NC Budget and Tax Center

Food assistance for vulnerable communities would be slashed deeply under budget resolutions that the US House and Senate budget committees approved last week. The cuts would likely increase hunger, thrust more people into poverty, and push families that are poor even deeper into poverty. Considering that North Carolina has the 5th highest level of food insecurity in the nation, the proposals would deliver a huge blow to North Carolinians living paycheck to paycheck and struggling to provide food to their families.

Under the House plan, the SNAP program—formerly known as food stamps—would be block-granted and cut by at least $125 billion, or one-third, between 2021 and 2025, according to experts at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). There is some flexibility in terms of how states would be able to carry out the deep funding cuts. If states decided to rely solely on benefits cuts, the average SNAP recipient would face a $55 per month cut in food assistance. For a family of 4 that cut is about $200 a month—or worth about one-quarter of a very low-cost meal plan. States could also turn to eligibility cuts and reduce income limits to achieve the cuts. Either way, cuts of this magnitude will bring harm to families, children, and other vulnerable groups.

North Carolina would lose at least $3.8 billion in food aid over those five years. That would force North Carolina policymakers to make some very difficult decisions about whose food assistance to reduce or terminate, impacting many Tar Heel families who already find it difficult to pay the bills and meet their most basic needs. Read More

NC Budget and Tax Center

Last week, Governor McCrory unveiled his two-year budget proposal for July 2015 through June 2017. He has since touted how his plan reinvests in the public services and programs that are essential for economic opportunity and quality of life. However, a close look at his 2016 fiscal year (FY2016) spending plan reveals that he fails to reinvest in a meaningful way in the critical public structures that benefit us all. Genuine progress will continue to be hampered until state lawmakers build a tax system that can adequately match the needs of a growing economy.

Governor McCrory’s proposed budget for FY2016 increases year-to-year spending by nearly $439.8 million, or 2 percent. This is in sharp contrast to past recoveries when state investments were far quicker to return to, and advance beyond, pre-recession levels. Enrollment growth in public schools, the UNC system, and the Medicaid/Health Choice programs is estimated to exceed the year-to-year increase in spending in the governor’s proposal, totaling nearly $442.6 million in FY2016. That means every new dollar increase, on net, is dedicated to funding enrollment growth (see chart below).

It also means that non-enrollment expansion items in the proposal are made possible by cutting or allowing spending to expire for other vital programs that are already stripped bare from previous underinvestment. That’s like rearranging the deck chairs on a sinking ship. Read More

NC Budget and Tax Center

This morning, Governor McCrory released his two-year plan to invest in education, health care, public safety and other priorities that are essential for economic opportunity and quality of life. He spoke of a “new paradigm” for state budgeting. A new paradigm indeed, one that abandons many of the practices that served North Carolina well in the past—like ensuring funding to maintain current service levels year-over-year or reinvesting in the recovery rather than locking in low levels of revenues by keeping the 2013 tax plan on the books.

A preliminary review of his budget plan shows that too many vital public services are at diminished levels, threatening their effectiveness, reach, and efficiency. No amount of “budget spin” will cover up how the budget baseline has been eroded from years of cuts or how the current tax system cannot sufficiently keep up with growing needs.

Below is a quick summary of how the Governor’s budget compares to pre-recession levels and also how the Governor chose to pay for his budget. Read More

NC Budget and Tax Center

Some legislators want to severely limit the resources the state can invest in schools and other needs and are considering arbitrary formulas to guide those decisions, even though we are already doing less with less. State investments as a share of the economy would be $3.2 billion higher if North Carolina caught up to 2008 levels. That means the Governor and legislative state budget writers have a lot of catching up to do to replace what was lost while also keeping up with the growing needs of a growing state. Tying our hands with artificial limits on how much we can invest is a road to ruin.

The goal of these arbitrary formulas is to radically restrict state spending and shrink the reach and effectiveness of critical public services, regardless of need or cost. One example is a formula that would limit year-to-year growth in total state spending to the rate of inflation plus population growth. Automatic spending limits—as well as caps on year-to-year revenue growth—are sold as common-sense measures, but in reality they are not a responsible way to measure the cost of providing basic government services. Instead, such limits merely ensure perpetually insufficient funding and never allow policymakers to replace the cuts enacted in the aftermath of downturns.

Case in point: inflation, as measured by the Consumer Price Index, doesn’t accurately reflect the cost of providing public services overtime. That’s because the CPI measures changes in the cost of goods and services that urban households purchase—not changes in the cost of public goods that benefit all of us. Read More

NC Budget and Tax Center

North Carolina must reform the way it raises revenue for transportation. The existing funding structures are inadequate for addressing current and future transportation needs across the state. The Governor proposed bonding against future tax revenue to meet these needs while the Senate appears poised to push through changes to the gas tax. The bottom line is that policymakers must ensure adequate dollars are available to have a safe, modern transportation infrastructure that can support workers getting to jobs and business getting goods.

The gas tax is a major revenue source for transportation projects such as repairing bridges, repaving roadways, and building highways. The failure of the current gas tax (and other transportation funding sources) to support these important public services means that backlogs for both maintenance and repairs projects persist. The state Department of Transportation estimates that North Carolina faces a $60 billion shortfall for transportation improvements through 2040, and that the state needs to come up with $32 billion just to keep the status quo.

To address a small part of the gap between transportation needs and resource availability in the long term, Senate leadership pushed a bill through the Senate Finance and Appropriations committees yesterday that would change the structure of the gas tax beginning next month. This proposal is tucked into a larger bill that makes various conformity changes to federal tax law. Read More