Jay Chaudhuri | Candidate Questionnaires - Statewide | Indy Week
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Jay Chaudhuri 

NCGA Senate 16

Name as it appears on the ballot: Jay Chaudhuri
Campaign Website: www.JayForNC.com

Occupation & Employer: Lawyer/Self-Employed
Phone number: (919) 408-7430
Email: campaign@jayfornc.com
Years lived in the district: 16

click to enlarge jay_chaudhuri.jpg
1. How would you rate the 2015 session of the General Assembly?

I would give the General Assembly’s session a failing grade because the legislature’s priorities continue to be upside down. The legislature failed to invest in our children and middle class while it gave the wealthy and profitable corporations large tax breaks. Specifically, our General Assembly decreased funding for early childhood education, failed to raise teacher pay, cut K-12 per-student spending, increased community college tuition, and cut spending to our University of North Carolina system. For our General Assembly to receive a passing grade, we must return to our State’s progressive tradition that made us an economic leader in the South: invest in our early childhood education programs, public schools, and universities.

2. If you are challenging an incumbent, what decisions has the incumbent made that you most disagree with? If you are an incumbent, what issues do you believe failed to get the attention they deserve and should be addressed in the next session?

I am running for an open seat vacated by Senator Josh Stein. I believe Senator Stein has been a tireless advocate on behalf of those left behind under the policies of this Republican General Assembly. I intend to carry on his progressive legacy with the same dedication and spirit that I have brought as senior attorney to Attorney General Roy Cooper and State Treasurer Cowell. That legacy includes making education a priority again, including fighting for better teacher pay, and building an economy that works for all North Carolinians.

3. Education spending, if you include the UNC system, accounts for more than half of the state budget. But per-pupil K-12 spending is among the lowest in the country. Does the state need to allocate more money to classrooms? Should teachers be given a raise? If so, how would you propose to pay for it?

As a product of Fayetteville public schools and father to a daughter who will begin public elementary school this fall, I believe we must make education and teacher pay a top priority again. My education plan calls for increased K-12 education spending in four areas: (1) raise teacher pay with the “5 x 5” initiative, which would give teachers a five percent pay increase every year over the next five years; (2) restore the student population growth formula back to the budget, which had been in place since 1933 until the General Assembly eliminated it in 2014; (3) double our textbook funding, which has been cut from $111 million in fiscal year 2009-10 to $52 million last year; and (4) pass a constitutional amendment to make sure that lottery funding supplements, not supplants our education funding.

Specifically, our campaign’s “5 x 5” initiative can dramatically impact our teacher pay. With our proposal, in just two years, our State’s teacher pay would be closer to the median average (28th) and at the top of Southern states with the exception of Georgia. In five years, our teacher pay would be above the median average and the top among Southern states. I believe we can increase our investments in children by making sure that our wealthy and big corporations pay their fair share of taxes (see question 6).

4. The state in recent years has embraced charter schools and vouchers. Proponents argue that these alternatives to traditional public education offer options for parents who would otherwise have to place their child in a subpar school. Opponents argue that these alternatives divert resources from schools that need them the most. Do you believe North Carolina needs more or fewer of these alternative education options?

I would not support any expansion of such alternative options unless we properly fund traditional public schools first. Unfortunately, our General Assembly has dramatically increased funding for voucher programs while continuing to cut per-student spending for traditional public schools. Furthermore, our General Assembly has pushed for expansion of charter schools as a way to privatize our educational system, including Achievement School Districts and virtual charter schools. Those funding priorities are wrong and upside down.

5. The secretive process by which the UNC board hired Margaret Spellings has been roundly criticized in the media. Do you believe the Legislature should be more directly involved with university-system decisions of this nature? Also, do you believe the Board of Governors has become overly politicized in recent years, as some have alleged?

I believe the sudden and unexplained removal of UNC President Tom Ross reflected political interference in our public university system. More importantly, it raises real questions about who should govern our university system. I believe the governance of our university system should follow the model I helped develop for some of the Department of State Treasurer’s boards. These boards share two common characteristics: (1) they divide the appointment process between the legislative and executive branch (e.g., Senate, House, Governor, and President of the University of North Carolina system); and (2) they place an emphasis on qualifications and expertise (e.g., students, professors, higher education experts, business executives).

5. What are your three biggest budgetary priorities? Please be specific.

My top budgetary priority is increasing teacher pay. Specifically, I would push for a “5 x 5” initiative to give teachers a five percent pay increase every year over the next five years. As part of my emphasis on education, I would advocate to establish a separate education budget. A separate education budget makes sure that education gets the top attention it deserves. And it avoids making education a “shell” game.

