrode Governor Perdue’s vetoes of three bills. By doing so they gutted the Racial Justice Act, revised the budget for 2012-13, and moved ahead with fracking. The outcome was not in doubt in the Senate. In fact, several Senate Democrats had excused absences and didn’t even show up for the votes. The drama was in the House.
The General Assembly leadership is committed to having this short session truly be short, and there’s talk of adjourning by early July. In fact, an adjournment resolution was introduced yesterday with a target date of June 19. This session, which starts in May of even-numbered years, is primarily to tweak the second year of the budget adopted the year before. In addition, certain bills which were introduced last year (mostly ones which passed in one house) can be considered. For a new bill to be introduced this year, it must fit into one of a few specific categories, with most new bills having to do with budgetary matters or coming from a study commission which met during the interim. Finally, pending veto overrides are also thought by the House and Senate leadership to be eligible for consideration.
The Spring 2012 Church Council Bulletin includes photographs from the Council’s recent Critical Issues Seminar, an update on items of interest in the General Assembly’s short session, a statement on the passage of Amendment One, the Council’s spring appeal, and more.
IndyWeek.ComGovernor Bev Perdue kicked off the 2012 budget debate today — and (unofficially) kicked off her 2012 re-electon campaign — with a call for increased school funding. Specifically, she wants 3/4ths of that temporary 1-cent sales tax for education back temporarily.
While the Great Recession technically ended in mid-2009, its effects on North Carolina’s workers and families have dragged on. High unemployment and underemployment have led to increases in numerous measures of economic hardship, including hunger. More than two million North Carolinians faced food hardship in 2010.For more than a million individuals in North Carolina facing hunger, the state’s food stamps program provided a vital lifeline. Participation in the program has surged since the start of the recession, with the equivalent of the population of Charlotte being added to the program.
NC Policy WatchIt’s no wonder why our political leaders are scrambling to find solutions, even while bumping heads in the process. Both sides want what’s best for America, but the process through which we work to achieve that has become increasingly contentious and politically charged. And I can’t help but believe that our own personal experiences and beliefs, not the persuasive views of political pundits, ultimately determine on which side of an issue we fall and what we deem worth fighting for.
Let me share a story.
As the “Super Committee” begins to negotiate a deal to cut $1.5 trillion from our national budget, the faith community wants to be sure that our North Carolina congressional delegation – Sens. Richard Burr and Kay Hagan as well as our 13 representatives – remember the calling of the God of all creation to provide for the common good. As the Rev. Dr. James Forbes, a native North Carolinian and senior pastor emeritus of New York’s Riverside Church reminds us, budgets are moral documents that determine who eats and who starves.
The payment of taxes is one of the ways we demonstrate we are an extended family as citizens of this state and nation. While we hardly agree on how much we should be taxed, or how our taxes should be used, there is agreement that the burden falls to all of us in some measure. But here is where my family metaphor breaks down in discussing tax policy. Whereas we would never expect a family member with few resources to pay as much of his or her money for the family’s living expenses as another family member with greater resources, our current tax system does just that. Or worse.
The General Assembly returned to Raleigh in July for what was, in reality, Round Two of its 2011 Long Session. The primary tasks were to take up overrides on bills Governor Perdue had vetoed and to adopt redistricting plans for U.S. Congressional districts and for the state House and Senate.
The 2011 session of the General Assembly adjourned around midday on Saturday, June 18. Legislative leaders and the media are trumpeting the efficiency of the session and the fact that this is the earliest adjournment since 1973. But that is misleading since they aren’t really finished with their work. The adjournment resolution calls them back into a special session on July 13. At that time, they will take up the thorny issue of redistricting as well as controversial bills from the just-ended session which remain in conference committees and any bills vetoed by the Governor.
Budget Edition: Last week the chairs of the House Appropriations Subcommittees started revealing their plans for the 2011-13 budget. Not surprisingly, their plans differ in significant ways from the budget proposed by Governor Perdue. The most important difference is that the House leaders will not approve the continuation of any of the emergency tax increases enacted in 2009.
Governor Bev Perdue on Saturday vetoed H 2, the misnamed “Protect Health Care Freedom” bill. (It should be called the “Freedom to be Uninsured and Unable to Get Health Care” bill.) The bill was an attack on federal health care reform and purported to remove North Carolinians from the mandated purchase of health insurance, which is the basis of federal reform which will move millions of uninsured Americans into the ranks of the insured.
The 2011 General Assembly convened Wednesday for its long session. The politics of this session will be unlike any we have ever known because Republicans are now in the majority in both the House and Senate, and the Governor – with a veto – is a Democrat. We’ve not been here before.Also in this Raleigh Report: Photo ID to Vote, Health Care Reform, State Budget and more.
The Historic Thousands on Jones St. (HK on J) rally and march will take place on February 12 in Raleigh. A coalition of nearly a hundred social justice and community development organizations, including the North Carolina Council of Churches, have banded together to promote this event for the last several years.
