Saturday, January 7, 2012

Column: Greetings from Ellie Kinnaird

Dear Friends,
North Carolina’s gas tax increased in January. Our gas tax is tied to the cost of wholesale gas prices and goes up or down every six months depending on that cost.
Why is North Carolina’s gas tax higher than other nearby states? North Carolina is unique in that the state is wholly responsible for highway construction and maintenance. Counties provide no funds and do not build or maintain roads. Some states allow counties to build and maintain roads by paying for them with property taxes. In NC, we share the costs statewide, but it makes sense that those who use the roads pay for them with the gas tax.
In addition, after Texas, North Carolina has the most miles of roads in the United States. The gas tax is the main way our roads are paid for and maintained. When the cost of petroleum products and labor goes up, the Department of Transportation has to pay more for its supplies and labor, meaning it has less to spend on our huge backlog of needs.
Surprisingly, this year, America is the top exporter of gasoline, diesel and jet fuel. We are still the largest importer of crude from other countries, but we refine and export it to developing countries in Latin America, Europe and Asia, even as our demand falls through fuel efficient cars and a bad economy. But since it is a world market and the refineries sell to the highest bidder, our prices at the pump—even before taxes—reflect global supply and demand.
Last week, I reported on Smart Start, the Partnership for Young Children, that is funded by the state to provide care for pre-schoolers in the state. This week the Orange County Department of Social Services reported that they lost $800,000 in state funding, meaning that 650 children who qualify for child-care subsidy will not be able to receive it. The cuts also affect child care providers who could lose their jobs if they do not have enough children in their facilities.
Another agency the state funds is the Food Bank of North Carolina, which received $2 million in this year’s budget. In addition, $3.773 million in federal Social Services Block Grant funds is appropriated for the food banks. In these difficult economic times, the food banks are called on to provide even more services.
The Food Bank also stepped in when Hurricane Irene and the tornadoes devastated eastern North Carolina. The organization distributed 41.5 million pounds of food to families and 54,157 backpacks of nutritious food items to approximately 1,479 children. A special program, the Kids Cafe program, served over 193,000 meals during their first decade of service. In addition, private donations totaled $5.77 million
Someday, I hope we can connect the dots that if people such as fast food workers, clerks in stores, etc. don’t make a living wage, they can’t support themselves and need the government (and taxpayers) to supplement their needs. I wonder if there’s an analysis could figure out how much a hamburger at a fast food restaurant really costs, factoring in that their workers collect food stamps, Medicaid for their children, emergency room medical care because their employer doesn’t provide health insurance and Section 8 vouchers for housing (or even use the homeless shelters). We are indeed our brother’s keeper.
Happy New Year to all and peace in the world in 2012.

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