Wednesday, March 30, 2011

What Happened to Gloomy Predictions?


By Frank Knapp, Jr.

Economic reports show that most job growth in our country this year has come from small- and medium-size businesses. That trend will only accelerate, according to the recently released Small Business Index from the Center for Excellence in Service at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business.

Nearly 3.8 million new jobs will be created by small businesses with fewer than 100 employees in 2011, says the report. That will be enough alone to lower the U.S. unemployment rate by 2.4 percent. The survey, conducted in January, also found that only 2 percent of small businesses planned to lay off workers.

Major health insurance companies nationwide are reporting dramatic increases in small businesses offering health insurance to employees. This reverses a trend for small businesses dropping insurance because of affordability.

This is not what opponents of health-care reform told us would happen if Congress passed the Affordable Care Act (ACA). They warned us strenuously before the ACA became law March 23 of last year that small businesses would not only stop hiring out of fear of the future but would begin laying off workers because of anticipated new taxes, fees and health-insurance mandates under the ACA. Small businesses also were supposed to start dropping health insurance because the ACA would drive up premiums. These dire predictions continued right up until last year’s November elections.

Fortunately, the gloom and doomers were wrong. Those of us who supported the ACA have tried valiantly to put out more realistic predictions about how the ACA was going to help small businesses. There will not be new taxes, fees or health-insurance mandates for small businesses with 50 or fewer employees (approximately 96 percent of all businesses). However, most of the mainstream media preferred to report on the negative tea-reading.

But now the good news for small business is rolling in and the positive future effect of the now 1-year-old ACA is becoming clear.

More than four million U.S. small businesses with fewer than 25 employees are eligible to receive health-insurance tax credits under the ACA. That’s 87.3 percent of all small businesses in the country that the ACA can help by making health insurance more affordable.

As for the ACA dramatically increasing the cost of health insurance, a senior vice president at Harvard Pilgrim says that the federal law has only increased premiums by 1 percent.

The ACA is helping small-business owners who have been locked out of health insurance because of their own pre-existing condition. Right now, these entrepreneurs are eligible for affordable coverage from new high-risk pools established under the ACA.

This year, the ACA is requiring that at least 80 percent of every premium dollar being paid in small group health insurance plans is actually paying for medical costs -- not marketing, CEO salaries or profit. If not, the policyholder is owed a refund.

These benefits for small business are in place now.

Today, small businesses are paying as much as 18 percent higher premiums than big businesses. This is a result of higher administration costs for small groups. In 2014, this extra cost is eliminated, so small-business employees, along with individuals, will be able to purchase their coverage from the new health insurance exchanges in each state.

A small business with only one employee with a pre-existing condition finds itself priced out of the market or paying highly inflated premiums. In 2014, health insurance companies will no longer be allowed to charge higher rates because of pre-existing conditions.

And because no one will be denied health insurance because of a pre-existing condition, aspiring entrepreneurs will no longer be locked into a job because of health-insurance benefits. As a result, ranks of small businesses should expand.

The one year anniversary of the ACA is truly something small businesses should celebrate for what it has already done. The future will be even better.
Knapp is president and CEO of The South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce and serves on the steering committee for the American Sustainable Business Council.
Copyright (C) 2011 by American Forum. 3/11


By John Shepley

As a small business owner, I support legislation to increase Maryland’s inadequate minimum wage because it makes good business sense. It’s an important part of our economic recovery and economic progress. I know businesses can pay a better minimum wage and still make a profit -- it helps the business prosper.

Opponents of this legislation like the Maryland Chamber of Commerce, the Maryland Retailers Association, and the Restaurant Association tell you the time is not right to increase the minimum wage because the economy is weak. What they don’t want you to remember is that for them the time is never right. In 2005, they opposed legislation to raise Maryland’s minimum wage from $5.15 an hour to $6.15. They opposed federal legislation to raise the minimum wage in 1996, in the middle of the longest economic expansion in our nation’s history. Then president of the Maryland Retailers Association, Tom Saquella, cut to the chase when he said about their opposition in 1996, “A lot of it’s philosophical.”

So let me cut to the chase: If my business, a small nursery in rural Harford County, can profit and grow when paying a wage that people can thrive on, then there’s no reason any viable business cannot do that too. Unless, that is, their philosophy is getting in the way of good business sense.

Claims that a higher minimum wage will cost Maryland jobs and hurt our local economy are rubbish. The real hard evidence, such as a comprehensive study published in the November 2010 Review of Economics and Statistics, shows minimum wage increases do not increase unemployment.

I challenge anyone who thinks the minimum wage shouldn’t be raised, to try living on it. The minimum wage is now just $7.25 an hour, or $15,080 for full-time, year-round work. Today’s minimum wage has far less buying power than it had in the 1960s.

How is it good business to pay a wage so low your employees are continually stressed because they can’t make ends meet and are looking to leave at the first opportunity? Businesses that pay lower wages almost always have higher turnover. Instead of paying adequate wages, the owners are paying to recruit and train new workers who aren’t as productive as a more stable workforce.

The cost of a higher minimum wage is more than offset by increased productivity and cost savings from reduced turnover. At Emory Knoll Farms, we know we can count on employees: They look after the quality of our products, they understand and anticipate our customers’ needs, and I can count on our people to step up when our business needs demand a little extra. Our employees know we’ll stick by them when times are tough, and they will stick by us.

How is it good business to pay a minimum wage with less buying power than it had in the 1960s? Doesn’t that weaken the consumer demand at the heart of our local economy? I know people at the lower end of earnings tend to spend 100% of their after-tax income. They put it right back into local businesses buying food, clothing, car repairs, and other necessities of living. That money spent locally adds more jobs and boosts our economy. Moreover, a higher minimum wage boosts the sales tax and personal income tax base.

How is it good for Maryland taxpayers to have a minimum wage so low it increases the strain on our social safety net? Many state governments have reported on the public health care burden from underpaid employees of big national retailers – Massachusetts, for example, found that in 2009, Wal-Mart had more than 5,000 employees receiving health insurance coverage through state public assistance programs. The state’s cost for these Wal-Mart employees and dependents is conservatively measured at $16.6 million.
The Chesapeake Sustainable Business Alliance, made up of local and independent businesses, has signed the Business for a Fair Minimum Wage statement in support of raising Maryland’s minimum wage to $8.25 this July, $9 in 2012 and $9.75 in 2013 – and adjusting it beginning in 2014 so it does not fall behind the rising cost of living. Local and sustainable business owners know our fortunes are entwined with the fortunes of our employees and customers.

