For years we have watched as policymakers set aside funding for a Rainy Day despite pressing needs in communities. We were told this conservative approach to budgeting would be important in times of crisis—natural or economic disasters—that put pressure on the state to make immediate investments when their ability to adjust the revenue side may feel more limited.
Hurricane Matthew represented an important test of this approach. And in their response, while emphasizing important immediate spending needs to stabilize communities in Eastern North Carolina, policymakers in Raleigh have demonstrated that they aren’t really willing to tap into that savings account.
Instead, they have written into the hurricane bill language that the Governor’s next budget proposal must recommend taking $100 million to repay the Rainy Day Fund before meeting existing needs. It may not mean an explicit cut, given revenues are improving with an improving economy, but it will mean we will start off with less to maintain current service levels in the next fiscal year. Certainly, North Carolina will be hampered once again in our efforts to address the range of unmet needs in the classroom, in communities and for employers if we cannot draw the funds that we have saved to make sure that doesn’t happen.
What will it take for legislative leaders to tap the Rainy Day Fund without restrictions if not to help communities devastated by natural disasters? If not now, then when?