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Economic reality far from Tillis' fantasy


Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington.


Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Sen. Thom Tillis so desperately wants to make North Carolina a red state he’s taken to wearing rose-tinted glasses.

Tillis, in an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, discusses tax cuts he helped ram through the General Assembly while he served as House speaker.

Readers perusing the piece could be forgiven if they came away thinking the former state House speaker had paved the streets with gold, made public school teachers’ supply closets overflow with resources, given state workers big raises, ended waiting lines at the DMV, slashed costs for university students and made sure everyone had easy and affordable access to health care.

While Tillis claimed he held off hordes of special interest lobbyists seeking special tax breaks in his so-called tax reforms, the truth is he worked hand-in-hand with the business lobbyists to deliver a huge corporate tax cut that hasn’t stimulated the economy, nor led to further investment.

The Tillis “analysis” was big on sweeping declarations and short on specifics. Who can blame him for looking to paint over the details of reality with the broad brush of generalizations?

Let’s add a few facts to the senator’s grandiose conclusions and provide the kind of reality check that middle class North Carolinians know all too well.

“More than 350,000 jobs have been created, and the unemployment rate has been cut nearly in half,” Tillis said. The truth is employment growth hasn’t come close to keeping up with the state’s population growth.

North Carolina’s population has increased 11 percent over the last decade but the size of the prime-age workforce (ages 25-54) increased just 8 percent — suggesting that some people who should be in the workforce have dropped out, including many still in their prime who lost jobs in the recession and eventually gave up trying to find something else. And that’s not to mention the number of people who have been forced to take jobs at lower rates of pay or fewer hours than they desired.

That is slightly better than treading water.

Of great concern should be the sectors where we’ve lost jobs. Compared to 2007, North Carolina has 53,000 fewer construction jobs (a 21 percent drop) and 70,000 fewer manufacturing jobs (down 13 percent). Much of the growth, meanwhile, has come in sectors characterized by low wages, few benefits and more precarious job security.

Since the recession, most North Carolina households have found it tougher to make ends meet. Median household income in North Carolina has been losing ground to inflation over the last decade. The median income of $46,193 a decade ago would be $54,964 today when adjusted for inflation. Given the latest household median income of $50,584, families are bringing in $4,376 less per year. Think of it as an 8 percent pay cut.

The current poverty rate for the state, 16.4 percent, is higher than it was in 2007,14.3 percent. That’s no comeback — it’s heading backwards.

What Tillis calls tax reform has really been a massive shift in who pays the cost of government and how they do it. In simple terms, the Tillis plan cut taxes on corporations and raised sales and use taxes on everyone else. In the last decade, sales tax collections have increased 40 percent while corporate income taxes have dropped 48 percent. The burden of paying the costs of government is being moved onto lower income taxpayers from higher income ones.

Tillis used overly broad strokes to paint his rosy and unrealistic picture of a “transformed” North Carolina. But when you take a closer look at the numbers that show the state’s economic performance, a different picture emerges.

Faith in trickle-down economics has left Tillis all wet and his rank-and-file constituents’ hopes for economic improvement high and dry.

While Tillis and his fellow leaders in the General Assembly have been busy taking care of the state’s comfortable big corporations, the middle and working class households of the state are left in their dust.

Capitol Broadcasting Company, Raleigh