Commentary

So-called budget “surplus” shown to be nothing but Jones Street hocus-pocus

In case you missed it, Tazra Mitchell of the N.C. Budget and Tax Center had a great letter to the editor in Raleigh’s News & Observer over the weekend that exposed the silly story state lawmakers have concocted in order to create the illusion that everything is now fine with state budget. As Tazra explains:

“Regarding the Feb. 13 news article “ NC forecasts budget surplus for fiscal year that begins July 1”: State lawmakers are making a major change to the budget process in an attempt to mask the fallout of their recent decisions. The change also allows them to claim a “surplus” that merely reflects revenue growth – and revenue growth that’s far under the long-term average.

For many decades, the starting point for the budgeting process has been the amount of resources necessary to maintain the current quality of public systems that Tar Heels expect. Starting with this “current services budget” is standard practice for virtually all responsible governing bodies across the country.

The governor and legislature now are, crudely, redrawing the starting point for this year’s budget. In fact, the funding level they declared to be “base budget” for the upcoming year is roughly $213 million less than the budget for the current year. When and if they manage to cover the additional costs of things like more students in schools, inflationary increases in health care services or cost-of-living raises for teachers and highway patrol officers, they will claim credit for their acts of generosity.

Lawmakers lowered the bar, and when they clear it, they’ll declare themselves the winners. But budget gimmicks will not hide bigger class sizes or higher tuition rates. North Carolinians have seen too much to be fooled into thinking there is any kind of “surplus” afoot.”

6 Comments


  1. Alex

    February 16, 2015 at 9:06 am

    The flaw in the “Current Services Budget” is the thinking that nothing can be changed ,or deleted, or revised, so everything simply becomes an add-on dollar. Zero based budgeting should be implemented, or we simply increase the size of government until it is not sustainable. The federal budget is a good example of this process gone astray.

  2. ML

    February 16, 2015 at 3:36 pm

    So we’ll change the way we calculate batting averages so that those doing poorly now can pretend to be doing better than those in the past? If they want to add a star such as WAR, or in this case zero balance, to supplant then by all means; however in this case the republicans want to change the formula to suggest better results. I don’t care how they measure it but it needs a giant asterisk if they change it.

  3. david esmay

    February 16, 2015 at 9:01 pm

    I see the NC GOP is employing the Enron model.

  4. LayintheSmakDown

    February 17, 2015 at 8:46 am

    More like the democrat model.

  5. ML

    February 17, 2015 at 11:13 am

    So clever…

  6. LayintheSmakDown

    February 18, 2015 at 9:34 am

    Thanks…I appreciate that.

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