Commentary, News

ff-917151. The regressive tax hike for low-income families snuck into the budget

Next spring when a single mother in Newton takes her old car to the Jiffy Lube for an oil change, she will be in for quite a surprise. It is going to cost her 6.75 percent more thanks to the budget passed by the House and Senate and endorsed by Gov. Pat McCrory that for the first time imposes a sales tax on car repairs and services.

If she returns home to find that her washing machine isn’t working, it’s going to cost her more to have it fixed. The budget applies the sales tax to appliance repairs too.

If she somehow scrapes the money together to buy a new washer instead, she better pick it up herself as it will cost her more to have it delivered. The budget adds the sales tax to deliveries.

And she may also be surprised to learn that none of the extra money she will have to pay to fix her car or washing machine will stay in her county to help her daughter’s school or improve the local roads. [Continue reading…]

wb-bonus2. The war on public employees continues
Yet another state budget leaves workers with paltry raises

Since taking control of the General Assembly in 2011, the conservative powers that be in North Carolina have been waging a more or less constant war on all things public. Whether it’s the public schools, the University of North Carolina, environmental protection, the criminal justice and corrections systems, the social safety net or a dozen other essential structures and systems, there has been an unrelenting drive to cut spending, reduce the number of employees and privatize services.

In the far right, market fundamentalist view of reality, such an approach is precisely what is needed to incentivize all kinds of new “efficiencies.” You know how this goes: If we just spur state programs and employees to “compete for customers” and bring “market forces to bear,” we can “run government like a business.” [Continue reading…]

Bonus video: Rep. Jackson: House owns the shortcomings in this budget

sm_52920143. Beleaguered court officials try to find the bright side in a modest state budget

Expectations are so low when it comes to funding the state’s court system that a budget without obvious cuts is now lauded as a victory.

“We are pleased that the budget as proposed by the General Assembly recognizes the need for funding the court system,” Sharon Gladwell, Communications Director for the Administrative Office of the Courts said in an email.

“When signed by the governor, the budget will help fund some of the statutory requirements that have been underfunded for a number of years, and it will help with the much needed modernization of technology and information systems.”

True, the budget as proposed by the Conference Committee this week actually funds some of the judicial system’s critical needs, like paying jury members and interpreters, and tosses some dollars in for the initial stages of the long-overdue overhaul of court technology.

But it comes nowhere near full-funding of a court system that’s seen its operating budget slashed by more than 40 percent since 2008, more than 600 needed employees dropped from its payroll and successful programs like drug treatment courts eliminated. [Continue reading…]

Budget_Agreement-4004. Senate and House leaders praise education decisions, rush to meet budget deadline

Editor’s note: Legislators met their Friday deadline for passing a budget, which the governor signed on Friday.

Public education didn’t see the deep annual cuts that have become almost commonplace in recent years, as a proposed $21.7 billion budget from Republican state leaders was made public and faces likely passage this week.

Lawmakers in the both branches of the Republican-controlled legislature, up against a deadline of midnight Friday when their current continuing resolution funding state government expires, scrambled Tuesday to digest the 429-page budget released late Monday night.

The Senate held its first vote on it Tuesday affirming the budgets while their House counterparts, who have a rule that budgets must be publicly available three days before a vote, are scheduled to vote Thursday.

The Senate passed its budget on party lines, with Democrats in the minority objecting to the late night reveal of the budget that left many unable to parse through the hundreds of pages of budget documents before voting.[Continue reading…]

Bonus video: Glazier: State budget fails to advance North Carolina

ff-9165. A telling defense of a woefully inadequate budget

One of the most telling things about the woeful budget agreement crafted in secret and unveiled this week by legislative leaders is how they defend it, spending as much time boasting about things they didn’t cut as they do talking about new investments they made.

The headlines from the first few days of the budget coverage made the same point, emphasizing that the budget “protects teacher assistants and driver’s ed,” or “restores education items and tax credits.”

You’d think the state was still struggling with the worst of the Great Recession with state revenues plummeting and lawmakers scrambling to keep schools open.

The opposite is true of course. The recession is over and state revenues have rebounded but the Republican majority in the House and Senate has decided not to reinvest in education and human services that were slashed during the downturn, but instead to cut taxes again, giving still more breaks to millionaires and out-of-state corporations that received huge windfalls in the 2013 tax changes. [Continue reading…]

Upcoming event on Tuesday, September 29th: Crucial Conversation — For-profit colleges: A helpful solution or part of what ails higher education?

Commentary, News

Governor Pat McCrory wasted little time Friday in signing the state’s $21.7 billion budget. The governor praised the spending plan as “a common-sense vision for our great state.”

But not everyone sees it that way.

Public School Forum President & Executive Director Keith Poston says the 2015-17 budget does not make education a priority for our state.


Keith Poston

“While there are some positive elements in the budget, including increased funding for textbooks, an increase in the starting pay for new teachers, and a one-time $750 bonus for all teachers, overall it fails to deliver the strategic investments we must make if we are to have an education system worthy of North Carolina’s children.”

