2017 Fiscal Year State Budget, NC Budget and Tax Center

Statement from Budget & Tax Center Director Alexandra Sirota on final state budget

All of the state budget proposals this year have fallen short of what it will take to get North Carolina back on track. The final budget agreement appears to be no exception based on the press conference releasing topline details this evening. Rather than respond to what families, communities and the economy need to thrive, policymakers have followed a rigid formula divorced from our day to day realities.

The final budget agreement continues to plow ahead on the path to a reduced income tax and an expanded sales tax that will continue to benefit the wealthiest North Carolinians and profitable corporations at the expense of our communities and working families.

The reality is that North Carolinians know the path to a better future is built through shared commitment to good schools, protection of air and water quality, support for main street development and other building blocks of a strong economy and healthy community. It’s time for lawmakers to see that as well.

NC Budget and Tax Center

Statement from Alexandra Sirota on tentative approval of HB3 in Senate

House Bill 3 represents a deep confusion about the role of Constitutions in our lives. Constitutions are overall frameworks for governing, not the place for public policy choices to bind future generations. That’s why we elect leaders: to debate and decide what makes sense to do today to make our communities work better and our economy work for everyone. 

This latest move to amend our Constitution with a low and arbitrary income tax cap and limits on accessing the state’s savings in emergencies reflects the current gerrymandered General Assembly’s fear that their ideas are time-limited in their value. By placing these changes into our Constitution, they are not seeking to bring greater democracy to the budget process, but instead to lock in their choices and limit the choices of North Carolinians tomorrow, 10 years, and 100 years from now.  

This unnecessary step is one taken out of fear, not responsibility for the common good. The results will be costly for us all and our state.

Commentary

Improving North Carolina’s charter school oversight policies

Oversight of lCharter schoolsow-performing charters is a pressing issue in North Carolina.  In the 2014-15 school year, 13% of charter schools received a school performance grade of F, compared to only 6% of traditional schools.  Historically, political pressures from the General Assembly have made it difficult for the State Board of Education to close failing charter schools. Now the General Assembly is considering HB 242, which would limit the state’s power to close low-performing charter schools.  Earlier this week, the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA), a Chicago-based group that advises education leaders on quality charter programs, wrote a strongly-worded letter to members of the North Carolina House of Representatives, encouraging them to reject HB 242.

All of this begs the question: what should charter accountability in North Carolina look like?

A number of organizations, including NACSA, have published a number of reports, policy guides, and model legislation detailing preferred elements of high-quality charter school oversight and evaluation.  A review of these publications reveals a number of ways North Carolina’s oversight could be improved. Read more

Commentary

A constitutional amendment on hunting and fishing? Why not baseball, bird watching and bowling?

If you needed compelling evidence that past it’s time for North Carolina lawmakers to end the 2016 session and get the heck out of town, consider the fact that the state Senate is seriously considering an amendment to the state Constitution to guarantee the right to hunt and fish. As syndicated columnist Patrick Gannon explains in an essay in the Jefferson Post, this is a nutty idea. Here’s the excellent conclusion:

“Don’t get me wrong. Fishing is one of my favorite things to do and has been for most of my life. I’m not a hunter, but I have nothing against hunting, as long as it’s done legally, safely and humanely.

But this proposed constitutional amendment is perilously close on the asinine index to a bill filed a few years ago to require couples seeking divorce in North Carolina to be separated for two years instead of one. (Yes, a real-life senator filed that bill.)

I also enjoy baseball, birdwatching and bowling, but they shouldn’t be protected in our state’s founding documents, even if college basketball threatens to dethrone baseball as the national pastime or bowling balls get regulated because they can fall on your toes.

Yes, 19 states guarantee the right to hunt and fish in their constitutions, with 17 of those approved by voters, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Vermont’s language dates back to 1777, but the rest have passed since 1996. (I’m guessing the sponsors in those states were up for re-election, too.)

The hunting and fishing amendment, just so you know, would be Section 38 of the Constitution, right after a section on the rights of crime victims, including ‘the right as prescribed by law to be informed of and to be present at court proceedings of the accused.’ It would be a few sections down from the right to bear arms.

Senate Bill 889 currently resides in the Senate Rules Committee, where some bills go to die and others get resurrected. I can only hope in this case it’s the former. But if the constitutional amendment shows up on your ballot in November, vote against it.

As Big Bird would sing, it ‘just doesn’t belong’ in the Constitution.”

NC Budget and Tax Center

HB3’s Rainy Day Fund provisions aren’t going to save NC from fiscal challenges

Among the various changes to the state Constitution proposed in House Bill 3 are a series of Rainy Day Fund provisions that reflect unnecessary and counterproductive limits to the ability of lawmakers to use these savings to protect North Carolina communities and families from the brunt of a natural disaster or an economic downturn.

The Rainy Day Fund is the state’s savings account that is built up in good times so that, in downturns or disasters, policymakers can meet unanticipated needs or smooth unanticipated drops in revenue.  Through aggressive action in the past few years, the state Rainy Day Fund has reached a balance of $1.1 billion, as lawmakers have stashed away approximately $150 million each year on average since 2011 despite persistent unmet needs across the state.

Under budget proposals for the upcoming fiscal year, the Rainy Day Fund balance would grow to at least $1.4 billion, or around 7 percent of the state’s General Fund appropriations.

The proposed changes to the management of the Rainy Day Fund represent another example of enshrining in the state Constitution something that can already happen while forcing the negative effects on North Carolina communities and future generations. Read more