The summer’s “short session” of the North Carolina General Assembly convened on May 12, a continuation of the 2009 session. Its primary task will be to adjust the 2010-11 budget adopted last year, though it can also take up bills that made it through one house last year, bills coming from study commissions, and bills amending the state Constitution.
In each year of budget shortfalls, efforts have been made to fix the problem solely through cuts in spending. These proposed cuts have seemed most draconian and inhumane in programs to help people with mental illness, developmental disabilities, and substance abuse problems. But they have also impacted education, environmental protection, health care, abused children, and, in fact, virtually the whole spectrum of vulnerable people assisted by the state. While advocates for these people have succeeded in protecting some services by persuading legislators to raise revenues, many of these revenue-enhancers have been regressive in nature, falling disproportionately on people of low income.
North Carolina faces a financial situation that is easy to summarize: Tax cuts during the last half of the ’90’s have left the state with a revenue stream inadequate to provide the services which are expected by the state’s citizens and to respond to unexpected emergencies. However, because the state’s political climate is less than hospitable towards tax increases, solutions to this situation will be more difficult to implement.
Oliver Wendell Holmes once stated that “taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society.” In order for a civilized society to thrive, taxes at all levels of government must be sufficient to meet the legitimate needs of society, especially the modern equivalents of the biblical widows and orphans.
Recent years have seen a proliferation of “special provisions” in the state budget. While special provisions are not new, their increased use to bypass parts of the legislative process and to weaken the voice of the people is troubling. Special provisions are items included in the state budget that go beyond the mere allocation of state money. Some special provisions are clearly relevant and appropriate in the budget (example: a requirement that certain independent groups receiving state money report back to the General Assembly on how they spend it or a requirement that part of an appropriation be spent in a specific way). Other special provisions have only minimal relationship to the budget (example: increasing the penalties for drug crimes).
The history of the North Carolina Council of Churches is the story of persons, religious leaders struggling to respond in faith to the signs of their times. Sometimes the signs could be clearly read; at other times they had to be discerned through a glass darkly. The records show that the leaders would prefer to be measured in terms of the fullheartedness of their responses rather than the accuracy of their discernment, in terms of their deeds rather than their words. This document outlines the first fifty years of the Council’s work in North Carolina.
Join our dear friend @DavidLaMotte for the public debut of his documentary "Braided Prayer!" Save your virtual seat now to be a part of a live screening AND Q&A with the band and filmmakers. abrahamjam.com/braid… Check out the trailer ⬇ pic.twitter.com/pA9T…
As we celebrate this day, let's also remember that this holiday has been historically commemorated on the harmful stereotypes & racist propaganda of Indigenous peoples. Take a min today to educate yourself & read a blog on TRUTHSGIVING from @dosomething. dosomething.org/us/a…:
Happy Thanksgiving! As we continue to gather virtually & love each other from a distance, we hope you are finding creative and unique ways to celebrate with your loved ones. If so, share a pic with us of how you are celebrating! Tag us & tell us what you are doing this year! pic.twitter.com/Blzn…
As we move into this holiday season, we want to express our gratitude to you for your support throughout this year. We hope that these reflective expressions from our @healthandfaith team remind you how important you are to us. youtube.com/watch?v=…
Take the Cool Congregations Challenge! This is an annual national contest to recognize “Cool Congregations” that are becoming energy efficient & sustainable role models within their communities. Sign up by Dec. 15. Check out more details: coolcongregations.or… @interfaithpower pic.twitter.com/fg1F…
We recognize that the traditional #Thanksgiving holiday has marginalized many Native American and Indigenous communities since its inception. We recognize & hold this pain deeply. Please take time today to learn about this history: smithsonianmag.com/h… @SmithsonianMag
Happy Thanksgiving! It is difficult to be separated from our communities and loved ones, but know that we are so grateful for you, and we are still loving you from a safe distance. #Thanksgiving #Thanksgiving2020 #MindfulTogether pic.twitter.com/0C5k…
We understand the holidays is not a joyful time for everyone. Please practice self-care. For tangible steps on how to prioritize your mental health this holiday season, check out this article: ncchurches.org/2017/… #mindfultogether #mentalhealthandtheholidays #mentalhealth pic.twitter.com/SNDW…
RT @ncchurches Join @interfaithpower tomorrow for a conversational interview with IPL youth climate activists from across the country! The youth webinar will begin at 8:00pm EST. Register now. Don't miss this great event! interfaithpowerandli…
RT @IPLdmv Rev. @mtmalcom of @alinterfaithpl speaks at our closing ceremony here at the DNC. "I'm here today because we have been derelict in our duty to be caretakers of Creation... It is time for Pres-elect @JoeBiden to fix what has been broken." #BidenBeBrave pic.twitter.com/rqhY…
RT @cultivatewithus ✅ Millions of good-paying union jobs ✅ Justice for Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities ✅ COVID relief ✅ The future of our planet and its people ☝️ Just a few of the reasons President-Election @JoeBiden needs to embrace a #GreenNewDeal & a just recovery. #BidenBeBrave pic.twitter.com/SL9g…