Participation Trophy Politics

July 19, 2021

In late June, the North Carolina State Senate – which really means its controlling Republican majority – released its new budget proposal. North Carolina has been without a permanent budget since 2018, when Senate Leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore walked away from negotiations with Governor Cooper rather than compromise on their vision for yet more tax cuts. In this proposal, Republican leaders finally took the step they’ve been planning since 2013 – eliminating North Carolina’s corporate income tax entirely.

From a fiscal and policy standpoint, this is absurd. Abolishing corporate taxes would only transfer more of the tax burden on to North Carolina residents and “relieve” very profitable, huge corporations:

Let’s just state the obvious: budgets are super boring. The vast majority of voters have absolutely no idea what goes into a state budget, and mostly do not care. The entire issue is dry, very opaque and of interest only to policy wonks and, as always, partisan diehards. And it’s not even voters’ fault. Most voters just don’t have time to carefully research and analyze extremely complicated budget policy, even if they were inclined to do so.

But it’s an inescapable fact that the state budget absolutely matters. It’s a “BFD.” Where our representatives choose to put money is the single most concrete distillation of their interests and priorities – which is a big reason why the choices the Senate made in their budget proposal are so dismal.

There are many things to dislike in this budget: its massive underfunding of public education (with $8 billion of unfunded needs); failure to unlock affordable healthcare to hundreds of thousands of our residents as most other states have; ignoring environmental protection and even defunding election security safeguards. (That last one is a real mind-blower after the hysterical Republican claims of supposed “voter fraud.”) North Carolina Policy Watch better covered the full range of failures in this budget.

Yet at a basic level, the biggest failure of the Senate’s budget proposal is this: it lays bare their abandonment of North Carolinians. When the rubber met the road, those leaders rushed to enrich big, out-of-state corporations, not meet the needs of their people. They chose not to adequately resource public education. They chose not to expand Medicaid and unlock healthcare. They chose not to serve their people, but the entrenched big business lobby that funds their campaigns.

This budget proposal is dead on arrival, and everyone knows it. Even if the state House took it up in its current form, Governor Cooper will never sign it, and said as much. Passing a budget that faces a certain veto – indeed, passing one that its authors know is doomed in order to provoke a veto – does not count as doing their job. Instead, it’s “participation trophy politics.” Purely performative.

Once again, Republican leaders have chosen to seem, not to be. And once again, North Carolina pays the price.

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