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ICYMI, the editorial page of the Greensboro News & Record pulled no punches this weekend in an editorial excoriating state senators for their last minute proposal to hamstring local governments when it comes to use of the sales tax for public services and structures at the local level. Here’s an excerpt from “Oddest idea yet”:

Republican state senators canceled a floor vote on a confusing sales-tax bill Thursday until they could get their stories straight. Which means it might not return.

Of all the heavy-handed directives the legislature has pushed down on local governments in the past couple of years — airport and water system takeovers, de-annexations, local redistrictings, elimination of privilege licenses — this one might be the most illogical.

The measure, which originated in the Senate Finance Committee without notice Wednesday, was presented as a means of giving counties additional tax flexibility. With voters’ approval, they could add to the local sales tax, designating revenue to schools or transportation projects.

But the strings attached tied everything in knots.

The legislation put restrictions on how new revenue could be spent — for education or for transportation, but not for both. It put a cap on the local sales-tax rate. And, perhaps most baffling, it required that if a county raised the sales-tax rate, it would have to raise it all the way to the cap….

The half-baked sales-tax bill, which also includes unrelated provisions boosting economic development efforts, was yanked from the calendar before the Senate adjourned for the weekend. Senators will return to Raleigh Monday, but the wacky sales-tax proposals ought to vanish as quickly as they appeared.

For more information on the proposal in question, click here for succinct summary.

Plans to finance both public education and transit at the local level would be stopped in their tracks under HB 1224 that passed the state Senate Finance Committee yesterday. The bill not only places a hard cap on the local sales tax rate at 2.5 percent but also only allows counties to levy a sales tax increase for either education or transit—not both.  This bill joins a slate of other bills that would restrict local control. The full Senate is scheduled to vote on the bill Monday night.

In effect, the bill restricts local governments’ authority to meet local needs and balance their budgets. Importantly, the bill is aimed at shifting the responsibility of funding public education away from the state and towards local governments. The state clearly cannot afford last year’s tax plan and now legislators are proposing budgets that would make serious cuts to public education as a result. Those cuts would have to be absorbed by children in the classroom or addressed at the local level, putting local governments in a tough spot having to choose whether or not to make up the difference via a local tax.

Local governments are dealing with the fallout from last year’s tax plan in other ways too. They no longer have access to the school Capital Building Fund, which received a portion of revenue generated from the state corporate income tax. Schools used this fund to help them meet their education obligations, as my colleague explained last month. The result is a $382 million dent over the next five years. This loss is on top of the looming $63 million-annual dent resulting from elimination of the local privilege tax in 2015. Read More

Common Core picAn editorial in this morning’s Greensboro News & Record offers some important insights on the legislation — soon to be law — that “repeals” North Carolina’s adherence to Common Core education standards (i.e. the standards we’ve already spent tens of millions of dollars on to implement).

The movement led by some Republicans to withdraw North Carolina from the national academic standards was prompted by an irrational fear of a “federal takeover” of education.

Common Core was no such thing. Initiated by the bipartisan National Governors Association, the movement recognized a need for all American students to follow similar academic guidelines. When it was embraced by the Obama administration, however, opposition intensified.

Yet, Republican Gov. Pat McCrory supported Common Core. So did the N.C. Chamber of Commerce and other business groups. They recognized the necessity of aligning North Carolina curricula with those used in other states.

Partisan politics and distrust of President Obama won out. The legislature Wednesday approved a bill that will replace Common Core with yet-to-be-written North Carolina standards. McCrory will sign it. But he knows its secret: At its core, there may not be much difference.

Despite use of Tea Party-type rhetoric in the bill, the end result could be something that closely resembles Common Core — which apparently would be OK as long as it’s not called that….

North Carolina can call these standards whatever it wants as long as our students keep up.

Read the entire editorial by clicking here.

This morning’s edition of Setting the record straight over on the main Policy Watch website has some rare praise for the surprisingly progressive rhetoric emanating from state budget negotiations this week. But it also takes lawmakers to task for their failure to seize upon the most obvious solution to their inability to find a way to fund the essential services (i.e. teachers and health care) that they have prioritized. The best answer to the General Assembly’s budget dilemma, of course, is to halt next January’s scheduled tax cut that will primarily benefit the rich:

“According to the best and most recent estimates, the 2013 tax cuts – which overwhelmingly favor the state’s most wealthy taxpayers – are costing the state more than $500 million in foregone revenue in the fiscal year that began last week. Add to this the fact that the cuts have caused a downward revision of revenue projections by another $190 million and the gap may well balloon to more than $700 million.

Even if lawmakers left these cuts in place, however, and merely stopped the implementation of a yet another round of tax cuts scheduled to take effect next January, the state would still realize $300 million in additional revenue in calendar year 2015 – more than enough to make a significant dent in the education shortfall and solve innumerable problems in the current negotiations.”

Meanwhile, this morning’s lead editorial in the Charlotte Observer has another quick fix proposal — at least on teacher pay: Read More

In case you missed it, WRAL.com had an instructive story last night entitled “NC education spending on a decades-long slide.” The story reported that the percentage of the North Carolina budget dedicated to K-12 has been falling steadily:

“WRAL News reviewed budget numbers for the last 30 years and found that the percentage of general fund dedicated to K-12 classrooms has been on a long, slow slide, even as the total dollars for education increased.

In 1984-85, the $1.89 billion authorized for public education accounted for 43.7 percent of the budget. A decade later, the $4.08 billion authorized in the budget was 42 percent of the 1994-95 budget. By 2004-05, the state was spending $6.52 billion on public schools, which accounted for 41.1 percent of the state budget.

The slide has accelerated in recent years because of the national recession, and the $7.9 billion authorized in the 2013-14 budget meant only 37 percent of the general fund was earmarked for public schools. Even with the North Carolina Education Lottery chipping in money for school construction and early childhood education, per-pupil spending has dropped since the lottery started eight years ago.”

And, of course, as the Budget and Tax Center has reported repeatedly, K-12 funding has fallen in absolute terms as well in recent years when one adjusts for inflation.

The bottom line: There’s no way North Carolina is going to get to where it needs to get if it stays on this track. Moreover,  even under the House and Senate proposals to raise pay, the long-term decline remains unaddressed.