The right thing to do for Maryland workers and families is to move the minimum wage to a level where people can do more than “just survive.” Raising the minimum wage will move us towards a more stable and sustainable Maryland economy.
Shepley is co-owner of Emory Knoll Farms Inc., a wholesale nursery in Harford County. He is also chairman of the Chesapeake Sustainable Business Alliance, made up of local, independent and sustainable businesses in Maryland.
Copyright (C) 2011 by the American Forum. 3/11


By Kelly Anthony

The battle between Governor Walker and public employees in Wisconsin shines a spotlight on people who are normally behind the scenes in our communities – the public workers.

Teachers, firefighters, street cleaners, police, child abuse caseworkers – these public employees are the heartbeat of our communities. Wisconsin breaks open a debate about how these workers are treated, and the impact on citizens’ pocketbooks. Unfortunately, that debate has become more political theater than substance, with pundits advancing ideological points over honest debate. Here in the “Show Me State” we prefer to look at hard facts.

The nonpartisan Economic Policy Institute (EPI) recently issued a report on the lot of public employees in the state of Missouri. They made no-nonsense comparisons between public employees and their counterparts in the private sector. The findings may surprise you – and they will certainly alarm any Missourian that believes an effective government needs to attract the highest quality employees, and keep them for the long term.

Myth #1: Public employees earn more and have cushier jobs with more costly benefits than those in the private sector.

FACT: The EPI finds that Missouri public employees earn 15.6 percent less in total compensation per hour than comparable full-time employees in Missouri’s private sector -- this is a comprehensive figure that includes pension and health insurance benefits. Also illustrated in the report is the finding that compared to the private sector, public sector employee compensation costs are 24.3 percent LOWER at the state level than their private sector counterparts.

Myth #2: Those who are employed by the public sector are there because they “can’t make it” or are unqualified to get a job in the private sector.

FACT: the EPI report shows that public employees in Missouri have substantially higher education levels than those in the private sector; 53 percent of Missouri public employees hold at least a Bachelor’s degree, compared with 22 percent of private sector employees.

Myth#3: The public sector unions are bankrupting the state.

FACT: Despite that low pay, state workers have not received a cost of living adjustment in three years. State employees have also seen reductions in health benefits and pensions. All are now paying significantly higher premiums and deductibles through the state’s health insurance plan, and new state workers must pay 4 percent of their salary into their pension plan.

In light of all this, the question may be, why does someone in Missouri choose to work in the public sector over the private sector? That is best answered by a public employee (and you should ask them). The firefighter, the police officer or the teacher is likely to tell you their rewards are more about job satisfaction. They are filling a need, helping their community and serving their neighbors.

Just look at the facts. The next time you talk with someone in the public sector, instead of making assumptions, thank them for their service.
Anthony works with the Public Good Project of Missouri Jobs with Justice, a nonpartisan coalition promoting issues of workers’ rights and economic justice.
Copyright (C) 2011 by the Missouri Forum. 3/11


By Clare S. Richie

Georgia’s unemployment trust fund is in the red. Since the end of 2009, the state has amassed a $635 million debt to the federal government so that it could provide unemployment benefits to Georgia’s growing number of laid-off workers.

Georgia’s first interest payment of $24 million is due this fall. Already cash-strapped, Georgia’s best option to make this interest payment, repay its loan and avoid federal tax increases on employers is federal relief. A poor alternative would be redirecting state funds from critical services such as education, health care or public safety in order to pay back the loan.

The unemployment trust fund is used to make weekly payments to eligible workers who are laid off due to no fault of their own. Employers contribute to the trust fund through federal and state unemployment insurance (UI) taxes. These contributions are used to build up the trust fund during strong economic times, creating a reserve that can be used to make payments during periods of high unemployment.

The severity and length of the recent recession placed an unforeseen strain on Georgia’s trust fund; yet, it’s not the sole cause behind the state’s need to borrow federal funds. Long periods of employer tax breaks depleted Georgia’s trust fund.

The federal UI tax has been stable at about $56 per employee per year. However, Georgia policymakers have repeatedly cut the state UI tax or suppressed tax increases over the past two decades.

The largest employer tax break came during the 2000-03 “UI tax holiday” during which most of Georgia’s employers paid no state UI taxes and the reserve fund dropped by $1.3 billion. Since 2004, even during strong economic times, legislation suppressed increases to employer contributions needed to build-up the reserves.
Georgia’s insolvency is not a spending issue. Georgia pays lower unemployment benefits than the national average ($269 per week compared to the national average of $296 per week), and for a shorter period of time, roughly 15 weeks. Even more so, only about one in three unemployed workers receive UI benefits. Despite the fact that unemployment payments are oftentimes half of the average employee’s wages, they sustain consumer demand during economic downturns and as the worker looks for another job.

Federal relief, as outlined in the Unemployment Insurance Solvency Act of 2011, would provide a two-year suspension of interest payments, and a two-year suspension of automatic federal employer tax increases. It also would allow for states to develop a plan to return to solvency in exchange for partial reduction in the state’s loan.

Without federal relief, Georgia will need to repay hundreds of millions of dollars to the federal government this fall. Failure to repay $24 million in interest would automatically increase employer federal UI taxes from $56 to $434 per employee starting in 2012. Failure to repay the $635 million loan would result in a $21 increase per employee per year until the loan is repaid.

Given the two options – federal relief or repayment in full – and considering Georgia’s current budget troubles, it seems obvious that federal relief is the best option for Georgia’s future.
Richie is senior policy analyst for the Georgia Budget & Policy Institute. Analysis and recommendations on Georgia’s unemployment trust fund can be found at
Copyright (C) 2011 by Georgia Forum. 3/11


By Emily Eisenhauer

Several bills before the Florida Legislature seek to make it harder for those who are out of work through no fault of their own to get unemployment compensation. Community service requirements, mandatory drug testing, and limiting the number of weeks all seem to be based on the idea that people who are getting benefits don’t deserve them or are not looking hard enough for a job. But in this economy, that doesn’t make sense, and these proposals will make it harder for the system to do its job.

Florida lost almost a million jobs in the recession that began in late 2007, and over 1.1. million people remain unemployed in the state. Last year, 2010, was better, in that the state added 43,500 jobs. But that just means for every job added, there were still 25 people looking for work. Right now almost half of the people out of work have been looking for a job for over 6 months, and over one-third have been looking for more than a year. In recent weeks the media have covered many stories of people who have been applying for any job they can find, and still coming up empty.

