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

With a new school year approaching, many local school boards across North Carolina will join an effort to help end childhood hunger. For the 2014-15 school year the nation-wide Community Eligibility Program (CEP) allows high-poverty North Carolina schools to eliminate collecting school meal applications and offer breakfast and lunch to all of their students at no charge.

One in five American schoolchildren can’t count on getting enough nutritious food at home, which can have a negative impact on a student’s academic performance and development. 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.

At least 36 school systems across North Carolina have confirmed their plans to adopt CEP for the upcoming school year. (See map below) Some local school boards plan to adopt CEP district-wide while others will offer a universal meal program in selected schools within their district.

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A big kudos goes to these school systems that will adopt CEP next year. This serves as a positive step in helping ensure that all North Carolina students are afforded a high-quality, enriching education.

A listing of all North Carolina school districts and individual schools that are eligible for community eligibility for the 2014-15 school year can be found via the NC Department of Public Instruction website.

Gov. McCrory’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2015 and respective budgets by the House and Senate include significant cost savings from closing and downsizing various correctional facilities. Savings from these changes total around $14.2 million in both the House and Senate budgets and $14.9 million in the Governor’s budget.

Savings generated from these changes could have been used to promote safer communities across the state.  However, lawmakers went down a different path. For instance, Gov. McCrory advocated for state funding for drug treatment courts to be included in the state’s current fiscal year budget. These courts cost a fraction of the nearly $28,000 it cost to keep individuals in prison. However, the final budget passed last year by state policymakers did not include funding for drug treatment courts.

All three budget proposals for fiscal year 2015 – which begin July 1, 2014 – fail to include funding for drug treatment courts. The House and Senate budgets, however, go further and cut funding for programs that promote fair and equitable access to the justice system and safe communities across the state.

Funding cuts to Justice and Public Safety in the House and Senate budgets include:

  • Elimination of the Access to Civil Justice Fund, which supports the representation of poor North Carolinians in civil cases.
  • Reduction of administration funding for Indigent Defense Services, which in part oversees the provision of legal representation to indigent defendants and others entitled to counsel under North Carolina law.
  • Reduction of administration funding for Administration of the Courts

Due to tax changes enacted last year, state policymakers are constrained in major ways. This is effectively a self-imposed budget challenge. Nevertheless, as demonstrated with choices made within the Justice and Public Safety area of the budget, where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Budget writers found revenue by making significant changes to the operations of various correctional facilities as well as by cutting state funding for programs that work to enhance the efficacy of the state’s justice system. These state funding cuts would limit service providers’ ability to assist individuals and families in need to legal representation.

What is clear from all three budgets is that state lawmakers are continuing down a dangerous path of more state funding cuts rather than reinvestment as the state recovers from the Great Recession. One can only hope that as budget writers work to negotiate a final budget for the upcoming 2015 fiscal year, state funding is restored for these programs that were put on the chopping block in the House and Senate budgets.

Local schools in North Carolina have more time to decide whether they will adopt a universal school meal program for the upcoming school year. Eligible schools now have until August 31, 2014 to decide whether to adopt community eligibility – the initial deadline was June 30, 2014.

As I‘ve highlighted previously, the Community Eligibility Program (CEP) allows high-poverty schools in North Carolina to eliminate school meal applications and offer breakfast and lunch to all of their students at no charge. Eliminating the stigma associated with the existing free and reduced meal programs offered only to students from low- and moderate-income families helps increase participation rates in school meal programs and helps children learn on full stomachs. Otherwise, students may be reluctant to participate in the free- and reduced-lunch program and go hungry, which can adversely impact their ability to succeed academically.

At least 18 school systems across the state have already committed to adopting CEP for the upcoming school year. Some school districts will adopt CEP district-wide while others plan to adopt CEP in selected schools. Below is a map of local schools districts that plan to adopt CEP, based on news reports and special data requests.

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Ensuring that more students participate in school breakfast and lunch programs is one way to help promote a quality education for all North Carolina students. Students are inclined to be more focused and attentive, less distracted, and more engaged when they have enough to eat.

The extended August 31, 2014 deadline provides these schools additional time to consider and hopefully opt into the initiative. A listing of all North Carolina school districts and individual schools that are eligible for community eligibility for the 2014-15 school year can be found via the NC Department of Public Instruction.

Visit:http://childnutrition.ncpublicschools.gov/news-events/community-eligibility-provision/

Local communities across North Carolina are already feeling the impact of recent tax policies and budget decisions made by state policymakers. A recent news article quotes a Pitt County commissioner lamenting disapproval with the state pushing off on local governments what they should be funding. Indeed, the tax plan passed last year results in self-imposed budget challenges today that will continue for years ahead, resulting in continued state funding cuts to core public investments that serve as the foundation of economic prosperity.

We at the Budget & Tax Center have traditionally talked about the net revenue loss under the tax plan, but that masks something important that happened when policymakers overhauled the tax code. The tax plan passed last year shifts responsibility for funding core public investments to local governments, in part, by recapturing some of the shared revenue from state sources that went to local governments to meet their obligations.

One example of this shift was the decision to repeal and eliminate the allocation of a portion of corporate income tax revenue dedicated to the School Capital Building Fund (SCB Fund), created in the late 1980s to assist local governments in meeting their public school building capital and technology equipment needs. Prior to the tax change, a portion of revenue generated from the state corporate income tax went to the SCB Fund. That practice ends under the tax plan. Over the next five years, this tax change takes away $382 million from local governments who used the revenue to improve education facilities in their communities. Read More