Headline-hunting legislative leaders got what they wanted and needed (for now) with yesterday’s latest budget announcement. They wanted the story to be first and foremost about big teacher raises and it appears pretty clear that they got that. Media outlets around the state are reporting that central component of the proposed budget agreement  this morning and millions of North Carolinians are waking up to the news — even if it’s frequently tinged with skepticism .
The problem with this story, of course is that, by all indications, the pay raise is being purchased at an enormous price — i.e. big cuts everywhere else –including education — along with tiny and inadequate pay raises for other public employees (including education personnel).
In short, though many details remain to be seen, the central and disastrous driving force behind this year’s budget — last year’s regressive and backward-looking tax cuts remain in full force. As budget analyst Tazra Mitchell wrote here yesterday :
There are better choices available that will put North Carolina on a stronger path to recovery for children, families, and communities across the Tarheel state. For starters, lawmakers need to face the reality that we can’t afford further tax cuts and stop the income tax cuts that are scheduled to go into effect next January. Doing so will save approximately $100 million in the current fiscal year and $300 million in the 2015 calendar year. These revenues would go a long way towards reversing the most damaging cuts that were enacted in the aftermath of the Great Recession. That’s a short-term fix. A longer term fix requires restoring the progressive personal income tax structure so that revenues are stable and more adequate.
The only saving grace of the budget is this: the message it sends to progressives. As dreadful as the budget is — both for the near and long term — it does serve to remind progressives of the power of advocacy.
The only reason a conservative Republican legislature and governor are feeling compelled to propose a big teacher pay raise in 2014 is the hell that people have been raising for the last year and a half. It wasn’t that long ago that conservatives in North Carolina were arguing forcefully that teachers are plenty-well-paid. Heck, some of them continue to make that argument. It’s clear to anyone who looks that McCrory, Pope, Tillis and Berger have been dragged to this point kicking and screaming.
So, bottom line message: The budget is lousy and the work of progressives to turn things around in North Carolina has barely begun. But it’s clear that our advocacy works. The teacher pay raise shows this. It’s time to get back to raising heck on everything else.