“Our teachers, the single most important factor in academic achievement, are once again largely left out. Nearly 70 percent of NC public school teachers will receive no salary increase at all in this budget. The protection of 7,500 teacher assistant jobs was certainly the right thing to do, protecting the much-needed classroom support in our early grades, but it’s a sad day when we are spotlighting resources we didn’t lose instead of increased support for education.”

“While it’s true that the General Assembly has boosted overall education spending over the past several years, we are a rapidly growing state, and the increases have barely kept up with our growth. In fact, under this budget, our per-pupil spending will still be below pre-recession levels. And while increased textbook and digital resources funding is welcome news, the amount of funding is still less than half of what the state invested in textbooks six years ago.”

So, what does it take to retain and recruit high-quality classroom teachers?

Listen to NC Policy Watch’s recent radio interview with James Ford, North Carolina’s  Teacher of the Year for 2014.  Ford left the classroom and went to work for the Public School Forum this fall to head up a new statewide beginning teacher support and engagement program.  Click here to listen to his full interview with Policy Watch’s Chris Fitzsimon.

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Commentary, News

After four hours of heated debate Thursday night and a second vote just after midnight Friday, the NC House followed the Senate in approving the $21.7 billion state budget.

Republicans touted the fact that the budget compromise released on Monday fully funds teaching assistants as well as driver’s education, and offers a bonus to all state workers and teachers.

Rep. Tricia Cotham of Mecklenburg County said the funding for public education was barely adequate, calling the one-time $750 increase an “insult” to veteran educators.

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Rep. Darren Jackson of Wake County criticized House budget conferees for caving-in to the Senate on
several key provisions, including a two-percent across-the-board raise for all state workers.

Jackson chastised his colleagues for a budget that neglects state retirees and loads up the budget with earmarks and special provision that had never been discussed in committee. Click below to hear Rep. Jackson’s take on the budget compromise.

The final vote on Friday morning was 81-33. Click here to see how your representative votes.

Governor Pat McCrory has said he will sign the budget bill after it’s ratified by the Senate, perhaps as early as today.

Lawmakers are expected to adjourn the session September 30th.

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Now that the Senate has passed the state budget , the $21.7 billion spending package moves to the state House where the first vote is slated for later today.

Rick Glazier, former state representative and the new executive director of the NC Justice Center, believes  House members and Governor McCrory should have serious reservations about the proposed two year spending plan.

Glazier says the budget compromise released on Monday fails to return competitiveness to teacher retention and recruitment, nor does it adequately invest in textbooks, digital materials and instructional supplies.

Glazier appears this weekend on NC Policy Watch’s News and Views to discuss the state budget.

Click below to hear a preview of his radio interview with Chris Fitzsimon. To read Glazier’s letter to Governor McCrory urging him to veto the spending plan, click here.

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Commentary, News

The NC Justice Center sent a letter to Gov. Pat McCrory this morning, calling for the Governor to veto the final budget that lawmakers released this week.

The anti-poverty non-profit notes that now is not the time to further cut income taxes or shift the tax load onto working families.veto

“At a critical point in the economic recovery, it is time for North Carolina to replace the worst of the cuts made during the Great Recession, ensure our tax code is able to meet the needs of a state seeking to lead in the South and the nation, and consider the smart, sustainable public investments needed to support our competitive position,” the letter reads.

The NC Justice Center believes that it would be fiscally irresponsible to reduce the personal income tax rate to 5.499 percent.

According to the NC Budget and Tax Center’s Alexandra Sirota, this would reduce revenue by more than $700 million when fully implemented, posing an unrealistic and unsustainable loss for public schools, universities, public health programs, the justice system, and rural economic development while translating, on average, into very small income tax reductions for individual taxpayers,  offset for many taxpayers in the form of sales tax and fee changes.

The final budget also forgoes opportunities to improve the lives of North Carolinians, the letter reads, by failing to:

•    Remotely return competitiveness to teacher retention
and recruitment, return class size to prior ratios nor adequately invest in textbooks, digital materials and instructional supplies;
•    Ensure affordable housing is more widely available for every day moderate-income families at a time that housing costs are outpacing wages;
•    Provide all young children with the opportunities through pre-K and quality child care that ensure they are ready to learn by Kindergarten;
•    Keep skills training at the cutting edge of industry standards despite some good community college provisions and make post-secondary education affordable for all; and
•    Provide for the investment in infrastructure and small business development that can boost rural communities and urban neighborhoods.
“A compromise budget shouldn’t compromise North Carolina’s future,” the letter to Gov. McCrory reads. “We hope that you will veto this final budget and urge legislative leaders to improve North Carolina’s competitive position through smart public investments.”

To read the full letter, click here.

The state Senate is expected to give final approval to the budget this afternoon. The state House will cast its votes on the spending package Thursday and Friday.

Note: NC Policy Watch is a project under the NC Justice Center.