A bad mix

Hypocrisy and willful blindness make a bad mix, especially in North Carolina budget writing. The Republican dominated legislature, which has run roughshod over the state’s former progressive reputation for the past two years, has been searching for ways to make up for some of its ill-conceived tax cuts that have led to state-wide outrage over low teacher salaries and an exodus of educators to states that pay significantly more. Recruiters from as far away as Houston, Texas have been both active and successful in luring teachers away — and with salaries that are 25 percent or more higher, it’s not that hard to convince young teachers that Texas might be worth a try.

Both houses, recognizing the huge backlash, are belatedly promising raises for teachers. The Senate wants to do it by making teacherLotterys’ jobs harder and less secure: by cutting the number of teacher assistants and requiring teachers to give up tenure. The House has decided to fund a smaller raise by doubling the advertising budget for the North Carolina “Education” lottery, anticipating an increase in revenue.

That move is not only dumb and dumber, but intensely hypocritical. It’s hypocritical because conservative leaders opposed the lottery with a passion when it was first approved, and rightly so — but now they want to promote it. The lottery is, in effect, a regressive tax on poor and middle class people who aren’t good at math. It was billed as a way to supplement education funding, but — as anyone could have guessed — has become a primary funding source.

N.C. legislators have already shifted much of the tax burden from businesses and the wealthy to poor and middle class folk by cutting taxes for upper incomes and business interests, while instituting new sales taxes that impact lower income folk more heavily, percentage-wise, than wealthier families.

Doubling the lottery’s advertising budget just increases the anticipated take from poor people. While approving the measure, however, the House included what could be a poison pill: House leader Paul Stam — who has remained consistent in opposing state-sponsored gambling — added language to the bill that will require lottery advertisements to include the actual size of cash payouts, the value of the lowest prizes, and clearly display the long odds of winning. Stam hopes the new restrictions will discourage gambling and eventually lead to the lottery’s demise, but others who previously opposed the lottery they now love are betting that hopeful gamblers will continue to ignore the discouraging odds and continue paying voluntary taxes.

Few things in the state budget are more important than education. The people who teach our children have one of the hardest jobs around, and they deserve to make a decent wage. There are many better options for increasing revenue than by cutting other needed programs — or by putting a tax on hope.

2 Comments

  1. I agree that teachers should be paid more and their salaries have increased precipitately since I was a high school teacher in the 1950s when teaching was classified as a “seasonal job,” ergo, no summertime compensation other than whatever could be scrounged in temp-work if possible. On a nine-month schedule, I was paid $3,000, which in today’s dollars would be $26,190, so teachers have come a long way since then, even in N.C., in which the average is just under $46,000, probably paid over 12 months. In Kentucky, however, and maybe in N.C. teachers can retire after 25 years and draw pensions for the rest of their lives. This means retirement in their early 50s, if desired, and a good pension for, on average, until about 80 years of age, while working at other jobs and building greater pensions—even teaching in another state. In their early 50s and 60s, teachers are not generally physically unfit, so while other folks work to draw pensions and/or social security into their late 60s, teachers have a gravy-train…at least in Kentucky. Husband-wife teams have a dream-deal. During the time since 1955 (actually in about the last two or three decades when schools have become social experiments), education progress in the U.S. has diminished markedly, especially as compared to other developed countries and even some “third-world,” so the product has not kept up with the salary increases.

  2. Amen! Well said.

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