Florida already has one of the strictest unemployment compensation systems in the country. In any given week between 15 and 20% of people who submit claims are rejected by the state for not providing sufficient proof of work search or other eligibility reasons. Florida has the fourth lowest maximum weekly benefit in the country - $275 – with an average weekly payment of $230. That means that on average unemployment benefits replace about 38% of a worker’s previous salary. It’s hard to imagine that people surviving on 38% of their salary wouldn’t be out doing everything they can to get a new job.

Unemployment compensation exists for two reasons: 1) to provide support for people who are out of work through no fault of their own, and 2) to stabilize the economy during a downturn. UC functions like an insurance program, and in fact in other states it is referred to as unemployment insurance (UI). Money is paid by employers for each of their employees into a fund so that should a worker lose a job there’s a cushion until he or she finds another. It isn’t welfare, it is money that workers have already earned. Applicants must show they have worked a certain amount in order to draw benefits, and the amount of benefits anyone can is capped.

This insurance program not only benefits laid-off workers, it benefits the whole economy. When thousands lose their jobs within a short time period businesses get hurt too because demand for goods and services declines. UC replaces some of the money that otherwise would have been lost to the economy and puts it into the pockets of people who will immediately spend it on basic necessities. As for the numbers: The

Congressional Budget Office estimated that extending UI benefits would bring a return of investment of as much as $1.90 in increased gross domestic product for every dollar spent, compared with extending the Bush era tax cuts, which brings a return of only 40 cents on the dollar.

This is why it makes so much sense to make sure that everyone who has earned benefits is getting them. Even before the recession the system wasn’t perfect and many people who had earned enough to qualify were excluded because Florida still uses a pre-computer-era system for deciding eligibility. This unfairly denies benefits to many workers because it doesn’t count their last six months on the job, and it hits low-wage and seasonal workers especially hard.

Florida also has refused to modernize eligibility rules to provide insurance for workers who are victims of domestic violence or have to leave work to care for a sick family member. Thirty-two other states allow these workers to qualify.

For these reasons and others, Florida has one of the lowest recipiency rates in the country. A 2004 study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research and the National Employment Law Project found that only 33 percent of unemployed workers in Florida were receiving unemployment benefits, compared with the national average of 44 percent. Some states, like Connecticut, had rates exceeding 80 percent.

If Florida modernized its system tens of thousands more workers would be able to get the benefits they have earned, and the whole state would reap the economic benefit. Not to mention the $444 million that Florida could receive under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act if it made these changes, and which would more than pay for the additional benefits.

Instead of making the unemployment compensation system even more difficult for workers, now is the time when we should be making sure that everyone who is eligible is participating. Unemployment benefits keep the economy moving, which is exactly what we need right now.
Eisenhauer is a research associate at the Research Institute for Social and Economic Policy at the Center for Labor Research and Studies at Florida International University.
Copyright (C) 2011 by the Florida Forum. 3/11


By Mark Cooper

Why would anyone pay a $150 for something that costs $100? They wouldn’t if they had a choice, and that’s the problem with new nuclear reactors. Wall Street knows that new reactors cost too much and won’t fund them. But MidAmerican wants to build them, so the company is looking to the Iowa ratepayer to play the fool.

MidAmerican’s 636,000 customers in Iowa are captive customers; they can’t shop for the best power deal. Historically, when a utility wants to add new generating capacity it must build the plant and begin producing electricity before seeking to recover the costs from its customers. They can only recover costs that are reasonable and prudent. And the utility’s rate of return on its investment in the new plant should be commensurate with the risk the utility faces in undertaking the project.

MidAmerican, through HSB 124 and SSB 1144, wants to turn the whole process on its head. As a result, all three of these traditional consumer protections would be dramatically weakened.

The cost recovery scheme that MidAmerican is pushing shifts the risks away from its stockholders and onto its ratepayers. Electric bills rise long before a new power plant even produces one kilowatt. Ratepayers are on the hook even if the new plant costs soar, or the project is canceled or abandoned.

Last year, the Iowa legislature considered cost recovery legislation that had a provision empowering the Public Utility Board to require competitive bidding for new electricity resources. Under that approach, only if nuclear is cheaper can the project proceed, but MidAmerican knows nuclear is much more costly than efficiency, natural gas or wind, so this year’s bill drops that language. In other words, keep out competition – and the beneficial effect it has on prices.

And what exactly does MidAmerican want its customers to underwrite?

Earlier this year, MidAmerican President and CEO William Fehrman told the Iowa Senate Commerce Committee that his company is exploring a plan to build small modular reactors as opposed to one large central generating plant like Iowa’s existing Duane Arnold reactor. Small modular reactors are units that produce tens to hundreds of megawatts versus the 1,200 to 1,600 megawatts of new reactor designs.

Small modular reactors have become something of the darling of nuclear power advocates recently, in part because they claim that these small reactors will solve the major cost problems of large nuclear projects.

But smaller reactors don’t necessarily mean that the electricity produced will be cheaper. In fact, estimated costs for these new and untested designs are purely hypothetical, since none have ever been built commercially.

Meanwhile, utilities are abandoning or delaying proposed new large reactor projects throughout the U.S., because estimated costs for these reactors have soared and can’t compete against cheaper alternatives. In Florida, this has resulted in ratepayers paying almost half a billion dollars so far for new large reactors that that won’t be built until after 2020 – if ever.

Giving MidAmerican advanced cost recovery for totally untested designs is the absolute worst thing to do with ratepayer money. Ratepayers are not merely forced to be investment bankers; they are turned into venture capitalists with a high risk of failure and no projected return on their investment.

MidAmerican is selling its plan to the legislature and Iowans as a way to create jobs and deliver new supplies of energy. That’s just not true. Nuclear reactors produce relatively few jobs for the dollars invested. The costly electricity means consumers have less to spend on other goods and services and add to the cost of doing business. And the equipment vendors often are foreign corporations, sucking U.S. dollars overseas. The alternatives available in Iowa will create at least twice as many jobs as nuclear reactors.

Would Iowans benefit by paying higher electricity rates now for risky reactor projects that may or may not happen a decade or two in the future? The answer is a resounding “no.”
Cooper is a senior fellow for economic analysis at the Institute for Energy and the Environment at Vermont Law School.
Copyright (C) 2011 by the Iowa Forum. 3/11


By Phil Schoggen

Tennessee is considering a proposal to amend the state Constitution to prohibit any tax on incomes or payroll. This resolution would render the state forever dependent on our sales tax, now one of the highest in the nation.

