Remember that time you decided to take a cut to your paycheck because you didn’t feel like paying for your expenses was important anymore? Sounds crazy, right? But that’s the state of affairs here in North Carolina.
Governor Pat McCrory released his budget March 5th. After examining the details, I can only say that the governor’s hopes for our state are in stark contrast to mine. His budget does not do nearly enough for education, for health care, or to keep our air and water clean.
Instead, McCrory largely extends the painful cuts to state services and agencies that have been implemented in recent years. His budget for the 2016 fiscal year increases spending by about 2%, but that increase is consumed by the costs of enrollment growth in public schools, the UNC system, and the Medicaid/Health Choice programs.
Keeping spending low and trimming state budgets sounds good, especially on a bumper sticker or in a 30-second ad. But the reason behind those cuts– the driving force behind much of the “tight” budget situation we hear so much about – is a tax cut.
In 2013, the governor signed a massive tax reform package that “simplified” the personal income tax by shifting to a single rate and that cut the corporate tax rate. The wealthiest individuals and businesses are winners under this new system, but around 80 percent of taxpayers (those making less than $67,000) are actually seeing a tax increase. You may be feeling the effects of these changes as you file your taxes this year; the state budget is feeling the consequences as well.
The tax changes cost more than expected– upward of $1 billion each year. According to the Budget & Tax Center, that is roughly equivalent to the total state investments in the community college system. That is $1 billion each year that is not available to invest in education, infrastructure, roads and transportation or public safety. And that is $1 billion that shows North Carolina’s families are not the governor’s priority.
Faced with that revenue loss, McCrory’s proposed budget fails to make needed investments. For example, 8,000 fewer at-risk four-year olds would have access to pre-kindergarten under his budget compared to the peak in 2009. Community college students would see a tuition hike of $4 per credit hour, putting the total tuition hike since 2009 at 81 percent. And the courts would receive just half of the funding improvement needed, according to North Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Martin’s budget request.
As our legislators work on their own versions of the budget, let’s demand that they remember that North Carolina deserves a future that benefits all its citizens. Let’s demand they recognize that smart investments at the state-level spur economic growth and prepare our citizens to be competitive in the global economy.
Let’s hope they embrace a vision for North Carolina’s future that focuses on all our families.