Whether we’re Black, white, or brown, we all know what it’s like to see a loved one struggle and to want to do all we can to help.
This pandemic taught many of us what it means to be just one layoff or illness or foreclosure away from fearing for our family’s future. But can you imagine what our communities would look like if we had all that we need – where everyone contributes to make our schools, hospitals, parks, and programs all that our families deserve?
For too many years, NC lawmakers have proposed budgets where they rig the tax code to take the wealth our work creates and enrich corporations and the already rich who refuse to pay what they owe.
The House and Senate budget proposals this year are no different.
Both legislative proposals would reduce the tax rate on corporate profits (in the Senate case eliminating the tax entirely on profitable corporations) and lower the personal income tax rate, giving the greatest tax cuts to the richest North Carolinians.
When profitable large corporations and the richest North Carolinians don’t contribute what they owe, the state doesn’t have the dollars to fund the public services that expand opportunity and make the hardship facing families across the state less devastating to them, their children, and their communities.
With negotiations beginning this week between the Governor and House and Senate leaders to determine the details of what the final budget will include, North Carolina needs a different approach.
North Carolina currently has billions of dollars sitting in a bank account because of better-than-expected revenue collections and years of not fully funding the needs in communities. This is an unprecedented opportunity that means we can afford to make sure that this pandemic’s harm is not prolonged by actually spending these dollars where they are needed. These dollars need to be put back into communities today by making sure people have a roof over their head, food in their bellies, and safe schools to attend and healthy workplaces to earn. In doing so, our state could disrupt the current widespread despair facing families and the potential for lasting damage to children’s healthy development and family’s long-term financial security.
We can make the systems that we relied on in this pandemic better so that they are stronger now and for the future. It was our public schools that had to adapt to deliver an education remotely as well as provide the food and services that families needed in this crisis. Fully funding public schools – the classrooms, teachers and support staff that keep children healthy – is essential to supporting children’s educational success. Making child care affordable to every family and accessible in every county is essential to getting people back to work today. Funding the development of more affordable housing in rural and urban communities is essential to making sure people have a home to stay safe in. Funding meal delivery and home health care for our families is essential to keeping communities healthy.
Making these systems we rely on better long-term won’t be possible without everyone – including corporations and the richest North Carolinians – paying what they owe. Instead of budgets that give money back to the richest, our lawmakers need to rewrite the rules so anyone who falls on hard times can count on the services and supports we need to see ourselves through.
Our legislators need to take the time to listen to what people need in this moment. The budget process to date is largely focused in Raleigh, but communities across the state and the people living there should have a chance to weigh in. When there isn’t an opportunity for public input, at the very least elected leaders should be allowed to represent their constituents in the development of a budget. This year, the budget was developed among a select few in leadership and shared with the full members of the House and Senate with only one week of review and limited debate before a final vote.
Those select few politicians demonize those of us struggling to make ends meet, trying to get us to blame each other for the hardships their corporate donors create. The pandemic isn’t over, nor is it likely to be for some time, and the ability to re-open businesses and re-start full participation in our communities depends on lawmakers delivering what people need. The well-being of our state and of our economy depends on the well-being of our people. The ability to get beyond the downturn and to greater resiliency depends on our collective commitment to do so and our concern and care for each and every person.
Our budget each year presents an opportunity to show our priorities. And our priority should be a world where, whatever the color of your skin or the contents of your wallet, you could know that your family will be ok. Where no matter what hardship you face, you know your kids will have food on the table and a roof overhead.
It’s time to demand our leaders create a budget for North Carolina that funds the services and supports people require, so that all of our families, in good times and bad, can thrive.
Alexandra Forter Sirota is director of the Budget & Tax Center.