Buried deep in the proposal is a provision that would skirt the Constitution and abandon traditional procedure by declaring that posting an internet notice of the amendment on the Tennessee Secretary of State's or the Tennessee General Assembly's web site would satisfy the Constitution's requirement for official public notice. In the past this notification requirement has been met by publishing notices in newspapers across the state. The purpose of changing the publication method is to reduce the cost of providing the notice.

The problem with the proposed method of providing public notice is that 35 percent of Tennessee households do not have internet access at home and 25 percent do not have internet access anywhere. Voters and community leaders are accustomed to receiving notice in the traditional manner, in their local newspaper. No one knows how effective such a notice would be if published on the internet only. If the public remains uninformed about such serious change in the method of providing a notice, it amounts to legislative action without public awareness.

Amending the Constitution is a momentous undertaking with long-lasting consequences. It should not be easy and it should not be attempted without careful consideration. Amending the Constitution in a way that limits the General Assembly's future options for generating revenue is a risky proposition and a statement of exaggerated self-esteem. It says "We, in this General Assembly, know every circumstance that could possibly occur in the future. None of them could justify ever having an income tax and we don't trust our successors in future General Assemblies to not pass an income tax."

It’s not hard to imagine circumstances that would call for an income tax. A depression or another severe recession might reduce revenue to the extent that an income tax becomes essential to the continuation of a state government that serves its citizens adequately.

An earthquake on the New Madrid fault or a severe outbreak of tornados will require funding for relief and reconstruction efforts that exceeds the capacity of the existing tax structure which is so heavily dependent on a very high sales tax. With both of these potential disasters it’s not a question of "if" but "when" they will occur. Even without these disasters, Tennessee revenue is down because an ever smaller part of economic activity is subject to our sales tax. Severe cuts in state services have been imposed in an effort to keep the budget balanced. If the proposed amendment passes, it would take at least three years to amend it out of the Constitution and pass an income tax. How much would Tennessee suffer in the meantime?

This resolution is an insult to the Constitution, its framers and to current and future citizens and their elected representatives. They all deserve more respect.
Schoggen is a Tennesseans for Fair Taxation board member.
Copyright (C) 2011 by the Tennessee Editorial Forum. 3/11


By Jackie Rodríguez

I am not to blame for the unemployment crisis in Florida. Yes, I have been unemployed. And yes, I have collected unemployment to support myself and my family. After two years since I was last laid-off, I finally found a new opportunity just a month ago. It was not easy, and I do not blame myself. But I do point my finger at the economy and the greed of our current economic system that only looks out for those on top.

The news is all a flurry with the idea that unemployed people, like I was just a few days ago, are the ones to blame for the situation we find ourselves in. This round of “blame the victim” is nothing less than despicable, shameful and downright dishonest. Let’s look at the facts behind the blame game.

In Florida, for every job created last year there are 25 people who still need a job. Our state has a whopping 12 percent unemployment rate. While there are one million unemployed people in our state, less than half are receiving unemployment insurance. Nationally, profits have more than recovered from the worst of the economic crisis, raising 12 percent since 2007, but unemployment continues to grow.

So what gives, and why am I to blame?

It’s easier to blame me, the victim of our economic system, than it is to look for the real culprits, the ones with their hands in the cookie jar. And let’s be honest, the real culprits are the unrestrained finance industry focused on the quick buck and greed, rather than building a whole society.

By blaming me, big business and corporate interests are let off the hook. They are playing a dangerous game of taking advantage of public outrage during difficult economic times. By directing my neighbor’s outrage at me, it’s easier for them to slide out of their responsibilities as economic entities in our state.

This redirection distracts my neighbors, and even me, away from real solutions to the current crisis for workers in this state. We are put on the defensive, and more concessions are pushed by big business to offset the toll I am supposedly taking on them. In reality, these policy shifts that the business community is pushing for will harm the public structures in our state that protect not only unemployed workers, but all workers. By blaming unemployed workers, businesses are blaming all workers, when corporate interests are the ones setting agenda in our state.

Rather than blame me, business leaders need to work with legislative leaders and us unemployed workers to craft policies that create fairness, security and equality in our state. Until business stops kicking us while we’re down, we can’t be expected to get up off the ground.
Rodriguez is now Administrative Assistant of Miami Workers Center.
Copyright (C) 2011 by the Florida Forum. 3/11


By Talat Hamdani

As a proud New Yorker and the mother of a first responder who lost his life on September 11, 2001, I am saddened to learn that Rep. Peter King (R-NY) is planning on holding congressional hearings on March 10 on the "radicalization of American Muslims."

My son Mohammed Salman Hamdani was a 23-year-old paramedic, a New York City police cadet and a Muslim American. He was one of those brave 2,976 people who tragically lost their lives in the 9/11 terrorist attacks almost a decade ago. As The New York Times eulogized, "He wanted to be seen as an all-American kid. He wore No. 79 on the high school football team in Bayside, Queens, where he lived, and he was called Sal by his friends... He became a research assistant at Rockefeller University and drove an ambulance part-time. One Christmas, he sang in Handel's Messiah in Queens. He saw all the Star Wars movies, and it was well known that his new Honda was the one with "Yung Jedi" license plates."

Even though my son bravely sacrificed his life to try and help others on that fateful day, after the tragedy there were still some people who smeared his character solely because of his Islamic faith. False rumors were spread that he was in league with the attackers and that he had secretly fled. It was only when his remains were identified that this ugliness finally came to a close.

By explicitly investigating Muslim Americans, the result of Representative King's hearings, whether intentionally or unintentionally, will be to unjustly cast suspicion upon millions of good Americans. And the sad truth is that there are many who will follow the lead of these hearings and capitalize on the opportunity to act upon this prejudice. The implicit message of Rep. King's hearings will be that you should be suspicious of your Muslim neighbors, co-workers or classmates – solely on the basis of their faith.

Rep. King initially premised these hearings on the false claim that the American Muslim community has failed to cooperate with law enforcement officials in our efforts to disrupt terrorism plots here in the United States. But that claim has been directly refuted by law enforcement professionals such as Los Angeles Sheriff County Sheriff Lee Baca, whose jurisdiction includes a large and diverse Muslim community. Baca who serves as a Chair of the Major City Chiefs Association has directly challenged King’s unsubstantiated claim, "If he has evidence of non-cooperation, he should bring it forward," said Baca, "I don't know what Mr. King is hearing or who he's hearing it from."

