Fitzsimon File

The Follies

The class war on Jones Street continues

It was Robin Hood in reverse again at the General Assembly this week. The House approved tax legislation that will reduce the state Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) that helps low-wage workers and their families. House leaders also made it clear during the debate that they are not inclined to extend the credit when it expires at the end of the year.

The N.C. Budget & Tax Center reports that just over 900,000 low-wage workers claimed the credit in 2011. One of the most outspoken advocates for the EITC as an antipoverty program and a reward for hard work was former President Ronald Reagan, who many Republican lawmakers claim as their political hero. They don’t seem to care much that their hero would be disappointed with their votes against the EITC this week.

The vote on the EITC that affects 900,000 people comes after the House and Senate have voted not to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. That decision denies health care coverage to 500,000 low-income people in the state.

And it comes after the House and Senate slashed unemployment benefits to laid-off workers and decided to deny emergency federal unemployment benefits to 170,000 people who have been unable to find work after losing their jobs through no fault of their own.

If you are keeping score at home, that means less services and benefits or higher taxes for 1,570,000 low-income people in the state.

The House Finance Committee did stand up for some families this week by voting to fully repeal the state estate tax. In 2010 a total of 123 families were impacted by the tax or 2 out of every 1,000 people who passed away that year.

And that was before the threshold for paying the tax was increased to affect only estates valued at more than $5.2 million dollars.

That means that so far this session, the General Assembly has voted to punish more than 1.5 million people at the bottom of economic ladder and give more breaks to roughly 100 families at the very top.

Robin Hood in reverse indeed.

More class war to come

And there is more to come. Leading lawmakers have introduced legislation to allow payday lenders to once again operate in the state and prey upon struggling families with loans with annual interest rates of 300 percent.

And House Speaker Thom Tillis said Thursday that a voter ID bill will be considered in a couple of weeks. Studies show that seniors, people with a disability and low-income adults are less likely to have a government-issued photo.

So it turns out the Republican majorities do want to do something for folks at the bottom of the economic ladder after all. They want to make it harder for them to vote.

A compelling story and a baffling vote

Speaking of the unemployment debate, one person’s story this week made a compelling case for why slashing the benefits was wrong. A Lincoln County man told Sarah Ovaska with NC Policy Watch that he was receiving unemployment benefits for 15 months before he could find a job.

He said he was looking for jobs every day but couldn’t find anything. He described his job loss as emotional because he wanted to work and took pride in working.

“I don’t think you truly know until you’ve been there,” he said “I would go to interviews begging for work and get told I was overqualified.”

That man was Rep. Jason Saine from Lincoln County and he stopped getting benefits when he was appointed to the General Assembly in August of 2011 to replace a retiring legislator and began receiving his legislative salary.

The experience may have humbled Rep. Saine, but it did not stop him from voting to cut off emergency benefits for 170,000 other laid-off workers still looking for a job. (Read Ovaska’s story here)