2015 Fiscal Year State Budget, NC Budget and Tax Center

As an exercise in reflecting the state’s priorities, the House budget falls short. North Carolinians know that ensuring our children’s education is of the highest quality, that our communities can thrive and that our public services—from courts to transportation to environmental inspections—are effective and efficient means committing to fund those things together.

The House budget, like the Governor’s budget before it, assumes that the state can’t afford to invest. But our current availability is limited by policymakers’ own tax choices that reduce resources that support the foundations of an economy that will work for everyone. Policymakers already allowed a second round of tax cuts for profitable corporations and wealthy taxpayers go into effect in January and will cut taxes again for profitable corporations because revenue collections exceeded expectations and met the trigger for further tax cuts. Because the trigger threshold was set arbitrarily low, however, meeting the trigger does not reflect the realities of needs in our communities.

This choice—to hold back the state from reinvesting by prioritizing tax cuts over building a stronger economy—means that there is a lot missing from the House budget. In light of the historic decline in revenues resulting from the recession and its aftermath, policymakers have effectively curbed the state’s ability to reinvest due to tax cuts. The result is missing investments that can mean the difference for children, families, businesses and communities in doing well in our state and the missed opportunity to grow our economy stronger and more competitive.

Here are five missing investments that the Budget & Tax Center has identified: Read More

News

FrackingA Wake County Superior Court judge effectively halted fracking in the state for the time being when he stayed proceedings in a constitutional challenge to the state’s Mining and Energy Commission brought by a local conservation group and landowner.

The stay continues while the appeal of a separate case challenging commission appointment powers — McCrory v. Berger — is pending, during which time the MEC is enjoined from accepting or processing permit applications for drilling units and from creating any drilling units.

The order today comes in a lawsuit in which plaintiffs allege that the composition of the MEC violates the separation of powers provision of the state Constitution because a majority of the commission’s members are political appointees by the legislature, and that the fracking rules, created by an unconstitutional commission, are therefore null and void.

Those allegations are similar to what’s been asserted in the McCrory v. Berger case, in which Gov. Pat McCrory and former Governors Hunt and Martin are challenging legislative appointments to the Coal Ash Commission, Oil and Gas Commission, and the MEC as violations of the separation of powers provisions of the State Constitution.

The governors’ case is set for argument before the state Supreme Court on June 30.

“Today’s decision stopped any immediate harm to North Carolina residents from a commission formed by the state legislature in violation of the separation of powers firmly established in our state constitution pending further court deliberations,” John Suttles, the senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center who represented the plaintiffs said in a statement.

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Commentary

If you want to understand why North Carolina continues to struggle to fund the basic public services that provide a framework for a middle class society, check out the following graphic. As it demonstrates, even with the much ballyhooed bumps in spending contained in the House budget proposal, the state would still be spending less than it did before the Great Recession — a point at which public investments were already anemic in many critical areas.  And, of course, inadequate as it is, the House proposal is already being dismissed by members of the Senate and their Tea Partying allies as overly generous. The bottom line message from the power-that-be for their fellow North Carolinians : The pain will continue until morale improves.

House budget

Commentary

In case you missed it over the weekend, a middle school teacher from Forsyth County named Stuart Egan had a fine op-ed in the Winston-Salem Journal in which he debunked the myth that flawed teachers are somehow the biggest problem facing our public schools. As Egan explained:

“Earlier this year, The Washington Post published a study by the Southern Education Foundation that found an incredibly high number of students in public schools live in poverty. And in April, the journal Nature Neuroscience published a study that linked poverty to brain structure. All three publications confirm what educators have known for years: Poverty is the biggest obstacle in public education.

Yet many “reformers” and North Carolina legislators want you to believe that bad teachers are at the root of what hurts our public schools. Just this past November, Haley Edwards in Time Magazine published an article titled “Rotten Apples” that suggests that corporate America and its business approaches (Bill Gates, etc.) can remedy our failing public schools by targeting and removing the “rotten apples” (bad teachers) and implementing impersonal corporate practices.

I understand the analogy: bad teachers, rotten apples. However, it is flawed. Removing rotten apples does not restore the orchard. Rather, improving the orchard makes for better apples. Teachers are more like farmers, not apples. Students are what are nurtured. What we need to do is improve the conditions in which schools operate and the environments in which our students are raised; we must address elements that contribute to poverty.”

Egan continues with the farming analogy:

“Another fallacy with the rotten apple analogy is that the end product (singular test scores) is a total reflection of the teacher. Just like with farming, much is out of the hands of the education system. One in five children in North Carolina lives in poverty and many more have other pressing needs that affect the ability to learn. Some students come to school just to be safe and have a meal. But imagine if students came to school physically, emotionally, and mentally prepared to learn. Read More

Commentary

State lawmakers sent the so-called “Ag gag” bill on to Governor McCrory today. As was explained at some length in this space a few weeks ago, this troubling proposal is targeted at activists who have exposed horrific abuses of animals in agricultural facilities but it raises other concerns that go beyond those circumstances:

“Crafting a statute that protects legitimate property rights when they are competing against the First Amendment’s free speech guarantees and the flow of information in a free society is an enormously complex and difficult proposition. Perhaps there is some reasonable point at which the two competing interests are properly balanced, but then again, perhaps such a balancing point really doesn’t exist. Let’s hope, at a minimum, that sponsors of the bill continue to fine tune the language with an eye toward finding that point and that, if they can’t do so, they opt for language that errs on the side of free speech. The current version isn’t there yet.”

Worker advocates at the North Carolina AFL-CIO issued the following statement today in response to the bill’s passage:

“North Carolina shouldn’t treat workers trying to expose criminal activity by their employers like criminals themselves, but House Bill 405 comes close to doing just that. If Governor McCrory signs this misguided bill into law, employers in our state will be able to sue their workers for having exposed criminal activity on the job. Senators even rejected an amendment that would have allowed those workers to use proof their employer broke the law as a defense in court. It seems lawmakers are more interested in protecting unscrupulous employers than the health and safety of our workforce or of the public at-large. HB 405 is as extreme as it is overbroad, and we call on Gov. McCrory to veto this dangerous legislation.”

Let’s hope that, if nothing else, the Governor’s well-known affection for animals leads him to do more than simply rubber stamp this troubling proposal.