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 and Part 2)

This week, more than 1.5 million North Carolina’s students headed back to school to underfunded classrooms. For yet another school year, teachers will do their best to prepare today’s students to grow into critical thinkers and succeed as workers in a demanding 21st century economy with too few resources available. Legislative leadership and the Governor approved a budget that fails to make up lost ground in public education, keeping spending below the last budget that was in place before the Great Recession.

In fact, when the pay raises for teachers are properly placed in the salaries and reserves section of the General Fund budget and not the public education section—a practice that has long been in place—public education spending in the new budget is below last year’s spending levels (see graphic below). This certainly is not progress, but rather sliding backwards with a budget trick used as cover.

Five years into the recovery from the worst economic downturn since the 1930s, catching up and keeping up with the needs of North Carolina’s students is stalled due to the fact that lawmakers chose to enact a tax plan last year that keeps the state from replacing the most damaging cuts to public investments. The 2013 tax plan is draining available resources—$5.4 billion over five years—that is needed to regain lost ground and reinvest in the building blocks of a strong economy. The tax plan’s impact is evident throughout the final budget for fiscal year 2015. Read More

NC Budget and Tax Center

The 2013 tax plan continues to rear its ugly head. The final budget deal released late last night is yet another reminder that the state cannot afford cost of the tax plan that primarily benefits the wealthy and profitable corporations.  If the state could afford those deep revenue cuts, budget writers would not be relying on more federal dollars and lottery revenues to make their budget balanced nor including another round of harmful budget cuts and policy changes to early childhood education, public schools, higher education, and social programs. But, those are the conditions North Carolinians will be facing over the next year as we enter year six of the official economic recovery.

While the budget delivered on its promise to provide an average 7 percent teacher pay raise, that boost in much-needed pay came at the expense of dollars needed to pay for other state priorities—even within the public education budget for programs that serve at-risk students, for example. And unfortunately, it’s just a snapshot of what we should expect to see in future years. Meanwhile, other states are moving full steam ahead and replacing the most damaging cuts made during the aftermath of the recession.

The cost of North Carolina’s personal income tax cuts will be much higher than previously expected, at least $200 million more each year. Read More

NC Budget and Tax Center

Budget writers announced over the weekend that the Senate and House leadership agreed to a basic framework for a final budget deal. That framework includes a pay raise for teachers averaging roughly 7 percent and further cuts to the Medicaid program that provides health insurance and long-term care to children and adults who are poor, disabled, and elderly. There is no question that other vital programs and services will be cut due to a lack of adequate funding, resulting from lawmakers’ choice to make room for unaffordable tax cuts for the wealthy and profitable businesses in 2013.

While the full details of the final budget deal will not be released until this afternoon at 1:30pm, below are five things we expect to be true in the final budget deal: Read More

NC Budget and Tax Center

Plans to finance both public education and transit at the local level would be stopped in their tracks under HB 1224 that passed the state Senate Finance Committee yesterday. The bill not only places a hard cap on the local sales tax rate at 2.5 percent but also only allows counties to levy a sales tax increase for either education or transit—not both.  This bill joins a slate of other bills that would restrict local control. The full Senate is scheduled to vote on the bill Monday night.

In effect, the bill restricts local governments’ authority to meet local needs and balance their budgets. Importantly, the bill is aimed at shifting the responsibility of funding public education away from the state and towards local governments. The state clearly cannot afford last year’s tax plan and now legislators are proposing budgets that would make serious cuts to public education as a result. Those cuts would have to be absorbed by children in the classroom or addressed at the local level, putting local governments in a tough spot having to choose whether or not to make up the difference via a local tax.

Local governments are dealing with the fallout from last year’s tax plan in other ways too. They no longer have access to the school Capital Building Fund, which received a portion of revenue generated from the state corporate income tax. Schools used this fund to help them meet their education obligations, as my colleague explained last month. The result is a $382 million dent over the next five years. This loss is on top of the looming $63 million-annual dent resulting from elimination of the local privilege tax in 2015. Read More

NC Budget and Tax Center

North Carolinians are being dealt a bad hand. The deep revenue losses resulting from the 2013 tax plan is creating a reality in which there are too few dollars available to meet the needs of children, families, and communities. Budget writers are facing a self-imposed budget crisis and finding it difficult to agree on just how large the cut to public schools and public health should be to meet its priorities and balance the budget. To be clear, budget writers agree that those core budget areas should be cut compared to the enacted 2015 fiscal year budget but have yet to agree on the size of the cut.

That’s the main reason why North Carolina is more than two weeks into the new fiscal year without a revised state budget.

For weeks budget negotiators in the House and Senate have been shuffling the deck, making proposed cuts in core areas of the budget and moving that money around in order to finance much-needed pay raises. This budget shuffle is further proof the state is facing a revenue problem. Read More