If you were wondering if the tea party crazy train was slowing down in Raleigh these days, the beginning of this week ought to remove any doubt. It’s actually picking up steam as it drags North Carolina further to the right and further out of the mainstream.
The headline event was the long-awaited unveiling of the tax “reform” plan of the far-right Senate leadership, complete with its own website and slickly produced video featuring Senate President Pro Tem and likely U.S. Senate candidate Phil Berger standing in a factory while animation presenting misleading facts appear over his shoulder.
Berger says that North Carolina has the 44th “worst tax burden” in the country, citing the conservative Tax Foundation. Berger ignores the analysis from the General Assembly’s own Performance Evaluation Division that puts the state tax code in the middle of the pack among the 50 states.
The political commercial also included promises of lower income and sales taxes for everybody with an even bigger omission. A calculation using tools provided by the same Tax Foundation shows that it’s likely the Senate plan would mean a single mom with two children earning $20,000 a year would pay $1,000 more in state taxes over the next three years while a millionaire would pay $55,000 less.
Berger says the Senate will pay for the plan by “holding the line” on spending. That’s political speak for more massive budget cuts, about a billion dollars worth—roughly the cost of the entire community college system.
The Senate plan is not reform at all. It’s Robin Hood in reverse, forcing low and moderate income families to pay more to give the wealthy a huge break, while slashing more funding from education and human services sand the rest of the government they loathe in the process.
It’s straight out of the Pope-tea-party playbook.
But it is not just about taxes so far this week. The gun zealots had their way too, as the House passed legislation allowing loaded and hidden handguns in bars and restaurants, university campuses and city greenways.
House leaders seem to know they were playing to a narrow base with the extreme gun bill. They didn’t even allow any votes on amendments to make the legislation less absurd. This one was for the extreme Second Amendment absolutists, regardless of the implications for public safety or the wishes of local leaders and law enforcement officials.
The tax plan and the pandering to the gun zealots came as two media reports put the session in perspective. One was a report by WRAL-TV showing that a majority of the members at a recent Senate committee meeting actually opposed legislation that passed on a highly questionable voice vote.
The bill would repeal the state’s modest renewable energy standard that is supported by a diverse group of interests that includes environmentalists, the hog industry and the CEO of Duke Energy, all of whom stressed the economic benefits of investing in green energy.
That doesn’t matter to the tea party crowd. The repeal of the renewable standard is a priority for the Pope-funded groups and the Senate leadership continues to do its bidding, even when it means ramming legislation through a committee when the majority of members oppose it. Dissent is not tolerated.
Fittingly, the week began as the News & Observer reported on the vast influence of the far-right American Legislative Exchange Council on the current General Assembly, with many bills coming straight from the group’s conservative and lobbyist-funded playbook.
Governor Pat McCrory’s man at the legislature, former lawmaker Fred Steen, is the state chairman of ALEC and on the national board.
House Speaker Thom Tillis, ALEC’s legislator of the year in 2011, skipped the House session last Thursday to attend an ALEC meeting in Oklahoma City.
Tillis also made news Monday with comments on his Facebook page warning Republicans about the political dangers of overreaching with extreme legislation. Apparently in Tillis’ world, allowing loaded and hidden handguns in bars and raising taxes on poor families to give millionaires a huge tax break don’t fit the definition.
That’s because he is not just presiding over the House, he’s one of the conductors on the tea party crazy train that’s careening out of control and threatening the state’s future in the process.