My second priority is reducing income inequality by focusing on three key areas: (1) cutting the personal income tax rate (between a half percent and one percent cut) for working- and middle-class families; (2) restoring the State’s Earned Income Tax Credit; and (3) restoring child-care subsidies. I believe the Earned Income Tax Credit is one of the most powerful and proven tools to combat poverty for North Carolina families and children. And I will fight to restore childcare subsidies eliminated by the General Assembly because I believe subsidized childcare is both an investment and an economic development strategy.

My third priority is ending tax breaks for the wealthy and big corporations. According to the Budget & Tax Center, these giveaways will reduce our revenue by $841 million over the next two years. Within four years, they will cost over $1 billion in lost revenue each year. My top two priorities – increasing teacher pay and reducing income inequality – can be paid with this restored revenue.

6. The Legislature has over the past three years flattened and reduced the state income tax, and critics contend that most of the benefits have accrued to those at the top of the socioeconomic ladder. Do you believe the state’s tax system is equitable and prudent? If not, how would you like to see it changed?

I believe the evidence is clear that the General Assembly’s tax code favors the wealthy and big corporations and burdens working- and middle-class families. That’s due to a flat tax scheme and elimination of credits and deductions like the Earned Income Tax Credit for working families and child-care expenses.

I believe our tax code must be simple and fair. The General Assembly can achieve these goals in two ways. First, our General Assembly must help working- and middle-class families get ahead by: (1) cutting personal income taxes (between a half percent and one percent); (2) restoring the Earned Income Tax Credit; (3) restoring childcare subsidies; and (4) making community college free for those who are qualified.

Second, our legislature must reform our tax code by eliminating the past tax breaks for the wealthiest and big corporations so they pay their fair share of taxes. As part of this reform, I would push for legislation that requires “combined” reporting that would close dozens of loopholes for large multi-state corporations. As General Counsel and Senior Policy Advisor to State Treasurer Janet Cowell, I helped propose the same idea as part of Treasurer Cowell’s tax reform plan in January 2011. Three other commissions on modernizing our states finances have made a similar recommendation for mandatory “combined” reporting. I believe such reform would level the playing field on taxes between small businesses and large, out-of-state corporations.

I believe that creating a fair and simple tax code can play a key part in reducing the income equality that exists in our State. Today, working- and middle-class families are working harder but making the same or less than they did a decade ago.

North Carolina needs a tax system that is fair to everyone. I am proud of my record of working hard for greater equity. As a senior attorney to Attorney General Roy Cooper and State Treasurer Janet Cowell, I stood up for North Carolina families and children. That’s one of the reasons I’ve earned endorsements from Treasurer Cowell, Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane, the North Carolina State AFL-CIO, the North Carolina Police Benevolent Association, the Raleigh Police Protective Association, the Raleigh Professional Fire Fighters Association, Teamsters Local 391 and the Triangle Labor Council.

7. North Carolina has not executed anyone in 10 years, but it has 148 people on death row. Would you support restarting executions, or do you believe the death penalty should be abolished?

I do not support restarting executions because I believe our current administration of the death penalty is racially biased. That is why I support restoring the Racial Justice Act that the General Assembly repealed in 2013. This law allowed defendants to use statistics to challenge a death sentence if they proved race was a factor in imposing the death penalty.

With regard to broader criminal justice issues, I believe that we must move away from mass incarceration and private prisons and towards a push for reentry programs that work to give incarcerated individuals a second chance. There is bipartisan support for such criminal justice reforms at the federal level. I am hopeful that our General Assembly can pursue such reforms at the state level.

8. Last year, over the governor’s veto, the Legislature passed S.B. 2, which allows magistrates to opt out of performing same-sex-marriage ceremonies? Do you support S.B. 2 or believe it should be repealed? Why or why not?

I believe S.B. 2 should be repealed for three reasons. First, I do not believe our General Assembly should determine whether government officials can elect to carry out their job duties or not. Like other government officials, magistrates took an oath to perform their duty. If magistrates elect not to perform their duty, it establishes a dangerous precedent for other government officials who can refuse to do so for similar reasons. Second, I believe allowing magistrates to opt out, especially in smaller counties, could make it much more difficult for same-sex couples to find a magistrate who can perform a marriage in their county. Finally, I strongly believe that all citizens, regardless of their sexual orientation, should enjoy equal protection under the law.

I also believe such rights should extend to the workplace. I believe it is wrong that current law allows an employer to fire an employee because they are gay, lesbian, or transgender. That’s why I’ll fight to protect gay, lesbian, and transgender individuals from workplace discrimination in the General Assembly.

9. Also in the last year’s session, the Legislature passed a bill forcing abortion providers to send the Department of Health and Human Services ultrasound images of some aborted fetuses. Do you believe such provisions are necessary, or is this a case of the state inappropriately interfering in women’s health care decisions?