I have no problem with investigating criminal behavior or watching for patterns of action that indicate that criminal activity is underway, but it is altogether a different thing to divide Americans on the basis of their faith.

In the past, Rep. King has also claimed while providing no evidence whatsoever, that 85% of American mosques have "extremist leadership" and that American Muslims have shown "no moral outrage or condemnation" of terrorist acts. Mr. King seems to conveniently forget that the first person to report the foiled Times Square bomb plot was a Senegalese Muslim named Aloune Niass. He seems to have forgotten that the young man who plotted to bomb a Christmas tree lighting in Oregon was turned in to the authorities by his own Muslim father. The fact of the matter is that like all Americans, American Muslims are committed to the safety of their families, their communities and their nation.

The United States Congress honored the legacy of my son when it wrote in Title I of the USA PATRIOT Act: "Many Arab Americans and Muslim Americans have acted heroically during the attacks on the United States, including Mohammed Salman Hamdani, a 23-year-old New Yorker of Pakistani descent, who is believed to have gone to the World Trade Center to offer rescue assistance and is now missing." If my son were alive today, he would be very concerned by the broad assault on American Muslims that these hearings represent.

As we near the 10th anniversary of the tragic September 11 attacks, I will be thinking of my son and the 2,976 other innocent souls who perished on that terrible day. As a nation, we should use this tenth anniversary of 9/11 to help move our nation towards a healing process. Sadly, these hearings will only divide our country at a time when Americans of all religions and races need to help bridge the divide and come together.

Hamdani is the mother of 9/11 first responder Salman Hamdani, a 23-year-old paramedic, a New York City police cadet and a American Muslim first responder who lost his life in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Copyright (C) 2011 by the American Forum. 3/11

Arvonne Fraser

By Arvonne Fraser and Aviva Breen

Should Esther, the city clerk in Lake Wobegon, be paid $250 a month less than Joe who shovels the sidewalk and sweeps the floor in city hall? That was the kind of hypothetical question posed when the Minnesota Legislature passed the Local Government Pay Equity Act in 1984. Never mind that the fictional Esther was a widow, taking care of an aged mother, while Joe, the maintenance man, was single and a cousin of the mayor. That was just life. Everybody in town was glad Esther had a job. In those days only the town banker and city council members knew who got paid what.

Twenty-six years later, thanks to the pay equity bill, picture Jolene, now the town's clerk who makes just a bit more than her husband, Brian, who plows the town's streets in winter as a maintenance man. Together they support their three children, pay their property taxes, and are saving to help their kids through college. They are pleased that Aunt Esther's social security is better than it would have been because under the law her pay was adjusted.

Now, there are efforts to repeal this pay equity law. In December, the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce issued a report saying the legislation is too costly and no longer necessary. Some state legislators agreed and have introduced proposals for repeal. Apparently they agree that a penny saved is a penny earned, but where's their sense of proportion when the state's deficit is in the billions of dollars?

When a city administrator earns twice as much as a maintenance worker shouldn't we be worrying about dollars instead of pennies? Shouldn't legislators and taxpayers be worrying about local property taxes going up as local government aid goes down? Let's be fair. With unemployment at record rates, many women are the breadwinners for their families. Minnesota has a long tradition of women working outside of the home. Today they are half of the workforce and generally the lower paid half. Why is a law benefitting them targeted for repeal?

In the past, many local units of government hired consultants to get their personnel and compensation records in order so they could comply with the law's mandates. Now, with the state's user-friendly internet reporting system, it only takes Jolene a couple of hours on the computer every three years to file the required report. The law helped cities, counties, libraries, school districts, and others improve their compensation systems and made them transparent.

Favoritism, nepotism and plain old discrimination were exposed. As one long-time mayor reported to a supporter of pay equity, "We should have paid that gal more a long time ago. Good thing we fixed that." He was referring to his city clerk, a woman like our Esther.

Almost every piece of legislation has unintended consequences. This one has been good; it helped women and it helped governmental units systematize and clarify their compensation plans. But if you think the legislation is no longer necessary, it's important to note that 25 percent of the current reports show there are still problems that need correcting. A few years ago when the reporting mandate was suspended temporarily, it was discovered that a significant drop off in compliance occurred. The age-old beliefs that women's work is less valuable and that women don't need money to support families is still alive and well. Women's pay is generally still not equal to that of men, but groceries cost the same for everyone.

Now is not the time to repeal good laws. Without the required reporting, pay levels could too easily revert to the standards as people retired and new employees are hired. Families and communities would suffer. People like Esther, Jolene and their counterparts in Minnesota's 1,500 local government jurisdictions would then have trouble paying their property taxes, helping their kids through college, and paying for everyday expenses.

What supporters of repeal don't point out is that pay scales under the law aren't set by the state. The law takes into account local pay norms. Repeal supporters also argue that there are federal and state remedies for unequal pay but they don't say that these require employees to file a complaint and take legal action against their employer. That's a tough thing to do, especially in a small town and in a public job. Let's be fair and keep Minnesota's pay equity laws. They work, not just for women, but for everybody.
Fraser is senior fellow emerita for the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota. Breen is former director at the Minnesota Legislative Commission on the Economic Status of Women.
Copyright © 2011 by the Minnesota Editorial Forum. 3/11

José J. Rodriguez


By José J. Rodríguez, and Paul Sonn

Since January 1, more than 180,000 of Florida’s lowest-wage workers -- people caring for the elderly, serving food at the local diner, and cleaning and securing our office buildings -- have been denied an annual cost of living adjustment required by law. Acting in violation of the Florida Constitution, the state failed to implement a legally mandated 6 cent increase in our minimum wage for 2011.
Paul Sonn

Back in 2004, Florida voters overwhelmingly supported a constitutional amendment -- by a lopsided 78 to 22 percent margin -- creating a state minimum wage and indexing to inflation so that it keeps pace with the rising cost of food, clothing, electricity and other necessities. Voters realized that without such protection, the ability of minimum wage earners to provide for their families would fall each year as prices rose but the minimum wage remained stagnant.

On New Year’s Day, seven states with laws like Florida’s -- Arizona, Colorado, Ohio, Montana, Oregon, Vermont and Washington -- increased their state minimum wages to keep pace with inflation. Florida did not.

That’s why we recently filed suit on behalf of minimum wage workers against the Agency for Workforce Innovation (AWI), the state agency responsible for setting the minimum wage rate every year, for refusing to properly increase the state minimum wage to $7.31 to take into account last year’s inflation.

