Across the nation, the post-recession recovery has been slow and North Carolina is no exception. This is due in large part to historically low public investment. State leaders have turned to austerity and tax cuts to promote growth; unfortunately, these plans have backfired. We cannot leave our future up to the invisible hand of the market; the same invisible hand responsible for the financial crises. Public policy must intentionally promote and protect economic growth and stability.
The House gets it. Although modest, the budget proposed by the House of Representatives invests in North Carolina at rates higher than any other state bill since 2009. The bill increases funding towards K-12 education, rural communities, the court system, health, housing, and other critical public services.
It is now time for the Senate to follow suit. Unfortunately, the Senate’s spending targets lead analysts to expect a bill that will exclude many of the provisions that would give North Carolinians the breath of fresh air that they so desperately need. In anticipation, the North Carolina Justice Center’s Budget & Tax Center held a press conference, Monday, calling on the Senate to build on the reinvestment the House budget.
Tazra Mitchell, Policy Analyst with the Budget & Tax Center, explained that strong investments are critical in ensuring “quality of life and economic opportunity” for all North Carolinians. Mitchell noted that while spending in the House budget is extremely modest, it is a step in the right direction.
Mother and 16-year Durham Teacher, NaShonda Cooke, spoke about the impact of K-12 cuts on both students and teachers. She pointed to a policy change last year that made funding enrollment growth in the state’s K-12 program optional in the budget, the loss of 7,000 teacher’s assistants, and the lack of adequate technology in schools as major obstacles facing state educators and students. While tipping her hat at the House budget, Cooke pushed state leaders to do more, saying “It’s critically important that we not just stop the cuts but that we proactively reinvest in public education.”
Cooke was joined by Stephanie Lormand and Jessica Burroughs, parents and fellow MomsRising members. Burroughs commended the House on raising teacher pay and emphasized the impact that recruiting “excellent teachers” has on “high-quality learning.” Lormand, who volunteers in her children’s schools, expressed the important role of early childhood education in providing equal opportunities for all children.
In addition to teachers and parents, leaders from the non-profit community spoke out as well. Yvette Holmes, Director of Community Partnerships at the Downtown Housing Improvement Corporation, highlighted the importance of funding the NC Housing Trust Fund, a resource for developing and placing North Carolinians in affordable housing. Holmes noted that “the demand for affordable housing is currently outpacing the market supply” and that the NC Housing Trust Fund was a key tool for low income families. Jill Bullard, CEO of the Inter-faith Food Shuttle called on the Senate to follow the lead of the House and accept and approve the Heathy Corner Store Initiative.
Closing out the speakers was Marcia Morey, Chief District Court Judge of Durham County. With 16 years of service on the bench, Judge Morey argued that six years of budget cuts has left the court system “suffocated” and that “[the courts] are not giving the public what they deserve in a fair and efficient legal system.”
For the first time in a while, the light of recovery seems to be peeking its head from behind the curtains of economic recession. The speeches carried traces of hope and confidence that state leaders may be changing course for the better. Monday, a seemingly unrelated coalition of North Carolinians came together to deliver a unified message to the Senate: Now is no time for more tax cuts, it is time to reinvest in our state and the future.