2017 Fiscal Year State Budget, NC Budget and Tax Center

Senate’s public schools budget reflects diminished expectations and limited possibilities for NC

Public schools will continue to operate with constrained resources under the Senate’s proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year. The budget leaves most needs across the K-12 education budget unaddressed, aside from providing additional funding for pay raises for teachers and school leaders and funding enrollment growth. The additional funding for teacher pay increases are made possible in part from cuts to General Fund appropriations for other core education investments that support children’s educational success. Furthermore, state leaders continue to rely more on lottery dollars, rather than General Fund appropriations, to fund core areas of the education budget.

As a result, state funding per student under this budget is 8 percent below 2008 pre-recession spending.* This education budget represents the diminished expectations and limited possibilities for North Carolina that are a result of state leaders’ preference for more and more tax cuts (included in the budget) and their misguided budget decisions based on an arbitrary spending target that fails to account for the actual needs of public schools. Read more

NC Budget and Tax Center

$140 million in new taxes on the horizon for North Carolinians

Read my lips, MORE NEW TAXES ARE ON THE WAY FOR NORTH CAROLINIANS. This will be the latest reality if state Senate leaders get their way.

Members of the Senate Finance Committee met yesterday and discussed a bill that would make even more services subject to the sales tax. Senate Finance leaders claim that they are simply refining tax changes that have been passed in recent years, but this is not true. In spelling out various services that are subject to the sales tax, this bill adds a slew of new services that will result in North Carolinians paying at least $140 million in additional sales taxes, according to state officials. These spelled out services were not specified in the state budget passed last year that included expanding the sales tax base to more services.

Under the proposal, North Carolinians would now pay sales tax for house cleaning and janitorial services, landscaping services, gutter cleaning, window washing, furnace cleaning, pest control, and floor and carpet cleaning services, among other services.

Since 2013, services that have been made subject to the sales tax by state lawmakers are expected to result in North Carolinians paying nearly $640 million in additional sales taxes for the upcoming fiscal year that begins July 1st. The latest proposed sales tax changes would add at least an additional $140 million to this increase in sales taxes.

This development would effectively erase the proposal that has already been approved by the Senate and included in the House budget to increase the standard deduction in an effort to address the state’s upside-down tax system. At an estimated revenue loss of  $200 million, policymakers have effectively swapped an income tax cut for more sales taxes. Such a move essentially wipes out any effort to lessen the tax load carried by low-and middle income taxpayers from an increase in the standard deduction. It also means a tax increase for the lowest income earners in the state, who don’t benefit from increasing the standard deduction because their income is so low.

As state leaders’ inconsistent brand of tax reform – which favors tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations – persists, everyday North Carolinians continue to bear the brunt of flawed tax policy. Costly tax cuts passed since 2013 will reduce revenue by more than $2 billion each year once all tax changes are fully in place. These are dollars that otherwise would have been available for our public schools, making higher education more affordable, and promoting healthy and safe communities.

Instead, in taxing these additional services and failing to reinstate the state EITC or maintain an income tax structure based on ability to pay, state leaders continue their steady march to further shift the tax load onto low- and middle-income tax payers. While hardworking North Carolina are on the job striving to make ends meet for their families, state leaders are working just as hard to create a tax system that ensures that economic mobility and opportunity remains a distant reality for millions of North Carolinians across the state.

2017 Fiscal Year State Budget, NC Budget and Tax Center

Making college affordable by possibly killing off public universities

One of the major issues that Senator Berger and Brown have heard from their constituents is that the rising cost of tuition at the state’s public universities is making it difficult for parents to send their kids to college or for kids to complete their degrees. The Senate’s answer in the form of Senate Bill 873 is unlikely to make sure that a four-year degree remains affordable and accessible. Instead, it will almost certainly limit access to public universities for students of color and those living in more rural parts of the state, as well as harm their communities’ economic development efforts.

Senate Bill 873, included in the Senate’s budget proposal, targets students at five specified colleges and universities, which have a rich history as HBCUs, the state’s university serving American Indians, and a rural institution. These five institutions would see their tuition capped at $1,000 for the year for in-state students and $2,500 for out of state students. Capping tuition at these institutions would mean a significant loss of revenue for each respective institution – ranging from an estimated nearly $3.9 million to more than $29 million among the five institutions.

Copy of Senate Bill 873 (HBCUs)_tuition cap analysis

And if the tuition cap is not a big enough hurdle to overcome, the mandatory reduction in fees (combined with the tuition reduction and cap) will certainly heighten the financial challenges faced by these institutions. These fee reductions would mean additional estimated annual revenue loss that ranges from around $6 million to $15 million.

