As Republicans prepared to take control of the entire state legislature for the first time in more than a century, progressives gathered outside the legislature Tuesday, calling on the new leaders to preserve public policy they say moves North Carolina forward.
“We must say that we will never go back,” urged state NAACP chief Rev. William Barber. “North Carolina must not take one step backward from the progress we’ve made in education, health care, civil rights and social justice.”
Barber laid out the 14-point agenda of Historic Thousands on Jones St., a coalition of progressive groups. “We demand educational equality, good jobs, workers rights and equal protection under the law,” he said, citing the redistricting fight in Wake County schools as an example of what he believes is at stake.
Exonerated convict Darryl Hunt spoke in support of the Racial Justice Act, a likely target of conservative lawmakers. “There have been two studies done by Michigan State and the University of Colorado that prove that race does matter when it comes to sentencing people in North Carolina,” Hunt said. “If you don’t believe in the Racial Justice Act, then you don’t believe in justice.”
Democracy NC Director Bob Hall spoke out against a new proposal to require photo ID for voters. It’s likely to be one of the first bills of the new session. “It is unbelievable and shameful that apparently the Republican majority, at a time when we have a budget crisis, wants to spend millions of dollars to put in place new barriers for people to vote.”
NC Justice Center’s Jeff Shaw called on leaders to reconsider raising or extending taxes to help cover the state’s projected $3.7 billion shortfall. He said balancing the budget through cuts alone would cost tens of thousands of jobs, and would gut services like education and mental health care. “It would have a devastating and disproportionate impact on poor and minority communities,” Shaw added.
“It’s unwise to throw tools out of the toolbox before you start working on a problem,” Shaw said. “We call on our leaders to use every tool in the toolbox to fix our state budget and to fund those vital public services.”
If lawmakers were to renew the temporary sales and income taxes set to expire in June, they’d bring in about $1.4 billion dollars to help close the gap. But both incoming Speaker Thom Tillis and incoming Pro Tem Phil Berger say they won’t consider that option. Berger believes the state doesn’t need more revenue – it just needs to spend less. He says that’s why voters put the GOP in charge.
Gov. Bev Perdue said in December she was also looking to cut, rather than raise or extend taxes. But Tuesday, she said she hadn’t ruled the latter out. “I don’t know what I’m gonna do, quite frankly. I know where my priorities are,” Perdue said. “At the end of the day, I’m not going to be the one that shuts down public education in North Carolina.”