Is There Nothing a Tax Cut Can’t Fix?

May 26, 2021: Guess what the NCGA wants to do + the problem with blanket immunity + Alamance does its thing + DTR outdoor dining forever + MAB gets grilled + Donnie, meet your grand jury

Hello, friends. My apologies for being absent earlier this week. In fairness, the news was kind of … boring. We’ll make up for it today.

One other thing: On Friday, I sent out a new newsletter containing my weekly column. Afterward, I learned that if you no longer wish to receive that newsletter but still want to get this one, it’s pretty easy to opt-out: Just go to the My Account page and uncheck the box that says “Informed Dissent.” Or don’t, and you get both.

Thanks for reading,

JCB


+TODAY’S TOP 6

1. We Could Fund Schools. Or …

Every year, Republicans in the General Assembly release some version of this same idea: Slash (and eventually eliminate) corporate taxes. Lower personal income taxes. Modestly increase the child tax credit and standard deduction. Pat self on back.

  • Senate Finance Committee chair Paul Newton: “The Republican philosophy—when government takes too much money from the people is to give it back in the form of tax relief.” (N&O)

  • “The proposal disproportionately benefits lower earners,” said Senate leader Phil Berger’s press shop.

The tax cuts will cost about $7.8 billion over the next five years, according to Rep. Wesley Harris, D-Ballytine, the only economics Ph.D. in the legislature.

  • “To put that in perspective $8 Billion would satisfy ALL the capital needs of our public schools in the State.”

  • “We have a real opportunity to invest in our people now and lay the foundation for a generation of growth. But NC Republicans would rather be short-sided and offer yet another corporate giveaway and continue [to] ignore the real needs of our state.”

Speaking of schools: In March, Democratic lawmakers—with Cooper’s backing—presented a “comprehensive remedial plan” to bring the state into compliance with the 2004 Leandro decision, in which the state Supreme Court ruled that every child is entitled to a “sound basic education.”

  • Their plan would spend at least $5.6 billion through 2028.

  • The judge overseeing the case says he won’t dictate an amount to the General Assembly.

The state is running a $5 billion surplus, and Republicans anticipate surpluses in the years to come. (If you don’t spend it, you can stash it in the bank.) Another $5.7 billion is on the way from the feds, courtesy of the American Rescue Plan Act that not a single Republican voted for.

  • The Republican plan calls for using $1 billion of that for $18,750 grants to businesses that received pandemic assistance.

  • Governor Cooper has proposed using the money to give $250 or $500 cash grants to people who’ve yet to see their jobs come back.

  • Cooper also wants to spend $1.2 billion on broadband, $800 million on water and sewer projects, $160 million for lead and asbestos remediation in schools, $175 million for downtown revitalization, and funds for rental and homeowner assistance. (Policy Watch)

THE BOTTOM LINE: North Carolina has and will continue to have a regressive tax structure. Shortchanging school funding means that counties (especially urban ones) have to pick up the slack through higher property taxes, another regressive mechanism that also drives up home values and rental prices. Eliminating corporate taxes is eventually going to shift the revenue burden further downhill.


2. Alamance County Remains Alamance County

Last year, the Southern Alamance High School yearbook had a Blue Lives Matter flag on its front page. No one cared. This year, the yearbook contained an article about the Black Lives Matter movement that’s become a focal point of county politics.

Guess what happened. (N&O)

A school board meeting in Alamance County—home to a series of heated Black Lives Matter protests over the past year—ended early Monday amid anger and shouting over a school yearbook story about Black Lives Matter. …

The meeting was adjourned early, with school board member Patsy Simpson arguing with other board members and the crowd about how the district is now reviewing yearbook practices due to parental complaints. …

This year’s Southern Alamance High School yearbook included a national year in review section, featuring an article on the Black Lives Matter movement called “From Hashtag to Movement.” The yearbook article has produced heated complaints on social media from people who felt it was inappropriate.

So, you know, Black Lives Matter “promotes hate, violence, and division,” critical race theory, etc.

Then things got wild.

Amid the complaints, school board chairwoman Allison Gant said Monday she had asked Superintendent Bruce Benson to review the district’s yearbook process and protocols.

Simpson questioned why Gant had made the request without consulting the board first, saying it gives the appearance that they’re saying the yearbook staff did something inappropriate. Gant apologized for not consulting with the board about the request and said she wasn’t taking a stand on the complaints. …

School board vice chairman Tony Rose stepped in to say he didn’t feel it was inappropriate for Gant to have made the request for the review. This triggered another exchange that ultimately led to the meeting ending prematurely.

