There’s an old adage in journalism popularized by the late Alexander Cockburn that comes to mind as we unravel new legislation coming out of Raleigh.
“Never believe anything until it has been officially denied.”
The corollary to this principle is that when an elected official cites a specific reason for doing something, that specific reason is usually untrue.
Remember, the wave of GOP representatives that gave the Republicans both houses — and, not incidentally, many of the legacy Democrats who survived the assault — came in on a promise of smaller government, lower taxes and a strengthening of the middle class.
Since 2010, North Carolina’s General Assembly has positioned itself at odds with the federal government on things like healthcare, gun control and voting rights, asserting our state’s right to a degree of sovereignty. But this same majority, without a trace of self-awareness, has also usurped the city of Asheville’s authority over its own water supply, and the ability of Charlotte to control the airport within its city limits.
They took a swipe at Greensboro’s municipal elections, too, which has yet to play out.
On lower taxes, the prevailing party did, indeed, drop both personal and corporate income taxes in 2013 — our personal income tax rate of 5.75 percent, which will be lowered further to 5.49 percent by 2017, is below that of South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee and Louisiana; slightly more than Mississippi and Alabama and quite a bit higher than Florida and Texas, which have no personal income tax. But the drop in revenue is corrected in this year’s budget, much of it on the back of the Department of Motor Vehicles, which has seen across-the-board fee increases of 20-30 percent. The rest comes from sales taxes, which remain between 6.75 and 7.5 percent across the state, though enough exemptions have been lifted to increase sales tax revenue by $160 million — most of which will go to rural counties in a redistribution of wealth that doesn’t seem to bother any of the Republicans who voted for it.
Most offensive of all to those of us able to recognize hypocrisy is the lip service given to the middle class, a popular notion these last 10 years or so when it comes time to gather votes but not so much in actual practice.
A proper progressive tax system demands more from those who have more — that’s why we use percentages. But by slashing those percentages and replacing them with flat fees, we push our revenue streams off balance. While a two-income household earning $100,000 a year with a single child might not even notice the $5 increase in the learner’s permit fee, it might be a dealbreaker for a single-parent household at the poverty threshold with several teenagers in residence. That makes it a regressive tax system, which further erodes the purchasing power of the middle class while benefiting those firmly ensconced in the protected vale of wealth.
But no one in office will tell you that, unless they don’t really mean it.