WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?

There is a strong case to be made for rescinding the sweeping 2013 Republican tax changes that favor the wealthiest families and corporations in the state, and restoring that money to the public treasury, where it can be put to use on behalf of the education and health of North Carolina’s residents.20 Bringing up this subject is no longer just a fantasy or political taboo. On September 17th, New Jersey governor Philip Murphy, a former Goldman Sachs banker, asked his state's assembly to adopt a “millionaires’ tax because of the Covid-19 crisis. [21] He claims: 

 

We do not hold any grudge at all against those who have been successful in life (...) But in this unprecedented time, when so many middle-class families and others have sacrificed so much, now is the time to ensure that the wealthiest among us are also called to sacrifice. 

Governor Murphy knows realistically that no one else but the upper-class of his state has the money required to deal with the crisis. If this is true for a rich state like New Jersey, then it is true for the much poorer state of North Carolina.

As a UNC System cross-campus coalition composed by members of the American Association of University Professors, UE150 NC Public Workers Union, and unaffiliated partners, we demand that the most wealthy individuals and corporations in North Carolina step up and do their part financially to ensure the future viability of the University of North Carolina System. Our overriding objectives in making the demands that follow are:

  • To protect the health and economic welfare of UNC workers by enacting the “Safe Jobs Save Lives” UE150 recommendations for all UNC System campus workers. [22]

  • To address 2020-21 UNC System financial losses due to the effects of Covid-19, both for the short-term (with “bridging” state funding) and over the long-term, through a more equitable distribution of the wealth of the state of North Carolina. 

  • To ensure economic justice to UNC workers by increasing the wages of our lowest-income campus workers’ base wages up to Orange County’s  “living wage” levels, or $30.11/hour (for a worker with two children), and providing them with UNC-paid healthcare and pension benefits  with time and one-half overtime pay, and paid sick leave. [23]

  • To increase clerical staff salaries and benefits to make them competitive with private sector salaries and benefits.

  • To increase the salaries of our contract faculty to at least $15,000 per course taught, with guaranteed healthcare and retirement benefits going forward from 2020. [24]

  • To make higher-education in North Carolina  free of charge to our students, in accordance with the North Carolina Constitution’s Article 9, Section 9 that “The General Assembly shall provide that the benefits of The University of North Carolina and other public institutions of higher education, as far as practicable, be extended to the people of the State free of expense.” [25]

  • To provide more generous scholarships to low-income students and BIPOC students in the UNC System.

  • To implement a capital campaign for the complete conversion of UNC System campuses to renewable energy sources.

The Bottom Line

To meet these objectives we demand that the North Carolina General Assembly and the Board of Governors of the University of North Carolina implement the following measures:

  • Rescind the 2013 regressive tax changes implemented by the then-conservative majority of the NCGA and appropriate no less than $700 million in new state revenues for the UNC System. 

  • Devote the remaining $1.3 billion to  K-12 education and the expansion of Medicaid, given that public elementary and secondary education and medical care to the poorest North Carolinians were also major casualties of the 2013 tax giveaways to the wealthy and corporations by the conservative majority of the NC General Assembly. We stand in solidarity with labor unions and advocacy organizations to regain this state funding to replenish these vital public services.

 

We are demanding that the new North Carolina General Assembly, immediately after the swearing in of its new members in 2021, rescind the 2013 tax change laws which have generated an upward flow of wealth to the 1% in the state, and use the new revenues made available (approximately $2 billion annually) on behalf of the people of North Carolina. [26] 

$2 billion is not an arbitrary figure. According to the Budget and Tax Center report of 2016 regarding NCGA tax changes by the conservative majority, 

[T]he further reduction in PIT (Personal Income Tax) and CIT (Corporate Income Tax) would reduce revenue by an additional $677 million for the fiscal year that starts July 1, 2016, with the cost growing in subsequent years. This further reduction in revenue available for public investment builds onto the nearly $1.4 billion in annual revenue loss from income tax cuts since 2013. These are dollars that otherwise would be available for public schools, making higher education more affordable, healthcare services for the elderly and poor, and helping ensure that economic growth extends to rural and distressed communities across the state. [27]

Since the largest service provided by the state of North Carolina to its population is education, and because UNC System funding typically receives about one third of its general revenues,  no less than 700 million of this additional revenue should be used to support the expenses of the UNC System campuses, beginning in early 2021, and continuing indefinitely thereafter. This additional annual $700 million appropriation to the UNC System stemming from progressive tax changes is what is needed to protect our UNC System’s infrastructure and human capital from the decimation that the pandemic combined with BOG and campus administrators’ austerity policies  would otherwise drive us to.

