The Republican Budget Fails the Good Neighbor Test
On Good Friday, my house and my neighborhood were walloped by the EF2 tornado that cut a swath through Orange County. Just a week later, the North Carolina General Assembly began debate on our budget proposal for the year. Sometimes the budget process feels like a tornado, but there was something else that tied the two together in my mind this year, and that is our responsibility to care for one another.
Like others in our community, my family is very fortunate in the wake of the storm. Although the tornado hit 44 homes in Orange County, not a single person was killed or even seriously injured. Unfortunately, several of our neighbors will be out of their homes for six months or more as repairs are made, but no one has been permanently displaced.
Although the tornado was a significant weather event and did significant property damage, the government is not going to declare it an official disaster. Why? To qualify for disaster status, there must be at least 25 homes damaged that are uninsured or underinsured. All of the properties damaged in Orange County are insured, so the repairs and recovery will be paid for by the insurance companies and the homeowners.
There is a part of me that wishes that government would step in to clear out my downed trees and haul them away. Life is always easier when someone else is paying for it. But I understand that government’s role in a disaster is to help those who cannot help themselves, and that principle does not apply to my neighbors and me.
In fact, the real silver lining of the tornado has been seeing our rural neighbors come together to take care of one another. The Orange Grove Volunteer Fire Department and our nearby neighbors from Sturdivant Farm had our road cleared for emergency access within two hours. Those who couldn’t stay in their homes were taken in by neighbors with extra space. The day after the storm, dozens of neighbors and friends pitched in with chainsaws, skid steers, and strong backs to clear driveways and entryways to homes. Elder neighbors had their properties taken care of by those who weren’t affected. When communities come together to take care of one another, that’s better than government.
When I got out of my work clothes and returned to the gussied up confines of Raleigh, my attention turned to the budget with thoughts about how it reflects our state as a giant set of neighbors. The budget is — or should be — our annual opportunity to show North Carolina’s values in action. To put our money where our mouth is. To be good neighbors. To take care of one another.
And yet, the budget is never large enough to do everything that North Carolinians ask of their state. In every budget process, legislators put forth proposals to pay for things that go beyond what the available funds can provide. Through a healthy debate about the wisdom or fairness of many of those proposals, we find general agreement that there is never enough money to go around.
However, government spending is not where the tornado’s aftermath sent my mind. The budgetary metaphor for how my neighbors came together to help one another is actually better suited for the revenue side of the budget. Without government stepping in to help us with clean up, our homeowners association allocated several thousand dollars to assist with debris removal, essentially a voluntary tax. It’s not surprising that good people will dip a little deeper into their own pockets when they see neighbors in crisis. People perform similar acts for each other whenever they see the need. And yet, that same generosity isn’t always apparent when it comes to taking care of each other through taxes.
Right now, North Carolina needs additional investments in health care, education, transportation, election security, and more. There is broad agreement across parties that those are needs worth addressing. The biggest partisan difference in our budget process is around the revenue we need to take care of those things.
Unfortunately, this year the Republicans in charge of the budget once again failed the important tests of how much revenue to raise and how to raise it. Even while agreeing that our needs are already outpacing our revenues, they have proposed a budget that is fundamentally unfair and benefits corporations and the well-off at the expense of working folks and their families. They cut $250 million per year in corporate taxes while raising taxes on online sales that will be paid for mostly by working people. The combination is a disappointing turn away from the concept of community and of fortunate neighbors helping those in need. So, last Friday I voted against the current budget proposal.
By Saturday, I had returned to wielding a chainsaw in my yard. A couple of neighbors came by to help. They’re North Carolinians, so they believe in taking care of one another, even if it costs them time or money. If only our current Republican legislative leadership acted with that same commitment to all of our state’s neighbors.
Graig Meyer is the State Representative for House District 50. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared in the News of Orange and Caswell Messenger.