The problems started last year. Florida’s laws, constitution and Supreme Court all make one thing crystal clear: the state minimum wage goes up when there is inflation, but never goes down. Despite this clear obligation, however, for 2010 AWI wanted to lower the minimum wage by 15 cents, from $7.21 in 2009 to $7.06. However, two things kept that erroneous wage cut from actually affecting Florida’s workers last year. First, the Agency never published the 2010 rate so no one knew about the mistake. Second, the federal minimum wage was still higher at $7.25.

This year, AWI’s mistake is affecting hundreds of thousands of working people since $7.31, where our 2011 minimum wage should be, is higher than the federal level. AWI has instead kept the Florida minimum wage 15 cents too low and failed to announce the correct increase.

A 6 cent raise may not sound like much, but for Florida’s lowest-paid workers it adds up. A full time minimum wage worker would see about $128 more per year. And unless it’s corrected, the impact of the error will snowball in future years, leaving Florida’s minimum wage permanently 15 cents lower than it should be.

The state’s failure to raise the minimum wage not only defies the constitution and the will of the voters, it also hurts low-wage workers and the statewide economy. The key to getting our economy back on track is boosting consumer spending and raising sales so businesses can grow and start rehiring again. By failing to raise the minimum wage, the purchasing power of the lowest paid workers falls, as does their consumption. If minimum wage workers make a few more dollars a week they will likely put this money immediately back into the local grocery store, barber shop or gas station, thus buoying demand for goods and services.

Floridians are looking to their new governor for leadership. As his administration begins an assessment of state agencies and departments, a top priority should be reviewing the Agency on Workforce Innovation’s blunder on the minimum wage. Rather than forcing the courts to fix the error, Governor Scott should uphold the constitution and help boost Florida’s economy by giving Florida’s low-income workers the raise they are due.
Rodríguez and Sonn are co-counsel representing minimum wage workers who have filed suit against the state of Florida for failing to raise the 2011 minimum wage. Rodríguez is an attorney with Florida Legal Services. Sonn is legal co-director at the National Employment Law Project.
Copyright (C) 2011 by the Florida Forum. 3/11


By F. Scott McCown

Maybe you’ve heard that our state is short of money because of the recession. Perhaps you think the state can just cut spending or that the problem doesn’t affect you. Well think again.

Our state isn’t just a little short of money. Merely to maintain critical public services, at their current levels, costs at least $27 billion more than we have. In other words, we only have three-fourths of the money we need.

If you try to fill this big of a hole with only cuts in spending, you cut into the state’s muscle and bone.

Instead, Texas needs a balanced approach. That means that instead of only cuts in spending we need to use the state’s Rainy Day Fund while adopting some modest new state revenue measures.

Unfortunately, legislators so far have proposed nothing but cuts. They would rather fire teachers and crowd classrooms and deny financial aid to all new applicants at community colleges and state universities.

Legislators would even make deep cuts to health care for children, the elderly, and people with disabilities. They would reduce payments to doctors, hospitals, and nursing homes -- compromising care and forcing local taxes and private health insurance premiums to go up.

The proposed state budget doesn’t just shortchange education and hurt folks who can’t help themselves, such as the elderly in nursing homes or abused children in foster care. It also seriously undermines the Texas economy -- today and far into the future.
For one thing, the proposed budget would substantially increase unemployment, and not just in the public sector. Cuts this big send a wave of job loss throughout the economy, as the state cancels contracts and reduces payments to people with whom it does business. Before long, folks who think they have no connection to state government are laid off because all of the other newly unemployed are buying fewer goods and services.

We’re talking about a lot of jobs here. Dr. Ray Perryman, a renowned Texas economist, estimates that every job directly lost as a result of state budget reductions takes with it roughly 1.5 more jobs.

The proposed state budget would eliminate over 9,200 state jobs right off the top. Then the chain reaction starts. Reduced state support to school districts, community colleges, and state universities means they too throw people out of work. School districts alone would lay off as many as 100,000 people, one of the state’s leading school finance experts calculates. Using the Perryman formula, this means that merely from reduced spending on public education, 250,000 Texans would be in the unemployment line. That’s enough to push the state’s jobless rate up to over 10 percent (it’s 8.3 percent now). And that’s without even figuring in jobs lost in higher education or health and human services.

The proposed cuts-only budget doesn’t just hurt us today, though. It also fails to create opportunity for tomorrow. When we refuse to raise the money needed for things like public education and higher education, we undermine economic growth and our future as a great state.

If the legislature takes a balanced approach, though, we can both avoid an economic disaster today and promote economic growth tomorrow. The state’s Rainy Day Fund can cover about a third of the shortfall. Some of the rest can come from new revenue, for example, increasing the cigarette tax by a buck a pack. Regardless of what politicians say, raising a little new revenue is vastly preferable to deep cuts in education or health and human services.

Of course, politicians say we have to keep taxes low to attract business. But, businesses care about more than just taxes. They need an educated workforce and a good transportation system, for example -- and Texas is proposing spending cuts so deep that the state’s ability to provide these sorts of economic building blocks would be severely compromised. Besides, Texas businesses already pay lower taxes than in almost any other state, so low that there’s ample room for increases without endangering our competitive advantage.

In the end, our elected officials will do what Texans say they want done. In the last several months, lawmakers have heard mostly from those who offer the bromide that we can balance our budget with cuts alone. But this is one bromide that will kill us. It’s time for the rest of us to make our voices heard. We need to demand a balanced approach.
McCown is executive director of the Center for Public Policy Priorities.
Copyright (C) 2011 by the Texas Lone Star Forum. 2/11


By Charles H. Kuck

From the perspective of a lifelong Republican, I am always troubled when the State Legislature starts looking at ways to “fix” a problem by getting the government more involved in the lives of its citizens, rather than less involved. That is absolutely the case with the currently pending legislation on immigration. A detailed review of HB 87 and SB 40 reveals that these bills do not reform illegal immigration nor do they enforce laws related to illegal immigration. What they do is increase taxes on every citizen of Georgia by increasing government regulation, create unfunded mandates for every county, city, town, and village in Georgia, and create new private rights of action against every Georgia polity that will result in hundreds of lawsuits that will drain taxpayer coffers and result in little, if any real change on the issue of illegal immigration.

