State cash flow woes, demystified

Debate over the Governor’s fund transfer to cover the cost of outgoing tax refund checks has focused public attention on a frequently overlooked problem involving state cash flow as well as the difficult financial decisions necessitated by the current economic climate.

When state taxpayers start filing returns, the Department of Revenue processes the returns and cuts checks to taxpayers who are owed refunds. Those refunds, which constitute a liability in accounting terms, are paid out of the state General Fund. Of course, tax refunds are just one of many things paid for out of the General Fund. In fact, the General Fund flirts with insolvency almost every year in March.

Source: NC Office of the State Controller, Monthly General Fund Reports

So why is this year any different? In short, because there isn’t enough cash in the state’s go-to savings accounts right now to cover the difference. Savings reserve funds, which are analogous to savings accounts, are key to making sure the General Fund stays in the black. These funds include the Savings Reserve Account, Job Development Investment Grant (JDIG) Reserve, Repairs & Renovations Reserve, Disproportionate Share Reserve, Disaster Relief Reserve, and the ONE NC Fund. Before the Great Recession, the state had between $800 and $900 million in cash in these accounts, most of it in the Savings Reserve Fund, to cover this year’s March shortfall. However, the impact of the Great Recession that brought a collapse in revenues and increased spending pressures depleted state reserves during FY2009. Compared to early in fiscal year 2009, when the state had over $900 million in total cash savings, funds available by the end of this January had fallen to roughly $200 million ($150 million in the Savings Reserve Account and about $50 million between the JDIG and Disaster Relief funds).

Source: NC Office of the State Controller, General Fund Monthly Reports

In this situation, the state has only two options: raise revenues, or borrow money. The governor’s proposal to borrow cash from the Savings Reserve Account is complicated by the fact that it has been dedicated as the sole source of funds to pay interest on the $2.6 billion federal loan for unemployment benefits. Debate on the legality of borrowing these funds is still being hotly debated, and the first interest payments on the federal loan are set to commence this November. In the meantime, the governor’s proposal to borrow from the Savings Reserve Account for several months at 0.9% with repayment in full before the close of the current fiscal year is low-risk, though not completely risk-free. Another borrowing option for the state is the issuance of a tax anticipation note, or TAN, which is basically a short-term municipal bond issued against the state’s promise to repay using a dedicated revenue source within the fiscal year. North Carolina issued TANs in 2004 and 2005, and other states, such as Colorado, regularly issue these bonds to meet short-term liquidity needs. While not as cheap as borrowing from existing funds, TANs issued by states with strong bond ratings like North Carolina’s are still affordable at  interest rates of 2 to 3 percent.

This cash flow situation is emblematic of the kinds of difficult decisions that will hound lawmakers as long as state revenues remain depressed and insufficient to cover obligations, let alone rebuild needed cash reserves. On one hand, promptly issuing tax refunds returns money to consumers who are then at liberty to spend it, is good for both individuals and the economy. On the other hand, debt – even short-term debt – is less politically appealing than ever before, which brings us back to the alternative: raising revenue. While temporary revenue measures would provide time-limited relief to the state’s cash flow shortage, comprehensive revenue reform is necessary to ensure the state’s capacity to support economic recovery and meet its continuing obligations to taxpayers.


A vision for fairness: The Racial Justice Act


Send in the mirrors.  Obviously there’s a shortage, judging by the lawmakers and district attorneys who acknowledge racial bias in the justice system in neighboring counties, but never in theirs.

The North Carolina Racial Justice Act, which simply allows defendants in capital trials to present another piece of evidence that race was a significant factor in their case, is up for a concurrence vote in the Senate today.  

Senators are being asked to restore the bill’s original intent of securing fairness in the ultimate punishment. It strips out amendments inserted by Senators eager for the state to resume executions, and whom still voted against the bill even after their amendments were added. 

The Racial Justice Act has been subjected to a cruel, years-long political game among legislators wary that their votes might make them vulnerable in an election year.  But more than most questions put before our lawmakers, this bill is about life and death judgments. Lawmakers have long ignored racial prejudices and assumptions that are typically unspoken and infinitely present in capital sentencing.

In the last year, three innocent black men were released from death row. It’s bad enough that those men served a combined 41 years in prison on death row, but they would have been executed without the state’s court-imposed moratorium on the death penalty.

Today blacks make up 20 percent of the state’s population but 60 percent of those on death row.

It’ll take Senators willing to put away the politics for a day, and who have the conviction to take a hard look in the mirror before voting, to push percentages like that into the history of another era.



For more information on the NC Racial Justice Act – Senate Bill 461, please visit www.ncmoratorium.org.

NC Racial Justice Act Video 

To contact a Senator to urge support for the bill, link to










The Carolina Justice Policy Center is a partner group of the NC Coalition for a Moratorium on Executions.

Death Row Exonerees Levon 'Bo' Jones, Jonathon Hoffman, Glen Edward Chapman & Prison Exoneree Darryl Hunt

Death Row Exonerees


Clemency Challenge Ahead for Governor Perdue

A pending US Supreme Court case could have disastrous consequences for justice and fairness in North Carolina.  It could also present our new governor, Beverly Perdue, with one of the greatest challenges of her tenure.

