It’s fitting that the tea party group Americans for Prosperity began running a television commercial this week praising the Republican leaders of the General Assembly and Governor Pat McCrory.
The ad makes a series of dubious claims about what the General Assembly has done so far and encourages lawmakers to “keep going” so North Carolina can get “back in the game.”
The group says it’s all part of its commitment to support “bold and aggressive tax reform” that the ad describes as “smart and fair.”
House and Senate leaders unveiled more of their respective tax plans Thursday morning. Bold and aggressive maybe, smart and fair definitely not.
Americans for Prosperity and other right-wing groups have primarily rallied around a plan developed by Senator Bob Rucho that would force low-income families to pay more for bread and milk at the grocery store to give millionaires a $50,000 a year tax cut.
The fact that Rucho’s plan is regressive is not in dispute. A website about the tax plan touted in a campaign style video released a few weeks ago by Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger includes a tax calculator that allows you to plug in various income levels.
Lower income families pay more, very wealthy families pay less—a lot less.
The House plan uses the same basic formula, lower income taxes for the wealthy and a broader sales tax that hits lower and middle income families harder, though the House package is slightly less regressive than Rucho’s more radical plan.
Both the House and Senate proposals also reduce state revenues by hundreds of millions of dollars. That is not in dispute either. The recently passed Senate budget sets aside $770 million for its tax changes.
Not only do low-income families pay more for break and milk, the services they receive from the state will be slashed at the same time.
Oddly, Governor McCrory who has praised the general philosophy behind the tax packages, says he wants any final tax changes to be revenue neutral. Neither the House nor the Senate package comes close.
There’s another Senate proposal that is a bit more complicated but also broadens the sales tax base to reduce income taxes on the wealthy. And none of the three proposals call for continuing the state Earned Income Tax Credit that expires at the end of the year.
The EITC is a direct way to offset some of the regressivity of the sales tax by giving a break to low-wage workers. And it’s hardly a radical notion. Former President Ronald Reagan was an outspoken supporter of the EITC on the federal level.
But the tax reform plans from House and Senate leaders are not about looking out for the interests of low-income and middle class families.
They are about shifting more of the responsibility for paying for the essential functions of state government from the folks at the top of the economic ladder—wealthy individuals and corporations—to the folks at the lower end, and slashing education and human services at the same time.
In many ways, the tax debate is merely a continuation of the assault on low-income families that has defined this legislative session from the beginning when lawmakers slashed unemployment benefits and denied health care to 500,000 people by refusing to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.
The Senate budget even requires people seeking public assistance to pay for a drug test before they apply.
Americans for Prosperity has received financial support in the past from McCrory’s budget director Art Pope, who served until recently on the group’s national board. It’s no surprise they are running a slick television commercial touting the radically regressive tax shift proposals as the right direction for the state.
That’s what they do, push a radical right-wing agenda backed by some faux research and then use their vast financial resources to mislead people about it.
And the commercial’s wrong about something else too, it’s not a game at all.
It’s a deliberate attempt to slash vital public investments under the guise of reform and it’s a withering attack on families already struggling to make ends meet. Lawmakers don’t need to “keep going,” they need to stop and turn around and think about the damage they are about to do.
Calculator image: http://nctaxcut.com/