This type of legislation is popular because it gives the perception that the state is doing something, which the federal government is purportedly not doing—enforcing federal laws on illegal immigration. The problem with this notion is two-fold. First, the federal government is doing more than it has EVER done in enforcing the laws on undocumented immigration. The Obama Administration is spending literally billions of taxpayer dollars building fences, hiring border patrol agents, detaining undocumented immigrants and actually deported 400,000 people last year—a record. Second, these proposals do not create any greater degree of enforcement than already exists under current state and federal law.

By September 30, 2013, everyone arrested in Georgia is going to be run through the Secure Communities program, and if they are unlawfully present in the United States they are being held for ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) to pick up within 48 hours.

Without discussing the deleterious details of this program (DWH—Driving While Hispanic), it has resulted in a record number of cases filling our Immigration Court dockets.

So, if these bills do NOT reform immigration, do NOT effectively increase enforcement, and do NOT make Georgia safer, what will they do? They will increase taxes on Georgians, force cities and municipalities to hire previously unnecessary personnel, and make litigation lawyers smile.

These proposals have as their main thrust a desire to make Georgia like Arizona. The bill is designed to make it so hard to live as an undocumented immigrant in Georgia, that such immigrants will leave the state. If this bill accomplishes its purpose it could result in the departure of more than to one million people from the state, along with their tax dollars, investments, talent, and businesses.

There are also at least two provisions which will never be enforced, and which will be struck down as unconstitutional or preempted before they even go into effect, for the same reasons that similar provisions in the Arizona bill were struck down. Provisions dealing with unconstitutional police stops and non-definitions of reasonable cause beg for a judge to overturn this law. The authorizing of private lawsuits against government agencies looks like a lawyer’s full employment act, and business destroying mandates and penalties best dealt with under federal law will simply shut down businesses and cause greater unemployment.

These proposals are bad public policy and bad for Georgia. If our legislators really want to fix the immigration problem they should all take a day and go to Washington, D.C. and demand that Congress fix our immigration system, rather than trying to put a band-aid on a gaping shotgun wound.
Charles H. Kuck is an adjunct professor of Law at the University of Georgia, and a past national president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.
Copyright (C) 2011 by Georgia Forum. 2/11


By Lew Prince

The Republicans in the Missouri Legislature are trying to overturn the clearly expressed will of the people in order to give gigantic welfare checks to some of America’s biggest corporations.

Nearly 1.6 million Missourians voted to raise the minimum wage in 2006. Only 501,657 voted against the proposition. That’s a three to one margin.

To put this in perspective, in the same election, Democrat Claire McCaskill beat Republican Jim Talent by less than 49,000 votes. That means over a million Republican-leaning voters saw the need to raise the wages of the poorest working Missourians. According to exit polls, the minimum wage proposition was favored by Democrats, Independents and Republicans; liberals, moderates and conservatives; urban, suburban and rural voters; low-income, middle- and high-income voters; and voters of all ages.

Missourians voted overwhelmingly to raise the minimum wage and protect the working poor with a cost of living adjustment. This tiny adjustment amounts to pennies an hour. The COLA gives families that are barely keeping their heads above water a fighting chance when prices rise.

Republicans are pushing legislation to undo the cost of living adjustment and prevent the minimum wage from going above the federal rate of $7.25. Why would Missouri Republicans want to hurt workers who today are making just $15,080 if they are paid for 40 hours a week, 52 weeks of the year? Why would they want to hurt the most vulnerable workers in our state?

They say it’s to help small businesses. Well, I’ve run a small business in Missouri for 32 years and I say, BUNK!

Higher minimum wages help Missouri businesses, large or small, compete with gigantic national and multinational chains. Local businesses compete by being part of the community -- from hiring our neighbors to sponsoring youth leagues – and by providing service that gigantic multinational chains with their feed-more-profits-to-headquarters policies can’t match. In order to do this I need well-trained, long-term employees. I have to pay them more to keep them. My customers know my employees and are loyal to my business because of those employees.

Large Missouri companies like Schnucks and Dierbergs, who pay decent union wages, have to compete with predators like Wal-Mart who pay the lowest wages they can get away with. Why would the Republicans Rin the Missouri legislature want to side with multinational retailers and gigantic restaurant chains in their competition with Missouri businesses?

The minimum wage is a full dollar higher in Illinois -- $8.25 instead of $7.25. That means, for every hour worked in Illinois an extra dollar stays in the state and helps the local economy. Why do the Republicans in our legislature want to see that money end up at Wal-Mart headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas or Wall Street or in some off-shore bank account instead of buying groceries and car repairs and paying rent here in Missouri?

What’s worse is Missouri taxpayers already subsidize these out-of-state corporate giants.

Did you know that according to the Missouri Healthnet Employer Report, in the 1st quarter of 2009 (the latest data available) Wal-Mart alone cost Missouri taxpayers $4.2 million in Medicaid costs. Casey's General Store cost Missouri taxpayers $884,104 while Tyson Foods, Dollar General and Target combined for another $1.4 million? Why are Missouri taxpayers subsidizing a company like Wal-Mart, the fountain of wealth for America’s richest family?

Who knows how many of these underpaid employees qualify for Food Stamps and other subsidies. These are the costs we pay while large companies and their lobbyists fight against a meager few cents an hour in raises for their Missouri employees for whom those pennies add up to milk or medicine for their children. Remember these same companies pay a dollar more minimum wages per hour in Illinois and still turn huge profits there.

It's time for all of us to write, call, or email our state legislators and remind them that they work for us, not multinational giants. Tell them to keep their hands off the minimum wage we voted for.
Prince is managing partner of Vintage Vinyl, an independent music store with 24 employees in St. Louis. He is also a member of Business for Shared Prosperity.
Copyright (C) 2011 by the Missouri Forum. 2/11


By Sherece West

Despite the notion that fixing the nation’s public schools may require an “act of superman,” a coming together of not just educators, education officials, policymakers, parents and students, but education grantmakers as well, might actually be the “force of nature” needed to turn around our failing schools.

A few months ago, I attended the largest gathering of education funders for a conference that focused on “fulfilling the promise of excellence and equity.” I hope that participants of the Grantmakers for Education conference wrestled with some startling findings from a new study. Every year, grantmakers give billions of dollars in grants for education. But only a few of them provide funding to address the specific needs of all students, especially those most in need – lower-income and other underserved students – and an even smaller number supports efforts to solve our education crisis, according to a report recently released by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP) (, a watchdog group based in D.C.

In “Confronting Systemic Inequity in Education: High Impact Strategies for Philanthropy,” Kevin Welner and Amy Farley examine the system-wide issues that feed the cycle of unequal educational access and opportunities faced by students from marginalized communities. Welner, director of the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and Farley argue that education reform cannot take place without breaking this cycle, and this requires change in the way philanthropy directs its resources.

