Admit it. When the pitchman comes on, making claims for the ShamWow or Mighty Putty, you know you should look away. But you watch, because it's so goofy—how could anyone fall for it?
Except, whoa! That vacuum cleaner can lift a bowling ball?
Thus, my attention is drawn to Gov. Pat McCrory, a shallow man who nonetheless exudes the greatest confidence that Republican economic policies are lifting the state's economy.
This was McCrory's pitch when he appeared on Fox Business News last week to tout GOP legislation that dramatically reduced unemployment benefits for North Carolinians while giving large tax breaks to high-income individuals and corporations.
Because of these changes, McCrory asserted, companies are moving to our state, businesses are hiring and people who were too fussy about accepting another job—because they so enjoyed collecting unemployment—now take what they're given.
And if you call right now, McCrory added, you get a second job absolutely free!
I made that last part up, but not by much. Being on FBN with Stuart Varney is, I gather, about like being in an infomercial with an obsequious sidekick. Varney asked if McCrory wants to be president.
It's pointless to argue facts with McCrory. Like any pitchman, he has his narrative, and don't confuse him with cause and effect. Republicans cut taxes last year, and this year the unemployment rate is down—period.
Of course, the unemployment rate is down this year in 42 of the 50 states—thanks to Obama—and as the Washington D.C.-based Center for Economic and Policy Research noted recently, many states are adding jobs faster than North Carolina.
Who's in first? It's California, which is enjoying the fruits of added public investments in education, health care and transportation from tax increases pushed through by Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat.
Economist Dean Baker, the CEPR's co-director, has eviscerated McCrory's claim that cutting state unemployment benefits forced people into jobs—a claim backed by John Hood of Raleigh's right-wing John Locke Foundation, to whom Baker's analysis responded.
"If we look at the data instead of playing games with it," Baker concluded, "the story is pretty clear. There is zero evidence that cutting unemployment benefits in North Carolina or the rest of the country did anything to spur job growth."
Overall, the North Carolina economy continues to hurt, with fewer payroll jobs today and 31 percent more unemployed residents than before the Great Recession started in 2008, writes John Quinterno, principal with South by North Strategies, a policy research firm based in Chapel Hill. "Look beyond the important-yet-limited measure of the unemployment rate," Quinterno says, "and one will see a labor market that is netting jobs at the same sluggish pace as [in] the past few years."
But McCrory isn't deterred. He simply tells his story again, attributing whatever good news is at hand to Republican tax cuts—like the guy who lifted the bowling ball and claimed it was his powerful vacuum cleaner. Never mind that any vacuum would've served.
The truth is, cutting state tax rates may or may not add to economic growth and can even detract from it, depending on who gets the tax breaks. A dollar paid to a schoolteacher in Cary is likely to be spent in Cary and spent again, maybe this time in Durham, by the next person who gets it. Contrast that with a dollar of taxes not collected from a Raleigh corporation or millionaire—they may invest it in Asia.
If McCrory wants to generate economic growth in his own state, there's a more reliable way to do it. Accept Medicaid expansion, which would bring $9.5 billion in federal aid to North Carolina over the next three years—at no cost to state taxpayers—and create 40,000 jobs, according to a report from the White House Council of Economic Advisers entitled "Missed Opportunities: The Consequences of Decisions Not to Expand Medicaid."
But McCrory can't be for that because the Republican Party hates Obama, hates Medicaid and considers it "welfare," to quote Sen. Neal Hunt, a Raleigh Republican.
So instead, McCrory pitches the products of the North Carolina Chamber, which brags on its website that slashing unemployment benefits will save businesses an average of $714 per employee—over seven years!
That's $102 a year per employee saved—a pittance, considering they're still employed—while those thrown out of work lose, on average, $100 or more in benefits each week. Worse, as of July 1, if you lose a job in North Carolina through no fault of your own, you're eligible for a maximum of 14 weeks of unemployment, down from the prior limit of 26 weeks.
Our 14-week limit is the stingiest in the country.
As for Republican tax cuts for the rich, they've blown a $500 million a year hole in the state budget, which is why, as the new fiscal year begins, there still is no approved state budget for 2014–15. Will teachers finally get a raise? Who knows?
Nonetheless, the Republicans have further tax cuts coming on Jan. 1, 2015, including another reduction in maximum corporate tax rates from 6 percent to 5 percent—a plan which promises to extract an additional $300 million a year from state coffers, according to the nonpartisan Budget & Tax Center in Raleigh.
Would an additional $800 million every year for investments in education, health care and transportation soon make North Carolina a better place to live and do business?
You bet—and that's my pitch.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Now with 100 percent fewer facts."