“He’s not going to speak to me in that manner,” Simpson said. “If you want me to calm down then everybody else needs to. Otherwise adjourn the meeting. But if you come after me Mr. Rose, I’m coming back after you.”

Audience members who were critical of the yearbook article yelled comments at Simpson, who by then had risen out of her seat. Alamance County Sheriff Terry Johnson, who was at the board meeting for another matter, got out of his seat to intervene.

“What actions are we making for our kids?” Johnson, whose handling of the Black Lives Matter protests has been questioned by some, said to Simpson and the audience. “If we can’t get along, how do we expect our kids?”

“You should never have come in here with this bullcrap bit if you want to get along,” Simpson responded. “Getting along is acknowledging who I am as a person.”

Oh, Alamance.


3. Perhaps Blanket Immunity Wasn’t Such a Hot Idea

Last year, the General Assembly gave healthcare facilities and providers sweeping immunity from lawsuits—not just those related to the pandemic, but related to anything. So a lawsuit filed by the estate of Julia Quirindongo again Brighton Gardens of Charlotte will almost certainly get dismissed regardless of its merits.

  • “Quirindongo’s two children moved their mother to a Charlotte adult care home that they believed would work closely with hospice to keep her comfortable and peaceful in her final days. Quirindongo’s death was not either of those things, her children Ronnie Talent and Lisa Noguera said.”

  • “In her final hours, Quirindongo’s children received little help from staff as they watched their mother claw at her neck and cry for help as her lungs filled with fluid, effectively drowning her, they allege.”

  • “Quirindongo’s case demonstrates how those facilities and providers could continue to benefit from the law, even when deaths or injuries on their watch are unrelated to COVID-19. Though visitors are once again allowed in nursing homes, a growing percentage of North Carolinians are vaccinated and the state’s mask mandate is no longer, long-term care facilities continue to be shielded from liability, even when facing allegations of egregious failures unrelated to coronavirus.” (N&O)

The law, passed last March, will end whenever Cooper ends the state of emergency, which could be June 11. Cooper’s spox told the N&O he wants the provision repealed.

  • “Elizabeth Todd, Noguera and Talent’s lawyer, said along with Quirindongo’s case, she’s handling more than 50 cases like it. All pertain to long-term care facility residents whose death or injuries were unrelated to coronavirus, she said. With the immunity law still in place, Todd isn’t optimistic any of them will make it far.”


4. DTR Restaurants Want Permanent Outdoor Dining

This strikes me as a no-brainer. Downtown Raleigh restaurants want the city to make its pandemic expansion of outdoor dining—now set to expire at the end of October—permanent. The only thing to lose is parking. As MAB observed, thriving downtowns don’t worry about parking.

  • “Raleigh Mayor Mary Ann Baldwin says the goal is to make downtown a place where diners can arrive at their favorite restaurant on foot or by bike.”

  • Not many spaces would be affected anyway.

  • “Bill King with Downtown Raleigh Alliance says the organization conducted a survey and found that 90% of businesses and residents preferred outdoor dining.” (WRAL)

RELATED: A bunch of top-shelf local restaurants (and bars) have reopened their dining rooms (or will soon do so) after relying on takeout for a year. The N&O has a subscribers-only list here. For the rest of you, here are a few of my faves that are finally back in action:


5. Does Raleigh Listen to Black People?

At the city council’s Safe, Vibrant and Healthy Community Committee yesterday—the anniversary of George Floyd’s death—two Black women told the council that the city wasn’t listening to Black people.

  • Kimberly Muktarian faulted the city for not purchasing police body cams that automatically turned on when cops draw their weapons, a perfectly reasonable demand the city has yet to move on.

  • Quanta Edwards said the city “does not operate as though it believes its Black citizens.”

MAB asked Edwards for examples. Edwards pointed to the city’s pledge, after Floyd’s death, to adopt the 8 Can’t Wait reforms to limit police use of force. These reforms—which claim to reduce police killings by 71% once implemented—didn’t go far enough for community members, she said.

  • “But they were not believed. You still moved forward with 8 Can’t Wait. That’s what you wanted to do. And that’s what I am saying. These coalitions that are working directly with Black people, they are coming to you, telling you these things. And they need to be believed.”

  • “I am slightly confused,” Baldwin replied. (N&O)

MAB’s confusion stems from the fact that in her political circles, 8 Can’t Wait is incredibly popular. Barack Obama backed it. Durham’s police department enacted it. So did Charlotte. More than 300 cities changed their use-of-force policies to be more in line with the 8 Can’t Wait campaign.

