North Carolina’s new budget should be much better
North Carolina has a new budget for the state’s fiscal year that began July 1. At the very end of the 10-day period allotted to him by the state constitution, Governor Roy Cooper put his signature to a 193-page bill drafted mostly behind closed doors by Republican legislative leaders who amend the biennial budget adopted last year.
Cooper’s decision to sign the measure was, understandably, an act he viewed as an exercise in political pragmatism. While he clearly understands that the bill has many deep flaws, Cooper could also do the math and understand that the prospects of upholding a veto were slim given that several Democratic lawmakers had found various reasons (like spending locally targeted pork and simple fatigue) to join the “yes” votes.
His statement yesterday afternoon also strongly indicated that other factors – including ongoing negotiations over Medicaid expansion which he still hopes will cross the finish line – also played a significant role in the outcome. final.
At this point, however, whatever the politics behind the situation, it should not be misunderstood that the current budget is woefully inadequate in several important respects.
First of all, it’s just too small. Thanks to repeated regressive tax cuts enacted over the past decade and more, the state continues to allocate funds to basic public structures and services at levels more than 20% below the 45-year average.
And while it is true that the new budget does not put in place, as threatened, even more regressive revenue cuts to make the situation worse, such cuts were already planned due to past decisions.
As the NC Budget and Tax Center reported earlier this month, the budget approved in 2021 implemented reductions in personal and corporate income tax rates that will be automatically applied during the next decade, with corporate income tax effectively eliminated in 2030. Indeed, BTC notes that: “In 2023, the budget will be reduced by $1.5 billion due to tax changes enacted last year. . This is roughly equivalent to the total budget of the NC Community College System.
And it’s hard to overstate the huge impact that these kinds of sustained divestments have had (and continue to have) in so many areas: the state’s torn and threadbare social safety net, its mental health systems and perpetually inadequate and often broken corrections, and its lukewarm and inadequate response to the current crisis plaguing our fragile natural environment.
As an aside, it’s also worth noting that there’s a significant measure of hypocrisy among lawmakers enjoying huge surpluses made possible by an unprecedented national economic recovery and massive injections of federal COVID aid — both of which are directly attributable to the vision and direction of the Biden administration — all while firing relentless punches at Biden for his supposed “fiscal irresponsibility.”
That said, the most visible shortcoming of the new budget is the continued failure to adequately fund public education.
Republican lawmakers and their apologists love to brag about the supposedly princely sums they have allocated to public schools, but in truth, the latest budget allocates only about half of the new appropriations to experts in the Leandro lawsuits for education funding were deemed necessary to simply provide schoolchildren in the state with access to a solid basic education. And our state still lags most of the nation in education spending — especially when you factor in the “effort” expended.
Take teachers’ salaries. As veteran education budget analyst Kris Nordstrom of the North Carolina Justice Center (parent organization of NC Policy Watch) explained last week, while the new budget bill includes modest increases in teachers’ salaries, when inflation is taken into account, most teachers will actually see a pay cut in the new year of up to 3.9%.
Compare that, says Nordstrom, to Alabama. Under the state’s new pay scale, new teachers earn 17% more than their North Carolina counterparts, while those with the most experience earn 23% more. Alabama teachers also receive larger supplements for higher degrees.
Unsurprisingly, unlike North Carolina, teacher retirements and turnover are down there.
Of course, as Nordstrom also points out, North Carolina is a much richer state than Alabama and could easily match or surpass what it does for teachers.
Bottom line: North Carolina has a new budget, but it could and should be much better. Unfortunately, the ideologues at the helm of our Radiant Legislature continue to prioritize tax cuts for the wealthy and big business over doing their homework in this vitally important area.
One can only hope that Governor Cooper’s apparent decision to hold his nose and follow this approach in order to finally make Medicaid expansion a reality is a strategy that pays off very soon.