Three reactionary months

By: - April 30, 2013 9:04 am


It has now been three months since the 2013 General Assembly session began. Most of the news coverage of the lawmakers has understandably focused on the daily debate in a key committee or on the House or Senate floor or the latest absurd resolution or shocking comment that prompts national scorn and ridicule.

There’s nothing unusual about that. That’s the way the process works, a key issue is debated fiercely and then decided and then the attention of the media and the public moves on to the next one.

But this General Assembly is different. Many of the choices these lawmakers have made and continue to make are not just important policy decisions, but radical shifts in North Carolina that directly affect millions of people, the vast majority of them negatively.

Here’s a look at some of what has happened on Jones Street in Raleigh since January 30—and how it might affect you and your family.

If you lose your job through no fault of your own, it will be more difficult to receive unemployment benefits while you look for another one. You also won’t be able to receive benefits for as long—it might only be for 12 weeks—and you won’t receive the same level of benefits that laid off workers had been receiving while trying to find new employment.

If you are one of the tens of thousands of long-term unemployed workers in the state, your benefits are ending soon and you will not be able to receive emergency assistance from the federal government. Lawmakers voted to prevent laid off workers in North Carolina from receiving the federal benefits so businesses could pay lower unemployment taxes, the same businesses whose tax breaks over the years helped create the state’s unemployment debt.

If you are among 500,000 low-income adults without health insurance, you will remain uninsured, unable to afford to see a doctor and one medical emergency away from bankruptcy, even as your counterparts in many other states with Republican governors are now covered by Medicaid.

If you are one of the 900,000 people working hard every day in a low-wage job and trying to support your family, you will have less money next year because the state Earned Income Tax Credit will end. That’s the credit that former President Ronald Reagan called the best anti-poverty program we have, yet state lawmakers voted to reduce it and let it expire at the end of the year.

If you are a single mother earning just $16,000 a year, your four-year-old son or daughter may no longer qualify for the state’s award winning pre-K program because lawmakers think you make too much money for your child to qualify.

And if you find yourself in an emergency and unable to make ends meet and feed your family, you will not be able to apply for public assistance unless you can come up with $100 to pay for a drug test that lawmakers themselves refuse to take.

You might be tempted to apply for an emergency loan from a consumer finance company, but that may cost you more too as the industry is seeking permission to charge higher fees and interest rates that trap families into a hopeless cycle of borrowing.

But it’s not just the daily lives of hundreds of thousands of low-income families that lawmakers are making more difficult. The lives of folks in the middle class will be changing too.

The versions of tax reform supported by legislative leaders will mean more than half the state’s taxpayers will pay more while corporations and the wealthy will pay less.

The version supported by Senate leaders and the right-wing think tanks they look to for guidance will give millionaires a $41,000 tax cut while the bottom sixty percent of taxpayers will see an increase in how much they pay.

It seems almost certain that if you have a child in the early grades, the teacher assistant who helped him or her read and understand math problems will not be in the classroom next year. If you send your child to a charter school, Senate leaders do not want to require the schools to run a criminal background check on your child’s teacher.

It’s a safe bet that class sizes will be larger next year too and supply budgets smaller as House leaders push a voucher scheme to divert funding from public schools to unaccountable private and religious academies.

It will be harder to vote in the next general election unless you vote absentee, which is how more Republicans cast their ballots. Not only will you have to bring your government-issued photo ID to the polls, there’s a good chance that early voting will be shorter and that Sunday voting might end.

Your elderly parent or disabled sibling without a current government ID will have to get one to cast a ballot for the next governor or president.

There’s plenty more that affects your life that has come and gone from the headlines. If you live in place where some natural gas might be in the underground rock formations, your communities might change dramatically soon as the fracking drills and trucks and chemicals roll into your town and farms.

If you are a woman headed to see your doctor, there may soon be more restrictions on the decisions you can make together about your own body. And the next time you take your kids to a Ruby Tuesdays, the man they bump into on the way to the salad bar might have a loaded handgun hidden in his belt.

Quite a three months indeed.

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Chris Fitzsimon

Chris Fitzsimon, Founder and Executive Director of N.C. Policy Watch, writes the Fitzsimon File, delivers a radio commentary broadcast on WRAL-FM and hosts "News and Views," a weekly radio news magazine that airs on multiple stations across North Carolina. [email protected] 919-861-2066