NC Budget and Tax Center

2015 Fiscal Year State Budget, NC Budget and Tax Center, Raising the Bar 2015

This post is part of a series on the budget featuring the voices of North Carolina experts on what our state needs to progress.  Elizabeth Grace Brown is a student at UNC Chapel Hill and is the author of this piece.

I’ve spent my entire educational life in North Carolina public schools, from kindergarten to today. My schools have always been excellent. I had good classroom sizes, dedicated and attentive teachers, and curricula rich in science, arts and literature. My schools strove to maintain a balance between supporting and challenging me. The guidance I received from teachers and faculty (and from my mother, who’s also a public school teacher in NC) led me to UNC Chapel Hill. But as I grew older and closer to graduation, I could already see that quality eroding. My elementary school’s magnet status was threatened, my high school had no books for us, teachers quit and students dropped out at alarming rates. I have benefited greatly from excellent public education, and budget cuts have put that education in jeopardy.

And I spent my primary education believing that if I worked hard enough, I could graduate and get an affordable, world-class college education in my home state, too. That promise, if it was ever true, certainly seems less and less within my reach every day. Every time tuition is raised, by the Board of Governors at the urging of the legislature, I go more into debt. Policy makers seem like their concerns about student debt revolve around parents and families paying tuition, but that’s not the case – my loans are on me. Asking your parents for help paying for college is a luxury that’s already out of reach for so many North Carolina students.

And I refuse to believe any longer that the increasing cost and declining quality of education in this state is something that these policy makers can’t help. Funding isn’t a just a question of allocating resources efficiently, it’s a question of values. And it’s clear that NC leadership doesn’t value education — not as much as they value tax cuts for the wealthy, or corporate subsidies. The most recent funding increases barely scratch the surface of the damage that’s been done under the guise of fiscal responsibility. Among this state’s politicians and leaders, talk of supporting education is plentiful – but talk is cheap.

And the lip service they pay to the value of education is selective, too. They love fields that will bring more profit to the already wealthy: finance, business and STEM, but not one of the forty-six degree programs that the Board of Governors just decided to cut. They don’t care for us to become critical thinkers, to know our own histories and the histories of our marginalized communities, to grow as people.

Steven Long of the Board of Governors made it clear when he said, regarding these program cuts: “We’re capitalists, and we have to look at what the demand is, and we have to respond to the demand.” They treat our education like it’s a commodity —  but they still expect us to pay more for less! As an Economics major, as a student, as an organizer and as a North Carolinian, I can tell you plainly — this doesn’t make sense, and this can’t last.

NC Budget and Tax Center

A powerful new initiative aimed at reducing childhood hunger will be available to around 1,200 high-poverty schools in North Carolina this upcoming school year. This initiative, known as community eligibility, allows qualifying schools to serve meals free of charge to all students, ensuring that children whose families are struggling to put food on the table have access to healthy meals at school.

Last year, North Carolina got off to a good start with nearly 650 schools using community eligibility to feed more than 310,000 kids. This upcoming school year, hundreds more schools are eligible to participate.

Results show that more NC children are eating school meals because of community eligibility, with a particular increase in the number of children eating breakfast. This means that more children are fueled up and ready to learn at school each day.

When children arrive at school hungry, it is very difficult for them to concentrate and do well in the classroom. By providing schools meals to all of our children free of charge, we are both reducing hunger and increasing their chances of student success. Read More

NC Budget and Tax Center

The release of the 2013-2014 Economic Snapshots for all 100 counties provides another opportunity to reflect on how our communities are faring in today’s economy. The official economic recovery began in mid-2009 but has been slow to replace the jobs lost during the Recession and quick to produce primarily low-wage jobs that are holding incomes down and keeping poverty high.

A new interactive at NC Policy Watch features a few socio-economic indicators from the snapshots, including the change in employed persons since 2007, the poverty rate, the graduation rate, life expectancy and nominal median hourly wage change over the recovery. Below is a preview of the findings but you can find all the county profiles here and one for North Carolina too. Read More

NC Budget and Tax Center

This week at Prosperity Watch, we featured analysis of the role that immigrants are playing in communities that would otherwise be experiencing population decline. Immigrants represent not only a benefit in changing the demographic picture in a county.  Since immigrants are more likely to be of prime-working age, participate in the labor force and own a business than the native-born population, immigrants can make a powerful economic contribution to North Carolina’s rural counties in particular. Research has shown that immigration supports employment growth, that immigrant integration into diverse occupations delivers greater resiliency to a region and that immigrant-owned businesses can have a powerful revitalization force in communities.

Now new analysis from the Center for American Progress finds that, not surprisingly given the work referenced above, that the Executive Orders on immigration that would provide temporary status to parents of children born in the United States (DAPA) and enhance the program for childhood arrivals would generate economic benefits for the country.  From their analysis: Read More

NC Budget and Tax Center

Deep in the weeds of the House budget is a provision that would authorize the state to issue just shy of $300 million in new debt to pay for five large projects. Each of these projects (listed below) has merit, but this proposal raises two important questions:

1) Why do we have to issue debt to pay for these projects?

2) What will we have to give up down the road when the bill comes due?

North Carolina shouldn’t have to borrow the funds for these projects. Don’t forget, the tax cuts passed in 2013 already cost the state nearly a billion dollars this year, much more than would be needed to cover the costs of these projects.

The 2013 plan will also slash corporate taxes even further over the next two years. If the scheduled corporate tax cuts go into effect, it will cost the state an additional $100 million next year and another $300 million the year after that. If we hold off on additional corporate tax cuts, North Carolina could pay for these projects outright.

Ultimately, this means throwing money out the door in interest payments to keep cutting taxes for wealthy individuals and corporations. The Fiscal Research Division estimates that interest payments on the new bonds will start at $22.7 million next year and then rise past $28 million in the subsequent years.

The interest payments alone would be enough to cut the waiting list for pre-K in half, or put 1300 teacher’s assistants back into North Carolina classrooms, or avoid raising tuition at Community Colleges (as is slated to happen in the House’s budget).

Overall, the House spending plan is moderate compared to budgets we’ve seen over the last few years. But, even while it’s taking a step in the right direction, the House still cannot get around the enormous hole that we started digging in 2013. That’s why, when we need to invest in North Carolina’s future, the House is reaching for the credit card instead of writing a check.

Projects to be funded with bond revenues:

  • Phase 1 of new Highway Patrol Training Academy ($30 million)
  • DHHS Medical Examiner Lab ($13 million)
  • NC State Engineering Building ($65 million)
  • UNC Charlotte Sciences Building ($90 million)

Appalachian State Health Sciences Building ($71 million)