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

Raising the Bar in North CarolinaThis post was written by Michael C. Behrent, associate professor of history, Appalachian State University and is part of the Raise the Bar series featuring expert views on the North Carolina budget debate.

Is our state government doing all that it can to offer North Carolinians the affordable, high quality education they need to secure twenty-first century jobs? Based on data in a recent report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the answer is clearly “no.”

Affordable public education in North Carolina is a right. Our state constitution states that the legislature must ensure that “the benefits of The University of North Carolina and other public institutions of higher education, as far as practicable, be extended to the people of the State free of expense.” Yet today, free public education is little more than a distant memory. To make matters worse, our citizens find themselves in a college crunch: they are being asked to pay more and more for public universities that are providing less and less.

According to the report, since 2008, tuition at North Carolina’s public universities has grown by 35.8% (or $1,759). The main reason? The 2008 recession, which cut the flow of tax dollars into state coffers at the very moment when many people were choosing college over a grim job market. As state funds dried up, most public universities turned to tuition hikes as an easy fix.

Yet the recession doesn’t bear all the blame: many state legislatures, including North Carolina’s, took advantage of the budget crisis to push questionable ideological agendas. Specifically, they rejected a balanced approach that would combine spending cuts with tax increases, preferring to slash budgets. Universities thus had little choice but to ask students to pay the balance. Read More

News

Bar studyA new study released today by the North Carolina Bar Association shows that the state court system generated more than $460 million in direct economic impact and supported more than 6,000 jobs here last year.

“The study reveals what we have known all along – our courts have an enormous impact on our economy and deserve adequate funding in order to serve the needs of North Carolina citizens and businesses,” NCBA president Catharine Arrowood said.

The association commissioned the study as part of renewed efforts to educate state residents and lawmakers about the critical role the courts play not only in protecting citizens’ rights but also in supporting the state’s economy.

Despite the demonstrated economic impact, the courts have take unprecedented hits over the last five years, seeing budgets slashed by as much as 30 percent in some areas.

“The study shows that cuts in funding over the past four years have totaled $35 million,”Arrowood added. “This reduction in direct spending has had a cumulative four-year total impact on the North Carolina economy just over $67 million in reduced spending.”

Read the full report here.

 

Commentary

The momentum for abolition continues to build. Yesterday, the legislature of the red state of Nebraska voted overwhelmingly to abolish the death penalty and today, arch-conservative hero George Will told us why it was a good idea:

“The conservative case against capital punishment, which 32 states have, is threefold. First, the power to inflict death cloaks government with a majesty and pretense of infallibility discordant with conservatism. Second, when capital punishment is inflicted, it cannot later be corrected because of new evidence, so a capital punishment regime must be administered with extraordinary competence. It is, however, a government program. Since 1973, more than 140 people sentenced to death have been acquitted of their crimes (sometimes by DNA evidence), had the charges against them dismissed by prosecutors or have been pardoned based on evidence of innocence. For an unsparing immersion in the workings of the governmental machinery of death, read “Just Mercy” by Bryan Stevenson, executive director and founder of the Equal Justice Initiative.

Third, administration of death sentences is so sporadic and protracted that their power to deter is attenuated. And the expensive, because labyrinthine, legal protocols with which the judiciary has enveloped capital punishment are here to stay. Granted, capital punishment could deter: If overdue library books were punishable by death, none would be overdue. But many crimes for which death is reserved, including Tsarnaev’s crime of ideological premeditation, are especially difficult to deter.

Those who favor capital punishment because of its supposed deterrent effect do not favor strengthening that effect by restoring the practice of public executions. There has not been one in America since 1937 (a hanging in Galena, Mo.) because society has decided that state-inflicted deaths, far from being wholesomely didactic spectacles, are coarsening and revolting.

Revulsion is not an argument, but it is evidence of what former chief justice Earl Warren called society’s “evolving standards of decency.” In the essay ‘Reflections on the Guillotine,’ Albert Camus wrote, ‘The man who enjoys his coffee while reading that justice has been done would spit it out at the least detail.’ Capital punishment, say proponents, serves social catharsis. But administering it behind prison walls indicates a healthy squeamishness that should herald abolition.”

Commentary, Justice Denied for McCollum and Brown

McCollum BrownThe failure of Governor Pat McCrory to grant pardons to Henry McCollum and Leon Brown after more than eight months now borders on the farcical.

The editorial page of the Fayetteville Observer is the latest to weigh in with an exceedingly polite editorial entitled “Unjustly convicted, these men deserve justice.” Here is the conclusion:

“Eight months ago, a Robeson County judge reviewed the evidence and ordered the two men released. Since then, they have lived with their sister, near Eastover. The two are adjusting to the 21st century, learning about the Internet, cellphones and other integral parts of modern life that arrived while they were in prison.

But they are still in limbo, still not completely free to resume a normal life. Because of their rape conviction, they were ordered to registered as sex offenders before they were released. Their convictions are still on their records and a serious impediment to finding work.

By law, the state owes them $50,000 for each year of their improper incarceration, up to a maximum of $750,000. And even more important, the governor owes them a pardon – which rightfully should have come as soon as the men were cleared of the crimes. Three decades of their lives were unjustly taken away. There is no compensation large enough.

We hope the governor and his staff move quickly to clear McCollum’s and Brown’s records and get them the compensation they are due. They’ve given up more than anyone ever should.”

Commentary, News

The state House convenes at 10:00am Thursday where members are expected to debate dozens of amendments before voting on their version of the state budget.

On the plus side, the $22.1 billion spending plan includes a two percent pay raise for all teachers, with starting salaries for the state’s newest teachers rising to $35,000 a year. The budget also earmarks $100 million to handle school enrollment growth, which will accommodate an expected 17,000 additional students next year.

But what this budget fails to fund is just as important, according to Amber Moodie-Dyer with the NC Budget & Tax Center.

Moodie-Dyer notes the spending plan fails to restore funding for teaching assistants and underfunds textbooks, while opting instead to reduce the corporate tax rate.

Moodie-Dyer joins us this weekend on NC Policy Watch’s News & Views with Chris Fitzsimon to discuss the budget process. For a preview of that radio interview click below:
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The NC Budget & Tax Center is not alone that assessment of the House Budget. The editorial board of Greensboro’s News & Record writes:

…there still aren’t enough investments. North Carolina must restrengthen its universities and community colleges and do more to make sure children are ready for post-secondary education. Quality early childhood learning is still unavailable to many children, and high numbers never get on track in the primary grades.

The $400 million revenue windfall for the current fiscal year gives budget writers some hope that revenues will continue to be strong. They are wisely investing a little more in people, infrastructure and savings.

Yet with more corporate tax cuts coming, it’s questionable whether revenues will continue to grow enough to pay for further needed investments.

It would be better to freeze corporate tax rates and make sure a lush, green spring doesn’t dry up in a summer drought.

Read the full editorial here. For more analysis from the NC Budget & Tax Center on the House plan, click here.