THE RALEIGH REPORT
October 21, 2014
“What are the three most important issues for the 2015 session of the General Assembly?” That’s the question asked of every candidate whether at a forum or on a questionnaire. I always list jobs/ the economy as number 1. Most people can manage other problems if they have a good job and the economy is growing.
One good way to stimulate the economy and create good jobs is to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). That decision alone would create as many as 26,000 new jobs by the end of 2016, bring billions of our own tax dollars back into the state and save $65.4 million over the first eight years in health care services currently paid for by the state - all that while ensuring access to health care for up to 500,000 North Carolinians.
A primary feature of an expanded Medicaid is opening the program to low income childless adults, including many of the mentally ill who now circulate in and out of our hospital emergency rooms and jails at great pain and distress to the patients and their families and at a great cost to the tax payers. When stabilized, many in this population can live independently, hold jobs and contribute to society.
We heard good news on this issue on October 8, when DHHS Secretary Aldona Wos told the Charlotte Observer editorial board that the state is working with the federal government on options for expanding Medicaid in North Carolina. That sounds like a Section 1115 waiver similar to the Arkansas model where the State uses the Medicaid expansion dollars to purchase private sector, state qualified health insurance for the newly eligible.
NC DHHS has already submitted a concept plan for the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians to seek health care coverage up to 138% of the federal poverty level with the federal government paying 100% of the cost. That language is lifted from the Affordable Care Act.
Retrain Unskilled Workers
I would like to see a North Carolina Works program similar to the pending federal American Works legislation that gives funding preference to community colleges that train the unemployed for jobs that are going unfilled.
It’s hard to get an exact number of NC jobs that go unfilled due to a lack of qualified workers; but we can make an informed estimate. A 2012 survey found 49 % of US employers had difficulty filling jobs. At the national level more than 3 million jobs go unfilled for more than one year. One study estimated at least 5,000 jobs in North Carolina go unfilled for more than one year, many of them in STEM related industries.
Our community colleges are among the best in the nation for collaborating with employers to train workers. We can and should be doing more to match unfilled jobs with unemployed workers and build retraining programs in the community colleges where they could put people back to work.
Raise the Minimum Wage
Extensive research exists on all sides of this issue; but researchers do agree on some points. Right off, raising the minimum wage from $7.25/hour to $10.10/hour would move 5 million people out of poverty and reduce the number of people who depend on public, tax-supported services. The money would immediately begin circulating in the economy boosting consumer demand and consumer spending. Raising the minimum wage to $9.50 as President Obama proposed in 2011 would have added $60 billion in spending to the economy.
Restore the Earned Income Tax Credit
Low-income families spend every penny they earn just making ends meet. When the NC General Assembly eliminated our State Earned Income Tax Credit, more than 900,000 low-income families lost money and the ability to provide basic needs for their families. The $100 million the State saved by eliminating this tax credit went to help pay for the tax cut that primarily benefited the wealthiest North Carolinians who put their extra money into investments.
Restoring the State Earned Income Tax Credit would put that money back into circulation and benefit local economies, including small business owners.
How to Pay for It
I liked the progressive graduated state income tax system and would support a return to that system with some adjustments to ensure a fair distribution of the tax responsibility. The recent cuts to the state income tax reduced the responsibility of upper income workers and increased taxes on low and moderate-income workers. Every tax credit has supporters and detractors; but some have achieved their purpose or benefit out of state companies and could be repealed. I support increasing the state tax on cigarettes and imposing one on electronic cigarettes. I also support studying the impact of adding a sales tax to beverages with added sugar.
As always, thank you for your support of my work in Raleigh as your representative. Please let me know of your position on issues, your suggestions for legislation and your requests for help.