I believe last year’s bill requiring the Department of Health and Human Services to collect ultrasound images of aborted fetuses reflects the larger disturbing trend of the General Assembly’s sustained attack on women’s reproductive rights. Over the last few years, this legislature has added unnecessary regulations on abortion clinics, tripled the abortion waiting period, and defunded Planned Parenthood. I will fight the extremists in the legislature who want to put politicians between women and their doctors. That’s why I am 100 percent pro-choice, and that’s why I am proud to be endorsed by NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina in this primary.

10. If elected, what would you do to protect North Carolina’s environment and natural resources? Do you believe state environmental regulatory bodies need more funding or less funding, and why?

An overwhelming majority of scientists agree that climate change is real, and humans are the primary cause of it. In 2011, our General Assembly literally passed a law that outlawed climate change science. If our State fails to act now, we will find parts of our treasured coast underwater.

I will fight to protect our environment because I want to make sure that our State leaves behind the same natural resources and beauty to my children that I experienced growing up in North Carolina.

To protect our environment, I will push for three main policies. First, I will protect our coast by opposing Governor McCrory’s offshore oil drilling push. I believe such drilling forgets the economic, environmental, and public health disaster of the BP Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico that cost those communities more than $100 billion in losses. Second, I will fight the State Senate and Department of Environmental Quality who wish to opt out of and mount expensive court challenges to President Obama’s Clean Power Plan. Finally, I will hold utility companies accountable to clean up coal ash quickly and removing such coal ash away from groundwater.

As part of these policies, I strongly believe our regulatory bodies need more funding because our State currently lacks the resources to investigate and enforce our rules and statutes.

In addition, I will push to create new green jobs by pursuing two policies. First, I will work to maintain and grow our State’s emerging solar industry. Our State’s tax credits and mandate for utility companies to use more renewable energy has boosted North Carolina as a top state for solar projects and jobs. I will fight to maintain our lead in this industry by pushing to restore our solar tax credits that have been eliminated by the General Assembly and protect our renewable energy portfolio standards. Second, I will support the Energy Freedom Act, a bipartisan bill that would shift the choice from utility companies to consumers in how they purchase solar power.

11. In recent years, the Legislature has reconfigured districts for both the Wake County Board of Education and the Wake County Board of Commissioners in a manner that critics allege was done to boost Republican electoral hopes. Do you believe this redistricting was proper? Would you support repealing these bills?

Yes, I would absolutely support repealing these bills for three reasons. First, I believe this redistricting process was carried out for partisan purposes after Democrats successfully won both the Wake County Board of Education and Wake County Board of Commissioners races during the prior two years. Second, I believe this redistricting process is arguably unconstitutional and violates the principle of one person, one vote by giving more weight to some Wake County voters than others. Finally, I believe this process violates the fundamental idea of not interfering in local government matters, another troubling trend with this General Assembly that has also overreached with Asheville’s water system and Charlotte’s airport.

12. On reapportionment, both parties have shown that they will abuse the redistricting process when given a chance. Will you support a bill in the next session to turn all future redistricting over to a non-partisan or bi-partisan independent commission?

I have repeatedly said in my stump speech that we will never achieve educational and economic equality without first reforming a political system that United States Senator Elizabeth Warren rightly calls “rigged.” Among the many steps we must take to reform our political system – including a more restrictive revolving-door policy for legislators and public financing of campaigns – is the need to establish an independent redistricting commission. North Carolina is a “purple state” with an almost evenly divided electorate between parties, yet we have a Republican supermajority-controlled General Assembly. An independent restricting process would save our State millions of dollars in litigation, better reflect the voters’ will, and give voters greater confidence in our political system. I would absolutely support a bill to turn all future redistricting over to an independent commission.

13. Identify and explain one principled stand you would be willing to take if elected that you suspect might cost you some popularity points with voters.

Recently, I have taken a stand on pushing for stronger gun control laws that has already resulted in some negative comments from voters. However, I feel strongly about preventing and reducing gun violence given my track record as Special Counsel to Attorney General Roy Cooper, where I designed a nationally-recognized school safety kit and led the Attorney General’s Campus Safety Task Force after the Virginia Tech shooting.

Specifically, my campaign’s policies focuses on three areas: (1) fight to maintain background checks and require a background check for all gun sales; (2) close the loophole for those on the terrorist watch list and domestic abusers; and (3) prevent school violence by funding school psychologists and counselors.

In 2015, we had 329 mass shootings resulting in more than 13,000 deaths and more than 26,000 injuries. That’s almost one shooting per day during the year. And in North Carolina alone, a gun kills somebody every eight hours. I have a record of working to prevent and reduce gun violence as Special Counsel to Attorney General Roy Cooper, and I will build on that record in the General Assembly, even if it costs me votes.
  • NCGA Senate 16

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