NC Budget and Tax Center

In an unexpected move on Monday, Governor McCrory directed state agencies to prepare for budget cuts in case lawmakers fail to iron out a budget deal before the fiscal year ends in six days. Art Pope, the Budget Director at the Office of State Budget and Management, laid out the budget guidelines in a two-page memo that orders agencies to plan for the worst-case- scenario between the Senate and House budgets. Here is a summary of the directive:

  • Agencies must take the highest cut (for the entire agency rather than on a line-item basis) that is presented in either the Senate or House budget.
  • The rule above doesn’t apply to spending associated with Teacher Assistants (TAs), which is cut in half under the Senate budget. This would mean that spending for TAs would remain at the levels in the FY2015 budget that is already on the books (see note below on the biennial budget process). This is in contrast to the Governor’s own budget, which cuts funding for TAs by nearly $20 million.
  • Filled positions that are eliminated in either the Senate or House budgets should be treated as such. Similarly, vacant positions that are eliminated in either of the proposals shall not be filled.
  • No pay raises are authorized. Nor are any expansion items in either of the proposals.

The Governor, Senate, and House already put forward their respective budgets. Now, those differences are being ironed out in what’s known as the conference process where the Senate and House leadership come together to strike a final budget deal. Because the conference process is dominated by legislators, the Governor is more or less shut out of the process—especially now because of the veto-proof majorities in both chambers. The budget memo represents a way for the Governor to pressure the legislative leadership to iron out their differences in a timely fashion. It also serves to demonstrate the worst-case scenario’s deleterious impact on the average North Carolinian.

Even if lawmakers throw their hands up in the air and leave Jones Street without striking a final budget deal Read More

NC Budget and Tax Center

It is normal in the budget process for the Governor, state Senate, and state House to each put forward budget proposals that lay out different visions for how best to educate our children, care for vulnerable populations, boost prosperity, and put North Carolina on more solid footing. The public expects those differences to be ironed out during what’s known as the “conference” process. What the public doesn’t expect is for the three budgets to use wildly different estimates on items that should be fairly consistent across budget proposals. But, that’s exactly what is going on in North Carolina.

Among the three budget proposals, there is no consensus on four key items in the budget that significantly impact the availability of dollars for other public investments, as illustrated in the table below. The budgets don’t agree on the revenue shortfall that the state is facing now in the current fiscal year. Curiously, the House anticipates a current year revenue shortfall of $429.4 million—this is $16 million lower than the Governor’s and Senate’s estimate of $445.4 million. Lawmakers must address the current revenue shortfall before putting together a budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year. This is because the shortfall hampers how much money can be carried over next year and used to pay for one-time expenses in their proposals.

Blog post, no consesus

Also, the three budgets use wide-ranging estimates for the amount of money agencies are expected to return back to the state. The House anticipates a far larger amount of money will be returned than what the Governor and Senate do. The House anticipates $407.2 million—which is higher than the Senate’s anticipated amount of $371.6 million and the Governor’s amount of $290 million. These agency reversions are made possible due to the Governor’s directive in March that ordered state agencies to curb spending as well as the second directive issued in May. The directive was issued to address the current year revenue shortfall. But, if the House’s estimates are correct, the directive is bringing in more than what is actually needed to address the revenue shortfall—effectively, making deeper cuts to programs this year to pay for one-time spending for the upcoming fiscal year.

Next, on the spending side, the budget proposals are all over the map when it comes to estimating the cost of the current year Medicaid shortfall and next fiscal year’s Medicaid rebase—which is the latest calculation of what it takes to run the Medicaid program due to enrollment growth, changes in service consumption, drug price increases, and other factors. Back in April, state officials estimated the Medicaid shortfall to be between $120 million and $140 million. Breaking from the norm, budget writers use different assumptions—on the backlog claims, for example—that determine the estimate for the shortfall. As a backup measure, two of the three budgets put money into savings account in case their estimate ends up being above projections.

Of all three budgets, the House budget puts aside $100 million to $156.7 million less than what the Governor and Senate do, respectively, for the shortfall, rebase, and reserve combined. It’s clear that the House lowballs the Medicaid Shortfall, putting aside only $25.4 million. The House also puts aside nearly $118 million in a reserve but it fails provide money for the rebase like the other budgets do so it’s essentially money that will pay for the rebase—not something that will account for underestimating the shortfall. On the other end of the stick, the Senate puts the most money aside for these items combined.