It’s a myth to think that schools function as a meritocracy and provide universal opportunities. This is simply not the case. American students face glaring inequities in educational opportunities, and this injustice is tied powerfully to parental wealth, education, ethnicity and race. It’s inexcusable for our nation’s school system to operate as a tide that lifts only those boats not leaking, while leaving others in disrepair to sink to the ocean floor. Education grantmakers can and should use their financial clout to stimulate a rising tide that successfully lifts the most vulnerable to drive system-wide and long-term solutions.

Welner and Farley recommend two high impact strategies for foundations to be more effective at transforming American education: dedicate at least 50 percent of their education grantmaking towards supporting marginalized communities and at least 25 percent towards influencing public policy through advocacy, community organizing and civic engagement.

I support these recommendations because one can’t ignore the large population of students that is disproportionately without access to quality education. And you can’t claim you’re seeking reform without engaging in the policymaking process.

NCRP analysis shows that of the 672 foundations that gave at least $1 million in education grants from 2006 to 2008, only 11 percent devoted at least half of their philanthropic dollars for the benefit of vulnerable schoolchildren. Only 2 percent allocated at least one quarter of their grantmaking for systemic change.

Marginalized communities -- primarily children in low-wealth families and children of color, but also English language learners, gay and gender-nonconforming youth, students with disabilities, immigrant youth, rural students and females in male-dominated fields -- consistently experience public education in much less positive ways than their more-advantaged peers. As a result, they are more likely to not graduate from high school or college and in general have decreased economic potential following school. Sadly, this trend continues from generation to generation.

Collaboration between a foundation and a marginalized community it serves has many benefits. Each advances the goals of the other. But foundations must significantly raise their expectations and address systemic inequities for real, permanent change in our education system to occur.

Grantmakers fund education in a variety of ways, including providing funds for direct scholarships to students, research dissemination and curricular development. They also can prioritize programs through designated giving that advances greater opportunity and equity for marginalized students. As Welner and Farley contend, this type of giving is both targeted and universal and will result in greater impact if these twin priorities were addressed.

The report also claims that grantmakers can and should address both immediate needs and systemic, transformative reform. It’s important to realize that one does not preclude the other. Education funders have at their disposal a variety of tools, from advocacy for a campaign, a particular issue or marginalized group to organizing at the community level, voter engagement, technical assistance and other forms of policy engagement.

All children deserve a future that provides opportunities instead of thwarting dreams and possibilities. Philanthropy needs to be part of efforts to break apart an unjust system that offers better education to those who are wealthy while failing to acknowledge the needs of those in marginalized communities. Equalizing opportunities through education for all children makes us all heroes.
West is president and CEO of Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation. She is a member of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy’s board.
Copyright (C) 2011 by the American Forum. 2/11


By Chris Liu-Beers

As the legislature returns to Raleigh, all eyes will be on the budget with its projected shortfall of over $3 billion. But observers expect a slew of bills on other issues as well, including one that always attracts controversy: immigration.

No doubt it will be tempting for some lawmakers to try to implement Arizona’s “papers, please” immigration law here in North Carolina. But as we have already learned from Arizona, this approach is shortsighted and misguided.

Anti-immigrant forces want to ban undocumented immigrant families from renting apartments or sending their kids to school. These kinds of policies are unworkable and inconsistent with our values.

What does it mean for our communities when our neighbors are afraid to take their children to school or go to work? What would it mean for our schools to have families ripped apart on a daily basis and kids left behind when their parents are deported? What does it mean for our system of justice when people are serving jail time and prison sentences because they seek a better life and are willing to work hard in the sun to achieve it?

While people are understandably frustrated over the failure of the federal government to fix our broken immigration system, creating a patchwork of potentially unconstitutional, costly and confusing laws is not an answer. If we follow Arizona on immigration, we’re facing log jams in the court systems, overworked prosecutors and public defenders wasting their time, and police distracted from pursuing true criminals.

Instead of pouring billions of dollars into rounding up hardworking immigrant families, we need to fix our system so that immigrants who came here to work, pay taxes and learn English can become legal and contribute fully.

Some places, unlike Arizona, have quietly been moving forward with positive, integrative approaches to new immigrants in their communities. They recognize the long-term benefits gained from having thriving immigrant communities that aren’t forced into the shadows of society.

I’m proud that the city of Durham has been a leader in some of these positive efforts. For example, while the city has implemented the controversial 287(g) program (which essentially deputizes local police to enforce federal immigration law), it has been careful to target primarily serious criminal offenders.

Chief Lopez and other city leaders have consistently communicated with Latino constituents and built trusting relationships among Durham’s immigrant communities.

Durham has not only rejected an Arizona-style crackdown on immigrants -- the City Council called for a boycott of Arizona -- it has also worked to improve civic participation and immigrant integration into mainstream society. This approach improves public safety, creates jobs and helps local economies.

For example, the Durham City Council recently voted to recognize the Mexican government’s matricula consular as a valid form of identification. At that meeting, Chief Lopez stated that “The significance is to garner trust from the [Latino] community.” Elsewhere in Durham, the Latino Community Credit Union has become nationally recognized for its work in realizing the business potential of local Hispanic entrepreneurs.

Humane immigration politics are smart politics in the long-term. Political strategists from David Axelrod to Karl Rove agree that Arizona’s approach on immigration is misguided. n an increasingly diverse nation, there is no long-term political future for politicians pushing Arizona copycat laws. Elected officials who lead with intelligent, humane policies on immigration will both build a stronger economy in North Carolina and win politically over the long haul.

Immigrants -- both documented and those without status -- are already a vital part of the fabric of our society. They are contributing members of our communities; they are our neighbors, classmates, coworkers and friends. We need to make sure they can participate fully in our society and contribute fully to our economy -- through work, in school, for public safety.

Ultimately, we need national comprehensive immigration reform to ensure fairness and accountability in the labor market. Only comprehensive reform will create a level playing field for workers and employers, increase pay for low-wage workers, punish unscrupulous employers who undercut their honest competitors, and increase tax compliance and revenues.

Until Congress enacts such reforms, there are a range of positive state and local policies that can improve the lives of immigrants and raise living standards and public safety for everyone, native and immigrant alike. It’s time for North Carolina to step in the right direction.
Liu-Beers is program associate for the North Carolina Council of Churches.
Copyright (C) 2011 by the American Forum. 2/11