NC JUSTICE NEWS: Redistricting Debate + Public Sector Jobs + Balanced Budget Amendment

July 12, 2011

REDISTRICTING: What's fair and legal among the "gerrymandering"

One of the most common words being thrown around the redistricting debate is “gerrymandering.” Quite simply, it means the act of dividing an area into districts in order to give special advantages and majority status to one group. Here in North Carolina, opponents of the new redistricting plan created by Republican state leaders say it seeks to weaken Democratic leadership and divide the state’s districts willy-nilly.

Last week, members from the House and Senate Redistricting committee held public hearings across the state, and many voters railed against the redistricting plans, arguing that their cities should not be carved up into multiple congressional districts. Asheville citizens stood aghast when they were told their city would be moved from the 11th Congressional District to the 10th, fundamentally altering the very makeup of the district’s constituents.

Republican leaders have claimed time and again that the development of the district maps has been “fair and legal.” But it’s difficult to believe the claim when the redistricting seems to create only segregated, partisan regions. There’s nothing fair about a plan that would siphon off minority voters into certain areas and yield more Republican seats in next year’s elections. And some have gone one step further, saying that the plan is also illegal. Either way, it looks like we’re in for another heated battle at the General Assembly this summer.

PUBLIC INVESTMENTS: Improving lives, creating jobs

The NC Housing Financial Agency recently announced plans for constructing more than 2,400 affordable apartments for low-income families and elderly residents. Financed through federal tax credits, bonds and loans, these construction projects are expected to support 6,900 jobs statewide.

That’s what smart public investments can do – satisfy a serious need, improve the lives of thousands of families, and put people to work. This is in stark contrast to the new state budget, which decimates the state’s most important public structures and programs and is expected to cost North Carolina nearly 30,000 private- and public-sector jobs.

Sadly, public-sector job cuts are hurting workers and families throughout the nation. More than 14 million Americans were jobless and seeking work in June alone, and figures released last week by the U.S. Labor Department showed that there are nowhere near enough jobs being created to respond to the demand. The U.S. economy created only 18,000 new jobs last month, and the public sector at all levels of government shed 39,000 jobs. These are ominous figures for the hundreds of public-sector workers in North Carolina who have been downsized due to the new state budget.

Here in North Carolina, the job losses caused by budget cuts are just starting to ripple through the economy. When the unemployment rate goes up and the economy stalls or even falters, the legislative leadership will certainly claim it is not their fault. And the Justice Center will be here with the research and the real people to prove that it is.

KEEPING THE NUMBERS STRAIGHT: Tillis errs in budget comparison

Speaking of legislators getting the story about the state budget wrong, here’s a real funny-bone tickler (or, maybe, funny-bone breaker).

NC House Speaker Thom Tillis recently went on right-wing radio and said Governor Perdue can’t do fifth-grade math. Then he proceeded to badly botch the numbers for his own budget.

He claimed the percentage difference between the legislature’s state budget and the governor’s proposed budget was 0.5 percent. So let’s do the simple math:

$19.683 billion (legislative budget) X 0.5% = $98.4 million

But the governor’s budget proposal was $19.902 billion, so:

$19.902 billion - $19.683 billion = $219 million (or 1.1 percent)

And if you get rid of all the accounting gimmicks and budget transfers in the final state budget, the difference jumps to about $600 million, or more than 3 percent.

The point here is not to make fun of Speaker Tillis, because we don’t believe he made a mistake. We believe he and his legislative comrades are trying to re-write the story of what happened during this legislative session. There are other examples – Tillis recently talked to reporters about the importance of early childhood education, even though his party’s budget made severely damaging changes to the state’s nationally recognized More at Four program.

It’s important that we point out the “inconsistencies” and “errors” every time, so that the people of North Carolina have a solid understanding of what happened to the state’s most important public investments and who is to blame.

BALANCED BUDGET AMENDMENT: Proposals would lead to cuts

The House and Senate are likely to vote on proposals to add a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution in July. Proposals in both chambers would force extreme cuts in federal spending as the means of balancing the budget. Medicare, Medicaid, education, and environmental protections would all be slashed.

A balanced budget amendment cut essential programs like Social Security Insurance and SNAP/food stamps in half within 10 years. Medicare would have to be turned into a voucher program, and spending for key programs like housing, education, child care, Head Start, public health, veterans’ health care, environmental protection, health research, food and water safety, and many others would be slashed by 70 percent.

A constitutional balanced budget amendment would also cause significant harm to the economy, making recessions both deeper and longer. Contact your Congressional representatives today and tell them the balanced budget amendment must be defeated.


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