Ideally, there should be consensus on the revenue shortfall, anticipated agency reversions, and Medicaid shortfall and rebase because the professional staff for the Governor and the Legislature work together to produce these estimates. It’s unclear why legislators made the decision to use different assumptions to produce the Medicaid estimates.   When it comes to the revenue shortfall and agency reversions, it may be the case that the professional staff is using the latest revenue estimates available at the time of the release of the budget proposals—yet, there is no information online to verify this. Besides, the budgets were produced within one month of one another so the estimates should not be that far off from one another.

These differences will surely complicate the conference budget process. This is because lawmakers will not only have to work out the differences as to what they have available but they’ll also have to negotiate the rest of the differences on the spending side too.

NC Budget and Tax Center

Yesterday, the North Carolina house unveiled its $21.11 billion budget proposal for the 2015 fiscal year that begins in June 2014 and ends in July 2015. The proposal is moving through the committee process with the expectation of a final vote on the House floor by Friday. Surprisingly, there is a considerable difference in how the House leadership pays for its budget compared to the Senate’s and Governor’s paths. In particular, the House anticipates a smaller revenue shortfall for the current fiscal year and a far larger amount in agency reversions (which is money sent back to the state at the end of the year).

How the state raises the billions of dollars that fuel the state budget gets relatively little scrutiny compared to the rest of the budget during the budget process. Examining how lawmakers pay for the budget is more important than ever in light of last year’s tax plan that drains $438 million from the state’s coffers in the upcoming fiscal year. This is on top of the fact that lawmakers are facing a half-billion current year revenue shortfall and a projected revenue shortfall of $191 million for the next 2015 fiscal year—not to mention the fact that the shortfall could be as high as $600 million (see section at the end of this post). It is also on top of the Medicaid shortfall, which lacks agreement among the Governor, House, and Senate on its actual cost. Their estimates are far apart.

For the most part, the House pays for its budget proposal in the same way as the Governor and the Senate pay for their budgets. The similarities and differences are summarized below.  Read More

Uncategorized

This morning, the House leadership released their $21.1 billion 2015 fiscal year budget for the period that runs from July 2014 to June 2015. It marks the midpoint between the Senate budget of $21.16 million and the Governor’s budget proposal of $20.99 billion. Similar to these other budget proposals, the House proposal leaves too many vital public services at diminished levels—failing to catch up with the needs of kids, working families, and communities five years into the official economic recovery.

As I wrote during the Senate budget process, at this point, budget proposals that put the train on the wrong tracks should come as no surprise. Due to tax changes enacted last year, budget writers are constrained in major ways. This is effectively a self-imposed budget challenge. The state is facing a revenue shortfall of $191 million in the 2015 fiscal year (not to be confused with the nearly half-a-billion shortfall for the current 2014 fiscal year that ends in June). In the upcoming fiscal year, the tax plan will drain available revenues to the tune of $437.8 million in the 2015 fiscal year. Estimates suggest that the revenue losses from the tax plan, particularly stemming from the personal income tax changes, could reach $600 million in next fiscal year.

Yet, rather than prudently recommending the halting of future tax cuts that are scheduled to go into effect in January 2015, the House, Senate, and Governor all choose to keep this next round of tax cuts in place despite the diminished revenue picture.

State spending under the House proposal would continue to remain 6.5 percent below pre-recession levels, as illustrated in the chart below. It’s clear that the misguided tax cuts are making it harder to catch up on lost ground. Read More

Falling Behind in NC, NC Budget and Tax Center

This is the second post of a Budget and Tax Center blog series on public services and programs that face cuts in the budget process or have been underfunded in past years. See the first post here.

State funding that helps older adults who want to stay in their home would be slashed under the Senate budget that was passed last weekend. The Senate leadership wants to cut the Home and Community Care Block Grant (HCCBG) by nearly $1 million. This move would result in cuts to non-Medicaid in-home and community-based services—such as home-delivered meals, in-home aide, and transportation assistance.

State lawmakers established the HCCBG in 1992, and it is made up of both federal and state dollars.  The Senate’s $1 million cut would be on top of a $2 million cut enacted last year as part of federal across-the-board cuts known as the sequester. HCCBG services are available to people ages 60 and older but the “average” client is nearly 80 years old and the services are well-targeted to those who are near-poor and socially needy, according to DHHS.

The Senate passed a $1 million budget cut to HCCBG services despite a waiting list of roughly 16,000 people, according to a survey conducted by the NC Department of Health and Human Services. The demand for these vital services is likely to keep on the uptick as the so-called graying of North Carolina continues. Meanwhile, the growing cost of delivery shows no signs in subsiding. A $1 million budget cut will only serve to push additional older adults onto the waiting list. Read More