Pledges, TABORITES, and the numbers

Pledges, TABORITES, and the numbers

- in Fitzsimon File

The misnamed group Americans for Prosperity is asking candidates for the General Assembly to sign a pledge to support the even more misleadingly named Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR).

The measure calls for a constitutional amendment to limit state spending every year to a formula based on inflation and population growth. Versions of TABOR are in effect in states around the country, most notably Colorado, which has sharply fallen in national rankings of quality of life measures since voters approved the amendment in the early 1990s.

The restrictions of TABOR were so damaging that Republican Governor Bill Owens, a darling of the right wing and former TABOR hardliner, led a successful effort last fall in which voters decided to loosen some of the amendment’s requirements.

A Republican member of the Colorado State Senate appeared at the Emerging Issues Forum in Raleigh last February and detailed the many problems with TABOR and urged North Carolina not to adopt it.

Still the inane pledge drive is here, run by folks who keep telling us that North Carolina has a spending problem, and that the budget passed by the General Assembly this summer wasted a $2 billion surplus.

In fact, the same organization circulated a letter to all state lawmakers from the radical right-winger Grover Norquist demanding that the General Assembly return the entire surplus to the taxpayers and not increase spending by a dime.

Thankfully, lawmakers ignored Norquist and the reactionary Taborites and passed one of the best budgets in years, investing in education and finally starting to address the human service crisis in the state.

The latest issue of BTC Reports from the NC Budget and Tax Center concludes that lawmakers made smart investments, but may face a shortfall next session, especially if they follow through on promises to lower taxes again.

The report includes numbers that candidates ought to keep in mind when approached by pledge-seekers. The final budget put $546 million in savings and used $388 million to cut taxes, leaving roughly $1.5 billion for new spending. 

Pay raises for teachers and state employees cost $689 million and were widely supported. So too were measures to help poor and struggling schools and to restore budget cuts that combined cost $113 million.  That adds up to roughly $800 million.

Then add $90 million in teacher bonuses as part of the ABC program, also widely supported and  $155 million for enrollment increases at public schools, universities and community colleges, which is hardly an optional expense and now you are at $1.045 billion that’s accounted for.

Republicans and Democrats all praised this session’s $85 million effort to help the mentally ill and the $27 million to cap the counties share of Medicaid costs. Now $1.157 billion is spent. 

Add in $27 million to help the overcrowded court system, $34 million for children by funding Smart Start and reducing the waiting list for a child care subsidy, and $21 million for financial aid for college students and the total bill $1.249 billion.

Then there are investments like equipment for community colleges, the construction of an emergency management operations center, money to help kids in foster care and to make it easier for children to be adopted.  Add in a few new overdue university buildings and that’s how the $1.5 billion was invested with support from Democrats and Republicans in the General Assembly.

If Norquist had his way, none of the programs would have been funded. If TABOR had been in effect, almost half of the investments would not have been allowed.  Lawmakers would have had to choose between paying for more kids in schools and taking care of the mentally ill.  

That’s not what we need our lawmakers to do, decide which people in the state should suffer.  We don’t need them pledging their allegiance to simplistic, but dangerous ideas either. It’s all pretty clear once you look at the numbers behind the demagoguery.