NC Budget and Tax Center

Each year public schools across the state experience changes in their student enrollment levels – some see an increase, others a decline, while enrollment in some schools remain steady. A policy change included in the budget approved by state lawmakers for the current fiscal year 2015 means schools experiencing growth in student enrollment are no longer guaranteed to receive full state funding for the additional students when state lawmakers create a budget for the next school year.

The new provision in the budget no longer includes enrollment adjustments for public schools as part of the baseline budget, also referred to as the continuation budget. Prior to this policy change the state’s budgeting process took enrollment adjustments into account when determining how much state funding is required to maintain education service levels. Doing so more accurately reflect the actual level of state funding that should be invested in K-12 education.

Public schools that experience an increase in student enrollment from one year to the next must now wait until state lawmakers finalize a budget for the next fiscal year to know if enrollment growth is fully funded. Many public schools across the state could potentially feel the impact of this deceptively subtle policy change. Read More

Falling Behind in NC, NC Budget and Tax Center

As North Carolina continues to recover from the Great Recession, most of the jobs that have been added pay low wages, making affording even basic necessities difficult for many hard-working North Carolinians. Raising the state minimum wage and reinstating a state Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) are two policy tools that North Carolina state lawmakers can use to help boost wages, widen the path out of poverty, and reduce income inequality, a report released this week by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) highlights.

Wages for the least paid workers are no higher than they were 40 years ago, the CBPP report highlights. Yet evidence shows that lifting the income of families earning low wages provides a range of benefits, including improved learning and educational attainment and higher future earnings in adulthood for low-income young children. Furthermore, raising the minimum wage and an enhanced state EITC together works to put families and individuals on a path to financial stability and self-sufficiency. Read More

Back to School Series, NC Budget and Tax Center

This is part of a Back to School blog series that highlight various issues to be aware of as the 2014-15 school year kicks off. (See Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4)

Little things can make big differences in children’s lives. Something as simple as arriving to class with food in your stomach can enhance a child’s learning experience. Many schools across North Carolina recognize this and are offering breakfast and lunch to all of their students at no charge this school year.

As part of the nationwide Community Eligibility Program (CEP), high-poverty schools in at least 36 school systems across North Carolina will provide breakfast and lunch to all students free of charge. This effort not only aims to help end childhood hunger – one in five American schoolchildren can’t count on getting enough nutritious food at home – but also aims to enhance the classroom experience of students. Ensuring that children show up in classrooms each day fed and ready to learn increases the chances of students being more focused, attentive, and engaged.

The school year marks the first year in which eligible schools nationwide can participate in CEP. With all students provided breakfast and lunch free of charge, participating schools are no longer required to collect school meal applications, which reduces administrative costs. These cost savings can now be directed towards covering the cost of the school meals that are provided. Read More

NC Budget and Tax Center

It hasn’t taken long for the costly tax plan passed last year to replace grandiose promises with an unfortunate reality. State officials recently confirmed that the 2013 tax plan passed by state policymakers will cost at least $200 million more each year than initially projected, with a price tag of at least $5.3 billion over the next five years. Our own estimates point to the potential for the total revenue loss to reach $1.1 billion by 2016.

As the prolonged negotiated budget for fiscal year 2015 highlights, North Carolina’s revenue challenge hampers our ability to invest in public education, healthcare services, and other public investments that serve as the foundation of economic growth.

The General Assembly’s Fiscal Research Division (FRD) was charged with assessing the fiscal impact of the tax plan and confirms that the personal income tax rate reduction is having a greater immediate impact on revenue collections. FRD attributes the larger-than-expected eventual revenue shortfall to slower wage growth. But it’s difficult to imagine that the income tax cuts are not driving the greater revenue losses given what we know about who benefits from the tax changes and slower wage growth suggests that the tax changes should cost less, not more. Moreover, slow wage growth raises additional concerns about the reality of a Carolina Comeback. Read More

Falling Behind in NC, NC Budget and Tax Center

Governor McCrory signed a final budget into law for the current 2015 fiscal year, which runs from July 2014 through June 2015, this morning. The $21.1 billion budget includes new spending initiatives – largely pay raises for teachers and state employees – but fails to include additional revenue to sustain this spending in the long-term. Contrary to fueling North Carolina’s economic comeback, as Governor McCrory claims, the final budget continues to fund core public services at diminished levels, well below pre-recession levels, and compromises the ability of the state to get ahead and prepare for the future.  Moreover, it puts North Carolina on a fiscally irresponsible path that will continue to create budget challenges in the years ahead, largely as a result of the tax plan that was little debated and discussed in the final budget.

North Carolina faces a revenue challenge, and actions taken within the final budget make this reality clear. The final budget signed by the Governor spends every available dollar and uses dollars from last year’s budget as a result of the Governor requiring agencies to cut their respective budgets. No funding is available to build up the state’s Savings Reserve fund, which is meant to position the state to weather a future economic downturn. Furthermore, the budget relies on one-time funding sources that, once depleted, cannot be replenished with such low revenue and shifts funding for core public investments such as K-12 education to lottery receipts and early childhood programming to federal block grants.

Such budget decisions are driven largely by the tax plan the governor signed into law last year, which significantly reduces revenue available for public investments. Revised analysis by the General Assembly’s Fiscal Research Division estimates that the income tax rate cuts in the plan will cost at least $200 million more annually than initially expected – more than $1 billion less in annual revenue once the plan is fully implemented. The Governor and state policymakers failed to account for this reality in the final budget, which means that, absent new revenue, more budget cuts to core public services are likely to occur in future years as the tax plan continues to be implemented. Another round of tax cuts is set to occur in January 2015.

Under the final budget signed by the Governor, state spending remains 6.6 percent below pre-recession levels (see chart below). Read More