Fighting Bad Budgets with Horse and Buggy

May 10, 2011

The daunting budget deficits facing states across the U.S. are no joke, particularly when the well-being of our communities is on the line. But members of the Tax Fairness Organizing Collaborative are responding with innovative advocacy, using creativity in the face of potentially devastating slash-and-burn proposals.

Here’s how two states—North Carolina and Rhode Island—have taken matters into their own hands, employing creative approaches to their advocacy that engages people in an otherwise contentious process:

North Carolina Goes ‘Back in Time’
In North Carolina, legislators are responding to the state’s revenue shortages with a proposed slash-and-burn budget approach. If passed, the state would lose tens of thousands of state jobs, including teachers, firefighters, and mental health workers.

In response, Together NC organized an innovative street theatre demonstration during the House vote on the budget, complete with a horse and buggy, period costumes, and street theater. Their message? A cuts-only approach will set the state back decades.

You know what they say: when the going gets tough, bring in the horse and buggy.

Together NC organized the protest this week during the House vote on the state budget. Here are the demonstration details from the group’s media release:

A group calling themselves the Back In Tyme Budget Players arrived wearing antiquated dress and traveling in a horse and buggy. While speaking from the steps of the General Assembly, they sent the message that the House budget will push North Carolina backward.
"The props and costumes are fun, but they're meant to convey a very serious message," said Rob Thompson, a coordinator of the Together NC coalition. "If we pass this cuts-only budget, it will set North Carolina back decades in terms of education, public safety and economic prosperity."

The group’s creative action was bold, attention grabbing, and provided a clear visualization of the group’s key advocacy message: North Carolina should take a more modernized approach to balancing the state’s budget.

Rhode Island Calls for Rebalancing
Creating a state budget can be contentious, messy, and downright confusing for those not actively involved in the process. Perhaps this is why Ocean State Action’s smart reframing of the state budget debate captured so much attention.

The group re-stated the state’s complicated budget challenges with a simple question: Would you rather raise taxes on the wealthiest Rhode Islanders or cut critical public services?

Here’s a summary of the group efforts from WBRU:

Ocean State Action wants lawmakers to raise taxes on the wealthiest Rhode Islanders to avoid more cuts to public services. The group pitched the proposal yesterday as an alternative to Gov. Chafee’s sales tax expansion. Executive Director Kate Brock says the state could raise $88 million next year with a 2 percent surtax on incomes over $500,000, and that the revenue could prevent funding cuts to schools, roadwork and public safety.

The group’s smart and simple reframing of the budget debate, combined with a series of rallies and actions in the state capitol, garnered a great deal of media attention in Rhode Island and throughout New England.

With 44 states and the District of Columbia projecting budget shortfalls for fiscal year 2012, the challenges facing state legislators in every corner of the U.S. are daunting. But as these budget battles wage on, it's refreshing to see activists responding with smart and creative advocacy that feels accessible, understandable, and engaging to folks who have the most at stake. 

As North Carolina and Rhode Island demonstrate, it’s possible to acknowledge the seriousness of an issue in a way that attracts the public’s attention. Simplicity, common sense, and creativity are never out of order.

Photo credits: NC Justice Center's Photostream and GoLocal Prov


Fair economy?

Okay, North Carolina "cut to the bone, even into the bone" mentality probably won't work, will set state back.  But Rhode Island's "Tax the rich!" although popular (because there are fewer rich than poor), isn't the right answer either.  Now, I am going to keep checking this site out, but I expected better than soak the rich (which I'm not).