North Carolina, that purple state that voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and nearly again in 2012, has become the new vanguard of extreme right-wing activism. Since their recent electoral success at the state level, the GOP is moving fast to ram through a four-pronged strategy to implement their conservative ideology and protect it from a growing demographic shift towards the left. Specifically:
- Shifting the tax burden away from wealth and onto the middle class and lower income workers.
- Cutting health care and other social services from the poor and unemployed.
- Restricting access to abortion.
- Restricting voting rights to suppress minority turnout in future elections.
Those victories were capped last year when Republican Pat McCrory was elected governor, giving the party control of all levers of state government for the first time since 1870.
The victories were aided by the strong financial support of Art Pope, a multimillionaire who spent heavily in support of the state’s GOP candidates. The Institute for Southern Studies, a North Carolina-based research organization, said Pope’s advocacy network spent $2.2 million on 22 legislative races, winning 18. Overall, conservative organizations largely supported by Pope accounted for three-fourths of the outside money spent in North Carolina legislative races in 2010, according to the institute.
One of McCrory’s first acts after being elected governor was to install Pope, a former legislator, as the state budget chief. (The governor’s office declined to make Pope available for an interview.) And now, GOP lawmakers are moving swiftly to enact a long list of legislation they say is largely aimed at limiting government debt and snapping the state’s economy out of a years-long malaise.
Legislators have slashed jobless benefits. They have also repealed a tax credit that supplemented the wages of low-income people, while moving to eliminate the estate tax. They have voted against expanding Medicaid to comply with the 2010 federal health-care law. The expansion would have added 500,000 poor North Carolinians to the Medicaid rolls.
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The North Carolina House has passed a law requiring voters to have a government-issued identification card, and legislators are considering bills to roll back the state’s law allowing same-day voter registration and to sharply limit early voting — measures that supporters of the current law say were integral to the high turnout of minority voters in the past several elections.
“I don’t know that there is a state that has as many regressive policies on tap,” said Penda Hair, co-director of Advancement Project, a Washington-based civil rights group that is considering a lawsuit challenging changes to the state’s voting laws.
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The legislative effort has mobilized liberals who see North Carolina as a laboratory for conservative ideas propelled nationwide by the money of a handful of key patrons. They note that many of the initiatives being pursued by legislators here have long been championed by a network of conservative organizations supported by Pope and billionaire activists Charles and David Koch, including Americans for Prosperity and the American Legislative Exchange Council.
North Carolina lawmakers are seeking to shift much of the state’s tax burden off its wealthiest citizens and most profitable businesses and onto its low- and middle-income residents. After initially proposing to eliminate the state’s income tax outright, Republicans are instead introducing a flat income tax rate across all earning levels. The proposal unveiled Thursday would also expand the reach of sales taxes in the state, which hits low-income families hardest, and comes on top of the March repeal of a tax credit for 900,000 working families in the state.
The state’s effective tax rates already favor the rich. The North Carolina Justice Center, a progressive think tank in the state, explains that the richest one percent of tarheels pay 6.5 percent of their income in combined sales and income taxes at the state level, while the lower 80 percent of earners pay between 9 and 10 percent combined. Yet Republicans propose to give that top one percent a tax cut while hiking rates for those already paying more:
RALEIGH, N.C. – North Carolina representatives passed hotly debated new abortion restrictions, including a measure to prohibit insurers joining a future health care exchange from providing abortion coverage, as they pressed against a Thursday deadline to keep bills alive through the end of the session in 2014.