The conference budget passed this past week by both legislative chambers misses a whole host of opportunities to provide adequate, basic services and improve the lives of everyday North Carolinians. Legislative leaders describe this budget as a compromise that maximizes the use of limited dollars, yet those very legislators have prioritized tax cuts over investments in the services and programs that strengthen our growing state.
The false choices represented in this budget — innovations waivers versus closing the coverage gap, teachers versus early childhood programming — are largely the result of these tax cuts for the wealthy, which began in 2013. With $3.6 billion in lost revenue each year since then, General Assembly leaders have proposed additional cuts for the richest North Carolinians that worsen the already upside-down tax code that places a greater tax burden on those with the lowest incomes.
Here are just a few of the ways that the conference budget fails to make proper investments in our state:
- By supplanting state investments with federal dollars for early childhood programs, legislative leaders have, again, underfunded services that many families rely on and that provide sound, evidence-based programming. With over 30,000 eligible children on the waiting list for child care assistance alone, budget writers have failed to maximize the potential benefit to the youngest North Carolinians.
- While the budget provides small increases in teacher pay, it falls short on making up for years of under-investment, leaving our schools with nearly 800 fewer teachers and a more than 40 percent cut to funds for textbooks and classroom supplies compared to the modest pre-recession budget. Additionally, this budget relies on a “pay-as-you-go” model to address the over $8.1 billion in public school infrastructure needs, which diverts money away from current needs rather than issuing bonds that can be paid over time but allow for more immediate improvements in school infrastructure.
- In addition to denying affordable, quality health insurance coverage to half a million North Carolinians, legislative leaders have slashed funding for existing Medicaid by underfunding adjustments for anticipated enrollment and cutting millions in administrative funding. Particularly with the upcoming shift to Medicaid managed care from the current fee-for-service model, administrative oversight will be essential for ensuring successful operation of the Medicaid program, which currently serves over 2 million North Carolinians.
- While the conference budget provides some funds to support Raise the Age programs, it turns its back on the recommendations made by the committee that legislators appointed to serve that very purpose. Raise the Age consists of several components that work together to ensure that youth involved in the criminal justice system can receive the resources and support they need to prevent future interaction with both the juvenile and adult criminal justice systems.
With Friday’s veto from the Governor, we will look to legislators on both sides of the aisle for a sustained veto so that our elected leaders can start over on a new budget that reaffirms our collective values and better addresses the needs of all in our state.
Suzy Khachaturyan is a Policy Analyst at the Budget and Tax Center, a project of the North Carolina Justice Center.