The issue in the case is whether federal courts are required to pay for lawyers in state clemency proceedings.   The Court’s decision in the case could coincide with the end of the judicially imposed moratorium on executions in North Carolina.  If the case loses, Governor Perdue might find herself confronted with an unprecedented number of clemency decisions to make – just as all of those inmates have lost their attorneys.

Clemency is vitally important because it is the last chance to prevent the execution of an innocent person or someone who for another reason should not be executed.  It is a non-legal proceeding that allows the governor to look at issues that might not have been presented in court.  Clemency can be granted on the grounds of justice and also on the basis of mercy.

In North Carolina, as in many states, the plea is made by the inmate’s lawyer directly to the governor.  If the governor decides to grant clemency, the inmate is sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.   If not, he is executed.  Currently, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, a federal court, appoints and pays attorneys to prepare the clemency presentation.  There is no state funding for clemency.

In the case before the Court, two former NC governors, Jim Hunt (D) and Jim Martin (R), along with governors from other states, filed a “friends of the court” brief, urging the continued federal funding for attorneys to make clemency pleas.

Both governors granted and denied clemency requests during their tenures.  The governors’ brief discusses several cases, including the case of Anson Avery Maynard, to whom Governor Martin granted clemency, based on questions about who actually committed the killing.  The brief also emphasizes that there are many issues – beyond guilt or innocence – that deserve full investigation and presentation, and that are worthy of clemency, such as racial bias, mental illness and remorse.

Governor Martin and his staff spent days talking to witnesses, reviewing evidence and deciding whether to grant clemency to Maynard.  Given the volume of cases Governor Perdue may face, it is unlikely she will be able to devote a week to each one, but she can still be guided by her predecessors’ call to approach clemency hearings with the utmost seriousness and dedication to fairness.  The last thing we’d want to see is the execution of an innocent person because we didn’t have the resources or the time to discover the truth.


News From N.C. Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform

Matt Clark

Keeping you Updated:

One of the projects that we’ve been working on this year is a survey to all candidates in the upcoming state elections. We hope it will serve as a barometer to gauge the candidates’ stance on ethics related issues.  The survey is open ended, and focuses on the often problematic relationship between lobbyists and legislators.  An open ended survey allows candidates to respond more precisely to the question posed, thus providing you and us a more complete picture of a candidate’s stance on issues.  Of the 370 surveys sent out, more than half have been returned, and we are continuing to receive responses.  We have gone to great lengths to ensure as many candidates as possible will respond, in an effort to provide the most comprehensive picture of state ethics support possible.  To date, each non-respondent has been contacted via telephone to check the status of our survey, once again, in hopes of coming as close to a full response rate as possible.

Some of the specifics the survey addresses include the legitimacy of lobbyists conducting fund raising ventures for candidates, support for “sunshine” legislation that would require disclosure of the name and occupation of anyone contributing more than $10,000 to a campaign, and restrictions on political parties for donating to candidates.  The survey also questions lobbyists’ involvement with PACs and asks if members of the Council of State should be allowed to solicit money for charities.  These issue areas allow us to discern how a candidate feels towards ethics issues, and will provide a reference point for drafting legislation or soliciting support for ethics issues in the future. 

Of particular interest to us are the gubernatorial candidates, and thus far we have received responses from the entire field.  Sunshine legislation and a strict adherence to ethics laws are important for any elected official, and in the case of the chief executive, this importance is magnified greatly.  Additionally, an executive who strongly favors campaign finance reform and greater transparency in the relationships between lobbyists and legislators will be a valuable ally in advancing an ethics related agenda in the future. 

The Raleigh News & Observer recently featured an article about our survey and the gubernatorial candidates’ responses.  This article and other information about the survey can be found at our website www.nclobbyreform.org.  Additionally, you can see what your elected representative said to our survey, and help in the process to keep them accountable on ethics related issues. 

Limiting the role of special interest money in politics is imperative to ensure citizens and constituencies are represented in a manner that is congruent with the spirit and letter of the laws of a democratic political system.  When external forces govern an elected official’s agenda, the representative system ceases to be an instrument of the people, and instead becomes a vehicle through which to advance personal interests of a select group.  The aim of sunshine legislation and ethics reform is to reduce the opportunity for these groups to circumvent the political process; thereby ensuring voters will remain the central focus in state politics.



no olfAs the mother of two teenage children, I’ve heard a lot of excuses for not doing things but never an excuse as good as the one offered by Senators Dole and Burr trying to dodge the OLF issue.

Scott Mooneyham revealed their reasons in the Sanford Herald:

North Carolina's two U.S. senators, Elizabeth Dole and Richard Burr, apparently don't want to insert politics into the process.

Insert politics into the process???!!! Let me get this straight, the two people elected by the citizens of this state to be the voice-of-the-people in Washington, can’t speak up when a government agency is trying to ramrod us with something that is strongly opposed by most citizens in the state because to do so would insert politics into the process. Oh, pleeease!

Senators Dole and Burr are professional politicians; they’re supposed to be good at politics, at resolving differences between opposing groups. Other politicians have stepped forward to speak on the OLF issue: Governor Mike Easley, State Senate President Pro-Tem Marc Basnight, and State Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler. Our U.S. Senators, on the other hand, appear to be shirking their responsibilities.

Senators Dole and Burr need to hear the same message I give my kids, “Stop making excuses and do your job.”