Archived Opinion

Legislature pushes state into a freefall to the right

op frJust a few more dollars, that’s all. When you get your car fixed or a new dishwasher installed, now you’ll have to pay the 7 percent sales tax on the labor provided by the mechanic or the repairman. As you pay, give a nod to the state legislature’s decision to tax a few more services as part of its ongoing reform that moves North Carolina further toward a reliance on consumption taxes versus income taxes.

A new ranking released this week by WalletHub pegs North Carolina as the 50th worst place in the country for public school teachers. We managed to beat out West Virginia but have been passed by economic powerhouses like Mississippi and Washington, D.C. (there were 51 spots, including D.C.) The ranking is based on median starting salary, pupil-to-teacher ratio and per pupil spending. Our 50th spot was — you guessed it — up one spot from last year.

Welcome to North Carolina 2015. Four full years after the GOP gained a commanding majority in the General Assembly and two years after Republican Gov. Pat McCrory took office, we are the laboratory for conservative economic policies that many others states and right-leaning think tanks have discussed but haven’t had the political clout to pass. 

As they say, the fix is in; now we’ll just have to see where it takes us.

Among a few other policies adopted over the last four years are measures to cut the number of teacher assistants in early grades, declining to take part in the Obamacare Medicaid extension (meaning thousands lost access to health care choices) and approving a plan to eventually privatize Medicaid (a plan fought by hospitals and doctors across the state), elimination of the Earned Income Tax Credit for low-income families, enacting what many call the worst voter suppression law in the country, and the elimination of benefits for the long-term unemployed.

And how have they “paid” for all these cuts in spending? They’ve lowered the state individual income tax rate and lowered the corporate income tax rate, meaning the state will now take in less money. Those reductions feel good and sound good, but as we found out in April, most people in the middle and lower classes ended up paying more when we filed our taxes because many of the deductions for individual taxpayers were eliminated.

Related Items

Look, I’m a small businessman. Every time I sign those checks to the federal and state government I cringe and think about how I could use that money to grow my business. Like most people, I hate paying taxes, especially when it goes to pay for things I don’t like.

But that’s really just whining. I wouldn’t hate signing those checks so much, if, for instance, we cut the funding for vouchers to private schools and used that money instead to prop up the Clean Water Management Trust Fund; or, if we decided to hike the corporate income tax rate by a half percent and used that money to put bike lines on every single road the state Department of Transportation builds.

I’ve come to believe the whole liberal-conservative definition is tired, shopworn and constraining. Human beings are complicated. I lean left, but I like the idea of lowering business taxes and think that it can create jobs and stimulate the economy. I prefer less government but value bureaucrats who monitor corporate polluting and worker safety.

But when we do that at the expense of the low-income, giving the rich and corporations a break but expecting the poor to pay more, I’m not buying it. This year’s state budget and the fiscal policy our legislators are embracing mean the poor will pay a higher percentage of their income in taxes than the rich.

Moderation — in politics and in almost everything — is a good thing. North Carolina’s GOP leaders must have missed that lesson.

(Scott McLeod can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)  

Leave a comment

Smokey Mountain News Logo
Go to top
Payment Information


At our inception 20 years ago, we chose to be different. Unlike other news organizations, we made the decision to provide in-depth, regional reporting free to anyone who wanted access to it. We don’t plan to change that model. Support from our readers will help us maintain and strengthen the editorial independence that is crucial to our mission to help make Western North Carolina a better place to call home. If you are able, please support The Smoky Mountain News.

The Smoky Mountain News is a wholly private corporation. Reader contributions support the journalistic mission of SMN to remain independent. Your support of SMN does not constitute a charitable donation. If you have a question about contributing to SMN, please contact us.