  • Use the $700 million increase in appropriations to the UNC System in part to reduce the cost of tuition and fees to the students enrolled in UNC campuses.  

The $700 million increase in appropriations to the NC system should be partly used to enforce the currently violated requirement imposed on the NC General Assembly by  Article 9, Section 9, of North Carolina’s Constitution that  higher education for North Carolina residents be made as “free of expense” as possible,  by immediately decreasing the tuition and fees for  all in-state students. According to our scenario, in 2021 and in the years thereafter, the increased $700 million in appropriations, when properly allocated between the differentially endowed UNC System campuses, would make it possible for approximately 72% of all students  enrolled in the UNC System to have their tuition and fees reduced between 45% and 100% (i.e., no tuition and fees) and for the remaining 28%, those enrolled in the two most highly endowed campuses of the System, UNC Chapel Hill and North Carolina State University, to have their tuition and fees reduced by 11% and 17% respectively (Figure 1). In the case of these two campuses, over time given the newly freed-up funds from reversing the 2013 tax giveaways, the tuition and fees for students at these two campuses should be reduced  even further to affordable levels.

  • Increase the average per student allocation for the UNC System from $14,024 (2019-2020) to $17, 140  per year.

For this purpose, we demand that the average per-student allocation for students in the UNC System immediately be increased beginning in 2021 from its current figure of $14,024 per student per year to $17, 140 per year, an across-the-board increase of 22.2%, and that this figure be adjusted upward for annual inflation going forward.

  • Allocate the increased average funding per student to provide special funding for  students of color and poor students across the UNC System, to provide higher education to them without cost.

Current per-student funding within the UNC System discriminates against students attending our HBCUs and Promise Schools, as it does to a lesser extent when all other UNC campuses are compared to the top tier of UNC-CH and NCSU. Compared to per-student funding at UNC Chapel Hill ($23,655) and NCSU ($16,870), the per-student funding for the 32,000 students in NC’s four HBCUs ranges from $10,679 to $14,195, while the per-student funding for the 21,637 students in the three Promise School campuses ranges from $12,866 to $13,844, once long overdue “stabilization funds” for ECSU are subtracted out.   

As a highest priority, we demand that the  $700 million new appropriation to the UNC System be allocated to provide higher funding per student at those campuses which enroll a large proportion of economically disadvantaged African-Americans, Indigenous, and Latinx students. These are our HBCUs (Fayetteville State University, North Carolina A&T State University, North Carolina Central University, and Winston-Salem State University) and our Promise Schools (Western Carolina University, UNC Pembroke, and Elizabeth City State University). The second priority should be to increase per-student state funding to all remaining 6 UNC campuses (ASU, UNC-A,UNC-C, UNC-G, UNC-W, and ECU).  

We propose that the best way of achieving these two priorities is by appropriating an average of $16,520 per student to each of 13 campuses in the UNC System with the exception of UNC-CH and NCSU, since an across-the-board increase to all campuses would provide special relief to the HBCUs and Promise Schools that have been historically underfunded. Over time, the additional $700,000,000 in funding to the UNC System allocated in this way will allow HBCUs and Promise Schools to increase their enrollments as well as scholarships for poor students.  This additional funding level per student will not only allow HBCU and Promise School students in our state to enter UNC System universities at lower cost, but also provide more scholarship funding to the poorest UNC students in the state so that they can afford a university education without incurring proportionately large amounts of debt.

  • To provide a new fund of 5% every year of the increased $700m state funding  to provide additional wage, salary and benefit support to the lowest-paid UNC System workers.

We demand that 5% of the additional new appropriation (currently $700 million, yielding $35 million) be devoted to enhancing workers’ pay and benefits beyond their current levels throughout the UNC System campuses. Highest priority should be given to increasing paid-sick leave per diem rates, and increasing the numbers of days of sick leave that can be taken by workers made sick by diseases like Covid-19 that endanger public health. These are our UNC on-campus physical workers (e.g. housekeepers, maintenance staff), our lower-level clerical staff, and our contract faculty paid on a per-course basis. For this purpose, a fund on each campus should be set up, based on the campus’s per-student state funding, to administer the new fund, with decisions made based on equal representation by that campus’s recognized staff organization (one vote), representatives of the AAUP/UE 150 coalition on that campus (one vote), and the campus’s Human Relations department (one vote). Priority in the allocation from this fund should go to the lowest-paid workers on each campus.

We hasten to add that it makes sense to allocate more funding to those who are least paid because their additional income will be used for increased consumption that will patronize local businesses and increase economic prosperity throughout the locale in which that campus is located.