The argument against 8 Can’t Wait comes largely from police abolitionists. Take this essay in the Harvard Civil Rights Civil Liberties Law Review:

The most fallible aspect of the 8 Can’t Wait proposal, and all police reform efforts, is its inability to control for one irreparable flaw: average people having the extraordinary responsibility of policing other, average people. We cannot control for prejudiced officers, bad-tempered officers, or the very real possibility that an officer may simply break the rules, as Derek Chauvin did in Minneapolis. …

It’s important to note that the 8 Can’t Wait campaign is not actually attempting to solve the issues of police brutality and racist policing; its mission is to reduce police killings by 72%. Campaign Zero’s decision to move forward with a middle-of-the-road proposal, just as abolitionist organizers have begun to garner increased public support in their demands to defund and abolish the police, is questionable. … Movements like this inevitably breed complacency.  …

Police reform serves as a compromise between those who want to maintain policing as-is and those who want to abolish the police altogether.

MAB is not a police abolitionist. Neither are most Black people, according to polls. But the thing is, African Americans often have more complex responses to questions about policing than surveys capture.

As Aaron Ross Coleman wrote for Vox last year:

On law enforcement, the choice Black Americans have historically faced is either suffering from the shootings, beatings, and stabbings of racist cops, or suffering from violent crime in redlined neighborhoods—again, abysmal options.

When researchers actually take the time to listen to black people, however, they find black people don’t want to choose between two bad options. …

I’ve digressed. The point is, MAB had no idea that there’s an activist cohort that chafes at half-measures like 8 Can’t Wait, which Edwards conflated with a community the city isn’t listening to.

Edwards continued:

Edwards said there are people who will talk to her but not to the City Council or city staff because they don’t believe they will be heard. …

People believe the city is more interested in helping developers build “luxury buildings” instead of having “robust conversations” about how to help house the city’s poorest residents, Edwards said.

Those two things are inarguable, though Edwards failed to produce the specific examples the too-defensive MAB sought. There is distrust of City Hall in corners of Black Raleigh, and there are a lot of people who think the mayor favors developers.

  • But there are about 140,000 Black people in Raleigh. They are not monolithic. When two people accuse the city council of not believing the “community,” that’s probably worth keeping in mind.

  • On the other hand, MAB’s biggest weakness in 2019 came in the largely Black precincts of East Raleigh, which Charles Francis won handily.

Edwards and Muktarian wanted the council to create an African American Affairs Board, similar to a board created to look out for Hispanic residents and immigrants. The only impediment is staff time and resources.

  • The alternative—creating a subcommittee of the Human Relations Commission—seems almost insulting and, if nothing else, would strike me as an unforced political error.

  • Besides, the city has legitimate issues related to policing, displacement, and a racial wealth gap that is only growing wider. Listening is good.

  • The council committee didn’t act, though it asked staff to figure out how much it would cost.


6. Trump Gets His Grand Jury

Man, this lede:

Manhattan’s district attorney has convened the grand jury that is expected to decide whether to indict former president Donald Trump, other executives at his company or the business itself, should prosecutors present the panel with criminal charges, according to two people familiar with the development.

District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. evidently thinks he has the goods either on Trump or an associate. But the news doesn’t mean an indictment is imminent.

  • “It is also unclear when or even whether the grand jury will be asked to consider returning any indictments. Prosecutors handling cases such as this one can choose to present charges for the grand jury to consider—or not. A prosecutor’s grand-jury strategy is often a closely kept secret and can be subject to change.”

  • “Rebecca Roiphe, a former assistant district attorney in Manhattan who is now a professor at New York Law School, said that such investigations are always formally overseen by grand juries. In the early stages, prosecutors may use a grand jury’s power just to subpoena documents without offering charges for consideration.”

Vance wouldn’t have made the move if he didn’t think there was probable cause that someone had committed a crime, Roiphe continued. Trump reacted in the usual way:

“This is purely political, and an affront to the almost 75 million voters who supported me in the Presidential Election, and it’s being driven by highly partisan Democrat prosecutors. Our Country is broken, our elections are rigged, corrupt, and stolen, our prosecutors are politicized, and I will just have to keep on fighting like I have been for the last five years!”

If Vance does bring charges, it will probably help Trump that the possible crimes invove inscrutable white-collar stuff:

[Vance’s] investigators are scrutinizing Trump’s business practices before he was president, including whether the value of specific properties in the Trump Organization’s real estate portfolio were manipulated in a way that defrauded banks and insurance companies, and if any tax benefits were obtained illegally through unscrupulous asset valuation.

Then again, this all started with Michael Cohen ratting Trump out for paying off a porn star, and that’s something everyone can understand.