North Carolina Democrats are still hoping for a blue wave come November, and they’ve just laid out the case for why voters should support it.
Party leaders fanned out across the state earlier this week to unveil the new platform, which for the first time in years lays out a strong affirmative case for voting Democrat this November.
Known as “Our Carolina Promise,” the platform appears to be intended to reach moderate and unaffiliated voters in eastern and western North Carolina, as well as their base in metro areas.
While there are plenty of generalities — “rebuild an economy that works for everyone” and “ensure clean air and safe drinking water” among them — there are also a number of specific policy proposals that could gain traction among the moderate swath of the electorate.
That said, it’s much easier to make promises than to deliver on them. Carrying out all of these proposals would require a massive increase in spending — and thus new taxes. The platform does not include rolling back North Carolina’s popular tax cuts, though Gov. Roy Cooper has called for that in the past.
Here’s a breakdown of 7 policy proposals that should be popular this campaign season.
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1) Passing the N.C. Equal Pay Act.
Democrats put forth a bill in 2017 that would codify protections against wage discrimination affecting women in North Carolina. It’s a significant bill that would fundamentally change labor laws in the state.
Senate Bill 537 would require employers to pay men and women equally for “comparable work.” Employers would have to be able to show that differences in pay between male and female employees were due to a seniority system (that does not exclude time spent on maternity leave), a bona fide merit system, educational level or geographic location.
Employers would also be prohibited from asking about a candidate’s salary history.
Employees would be able to file a complaint under the Wage and Hour Act with the state Commissioner of Labor, who would be able to examine and analyze payroll records to find out if there are discrepancies.
In the platform, this proposal is described as “equal pay for equal work.” This could energize more women to vote, which is key to the party’s chances.
The law hasn’t gotten a ton of discussion among N.C. lawmakers, but similar federal initiatives have been opposed by Republicans saying that there are already enough laws on the books to protect women from discrimination and that such proposals could encourage frivolous lawsuits.
2) Raise the minimum wage.
While the platform doesn’t specifically put a dollar figure to this goal, N.C. Democrats have floated a bill that would increase the minimum wage to $12 per hour in increments by the year 2020. It’s currently in line with the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.
Lawmakers have described that as a first step on the way to $15 per hour by 2022.
Roughly 120,000 people in North Carolina earn the minimum wage, and a full 40 percent of the state workforce would be affected by a $15 minimum wage.
Of course, such a dramatic increase in worker pay would undoubtedly speed up the mechanization of the workforce, particularly in the service industry. The conservative Heritage Foundation has warned that some 367,000 people in North Carolina would lose their jobs under the $15 per hour wage plan.
3) Force utilities to pay for environmental cleanup instead of customers.
Without saying it, this platform point is a clear reaction to how Duke Energy has responded to coal ash spills across the state.
State regulators at the N.C. Utilities Commission approved a roughly 15 percent electricity rate increase for Duke Energy earlier this year. As part of all those proceedings, the company is required to make a case for why they need more money.
Duke was able to use investment in coal ash cleanup as part of that case, to the tune of $232 million over the next half-decade.
That said, there are politicians on both sides of the aisle that would agree with forcing Duke and other utilities to make their shareholders swallow these costs.
Also, Democrats aren’t blameless here. The chairman of the Utilities Commission was appointed by Democratic Gov. Mike Easley, and reappointed by fellow Democrats Gov. Bev Perdue and Gov. Roy Cooper1.
I haven’t seen any specific bills that would address this. But it is certain to be a popular proposal, and it’s in the formal Democratic Party platform.
4) Restore the state Earned Income Tax Credit.
This tax credit predominantly goes to low-income families, about 1 million of them each year in North Carolina2.
It’s built off the federal EITC, which is a sliding scale based on income and family size. Generally, the state would allow its taxpayers to claim a percentage.
Here’s the federal info.
The average federal deduction in North Carolina was $2,462 in 2015, the last year for which data was available.
This is another instance where Democrats have regularly floated bills to accomplish this, but haven’t gained traction. Most bills I’ve seen would peg it to 10% of the federal credit, meaning North Carolina taxes would be reduced (or refunded) between $50 and $200.
Republicans argue that their tax cuts — lowering the personal income tax rate that makes up the bulk of state revenues — have benefited more people, including working-class families.
5) Raise teacher and principal pay to the national average.
The average North Carolina currently makes $51,214, good for 37th in the nation, according to the NEA.
That’s less than the national average of $60,483.
It’s unclear how Democrats would propose to raise this. These numbers are very complex and are skewed by the age demographics of state’s teachers and how much local governments supplement salary.
Also, this is another instance where Republicans will have a credible case to make for their own side. Teacher pay has risen steadily over the past five years, and it will go up another 10% in this biennium. Teacher pay has risen from 41st to 37th in just two years.
[Longleaf story: 4 myths about education funding in North Carolina you’ll hear this week]
6) Expand N.C. Pre-K
North Carolina’s early childhood education program is ranked one of the best in the country, but it serves less than half of the children who are eligible under income guidelines.
I dove deep into this issue, and both the Republican and Democratic approaches to it, in this story: Is N.C. ready to pour more money into early childhood education?
The short version is that Republicans have already expanded funding to N.C. Pre-K to clear the 5,000-child waiting list. They’re currently studying a more scientific approach to early childhood education.
A bill from Sen. Jeff Jackson (D-Charlotte) would accelerate investment in the program.
7) Pass independent redistricting.
I almost hesitated to put this on the list, but the fact is that most of the state would support a new way of drawing political districts that would eliminate partisanship.
But it’s also true that the minority party in North Carolina has called for this for decades. Republicans did so when Democrats were in power, and vice versa.
Should Democrats succeed in taking over the General Assembly, they’d face enormous pressure to scrap this platform plank, especially as a new census looms.
But if they actually followed through, it would be a major breakthrough for North Carolina.
Cover photo of a minimum wage rally in Durham in 2017. Photo by the NC State AFL-CIO via Facebook.