The House Finance Committee meeting this morning was illuminating. Rather than debating tax proposals aimed at adequately funding state appropriations, the House Finance Committee gathered to consider a proposal to raise nearly $100 million in various fees. The need for revenue is readily apparent in this move, even as the new majority continues to claim that they can cut their way to a balanced budget.
Raising revenue through fees does nothing to set North Carolina on a path to long-term fiscal responsibility. Instead such a move puts forth a vision of government as little more than a vending machine where individuals pay for services received—and our communities are the worse for it. The problem is the common good that government supports isn’t achieved through such a one-to-one exchange. Governing and financing good government is about the shared investments that North Carolinians make together to benefit the common good.
We are all better off when our court system is able to run efficiently, deliver justice to all and protect the public. We are all better off and safer when young people receive the education necessary to drive a car safely. We are all better off when roads are well-maintained and can get goods to market, workers to jobs and students to school. This is true even if we never end up using these services in our lifetime. The returns such investments generate to the broader community in the form of guarantees of equal protection under the law, safety in our neighborhoods and the ability to access goods and services in our community are critical to all of our well-being.
North Carolina policymakers have clearly recognized that they can’t cut their way out of this year’s budget shortfall. They should now turn to a more fiscally responsible approach to closing that gap: raising revenue through forward-looking reforms. Closing ineffective tax breaks, maintaining the high-income surcharge, and modernizing the sales tax could all effectively eliminate the need for a short-sighted, fee-for-service approach to governing.
The House Budget introduced is not just the latest financial document in the budget process; it represents an attempt to weaken our shared responsibilities to one another. It is an undoing of the contract into which we have all entered as North Carolinians to come together as a society to build something greater than the sum of our parts. What the people of North Carolina need is bold leadership that recognizes that we’re all in this together.