For the majority of these institutions, which have faced the challenges of building endowments,sustaining their institutions through segregation and Jim Crow, and serving a disproportionately low-income student body, the tuition cap is a blunt instrument that will only serve to erode the institutions’ fiscal stability and ability to support every student’s completion of a four-year degree.  It fails to ensure that those who can afford to pay do so, and instead delivers a benefit to all students regardless of income. A better strategy to keep college affordable would be to increase the state’s need-based grant program to close the gap for students struggling to afford an education and only able to access federal grants.

Of course, it is hard to believe that keeping college affordable is the true intent.  After all, why then are just these five institutions targeted with a tuition cap? If the tuition cap is the policy choice of the Senate to achieve affordability, it should be applied to UNC Chapel Hill and NC State, too.

All UNC institutions will face a limit on fee increases. Students at all UNC institutions will be able to freeze tuition to what it was when they entered until four years later under this proposal. Such an approach fails to anticipate needs that may arise or the possibility that tax cuts will phase-in and further erode the state’s aspiration to be a first-rate public university system.

Steady erosion of state support for higher education in recent years has played a direct role in the increasing cost of college in North Carolina as colleges make up for state funding cuts on the backs of college students and their families. State funding per student at public four-year universities remains more than 15 percent below its 2008 pre-recession level –– equating to hundreds of millions of dollars in funding cuts. In response, public universities have increased tuition and fees in part to offset the funding cuts.

And while the bill allows for up to $70 million in state funding to be requested from lawmakers to replace the revenue loss from the tuition cap, it is unlikely that these funds will be sustained because of the priority given to poorly targeted tax cuts. It is also unlikely that they will be sufficient. The tuition cap means that any enrollment growth in the years ahead will result in greater revenue loss that otherwise could be generated from in-state and out-of-state students. A growing student body amid limited and constrained financial resources compromises the ability of these institutions to ensure quality education services that promote student success.

Ensuring an affordable college education for North Carolina students and families is important to North Carolina remaining an attractive place to live and do business, as well as in retaining the talented young people who will lead our state in the future. This short-sighted and limited budget proposal is not the road map to make college access and completion a reality for more North Carolinians despite the economic imperative to do so.

NC Budget and Tax Center

Affordable higher education should be a priority for North Carolina

As state support for higher education has eroded, North Carolina students and families have shouldered more and more of the cost of a post-secondary education. A new report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities highlights how years of reduced investment by North Carolina in higher education has helped drive up tuition at public colleges, jeopardizing the ability of many students and families to afford an education that is key to their long-term financial success and essential to a growing economy.

State support for higher education remains well below the 2007-08 school year — 20.1 percent when adjusted for inflation, the report notes. Amid an improving national and state economy, state lawmakers have chosen tax cuts over restoring and boosting investment in higher education. These tax cuts have significantly reduced revenue that otherwise would be available to make a college education more affordable. Revenue loss will top more than $2 billion each year once all tax changes passed since 2013 are fully in place.

State and local dollars make up a significant portion of public colleges and universities budget. As such, large cuts in state funding for public universities in recent years have resulted in a steady increase in tuition. North Carolina is among the top of states for the percent increase in tuition at public four year colleges since 2008. Average tuition at four-year public colleges in North Carolina is up by $2,051, or nearly 42 percent, since the 2007-08 school year, among the highest increases in the nation. Meanwhile, federal and state financial aid for the average student has not kept up with the rising costs of earning a college degree, the report found. Read more

NC Budget and Tax Center

Gaining one spot in teacher pay rankings is nothing for NC to celebrate

North Carolina continues to tread water when it comes to ensuring our teachers can make ends meet, merely inching up the national rankings for average teacher pay this year compared to last year, from 42nd to 41st, according to a recently released report by the National Education Association.

North Carolina may have moved up a spot, but the problem is that rankings rarely help us to understand the actual state of things. For example, Missouri (42nd from 43rd), New Mexico (43rd from 44th), and Idaho (48th from 49th) could also similarly celebrate their respective inch forward. The reality, however, is that all these states, including North Carolina, remain among the worst states for average teacher pay.

The more important take away from this ranking is that much work remains to be done in public education in North Carolina.

All of our neighboring states – Georgia, Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee – rank higher for average teacher pay. Among states in the Southeast, all but three – West Virginia, Oklahoma and Mississippi – rank higher for average teacher pay than North Carolina.

In a broader context, ranking 41st for average teacher pay is not a competitive position. Moving up one spot among the bottom is not impressive. Ranking near the very bottom in the Southeast is disappointing. North Carolina has chosen to inch along when we could be making greater strides. Read more