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NC Budget and Tax Center

Voters in Mecklenburg, Guilford, and Rockingham counties each rejected a ballot initiative to increase its local sales tax by one-quarter cent. Under these referendums, consumers would have paid 25 cents in additional sales tax per $100 spent on goods and services subject to sales tax. The sales tax increase was expected to generate around $32 million for Mecklenburg County, $14 million for Guilford County, and $1.5 million for Rockingham County in additional local revenue each year.

This rejection of a sales tax increase highlights the tenuous reality of funding for public education in North Carolina. Last year, state lawmakers passed a tax plan that significantly reduced revenue available for public schools and other important public services. The tax plan has proven to be more costly than state policymakers’ initial estimate and the implications of this self-imposed revenue crisis will reverberate across the state in the years ahead. Meanwhile, some local governments are bracing for the revenue losses associated with the elimination of the local privilege license tax, which goes into effect next July.

Of the three counties rejecting a proposed sales tax increase, Mecklenburg County has experienced significant growth in its student population in recent years. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) is the second largest, and one of the fastest growing school systems in the state. For the most recent 2013-14 school year, more than 144,000 students were enrolled in CMS, with nearly 10,000 additional students entering CMS classrooms since 2008. Guilford County has experienced modest growth in its student population (1,326 additional students) while the student population for Rockingham County has declined (990 fewer students) since 2008. Read More

Commentary

With massive majorities in both legislative houses and a governor who would poses little more than an occasional speed bump — if that — to their plans for reactionary change, North Carolina’s far right movement appears poised to roll back the clock a few more decades when the new General Assembly convenes next January. On virtually every issue — from taxes to health care to education to an array of social issues — North Carolinians should get ready for a new onslaught of reactionary laws.

School vouchers for every student? Constitutional spending caps to eviscerate public spending? An attempt to confer “personhood” on embryos? New efforts to merge church and state? Just name the extreme/outlandish idea and you can pretty much rest assured that there will be a proposal to implement it and that many such efforts will succeed.

Some, of course, depends on who the new House Speaker turns out to be and just how far he (it will almost assuredly be a “he”) wants to push things. If it’s a McCrory ally or someone like him, it’s conceivable that there could me some moderation. If, on the other hand, it’s a reactionary true believer like Paul Stam or someone of his ilk, things could get very grim very fast.

Observers looking for some inklings of hope in all of this might want to consider some of the ballot initiative results from other states last night in which even very conservative voters made clear that here not ready to go that far. In both Colorado and North Dakota, for instance, voters overwhelmingly rejected “personhood” amendments that would have  conferred constitutional rights on fertilized eggs. In other states, voters strongly supported increases in the minimum wage.

Perhaps these votes will be interpreted by the far right powers-that-be in North Carolina as demonstrations of the obvious truth that voters are not nearly as reactionary they are and that, as much as they’d like to, pushing the envelope with a truly extreme agenda could backfire. Unfortunately, when you’re dealing with true believers, it’s just as likely that they will see 2015 as their “big chance” to do what they’ve always wanted. Based on the performance during the last four years, the latter scenario seems the most likely.

Commentary

The Greenville Daily Reflector ran an editorial this week (which the Charlotte Observer re-ran in part of this morning) that rightfully decries the shell game played by the General Assembly this year in shifting the costs of driver’s education off on to the parents of high schoolers.

In passing the cost of driver education to parents of high school students, state lawmakers appear to be playing a shell game with the taxes North Carolina drivers have been paying for 57 years to support the program. When tax dollars earmarked for specified services no longer pay for those services, the government should not get to keep the money.

If that is what is happening in the case of a $3 charge added to license plate fees for driver education, it represents more than an injustice to taxpayers. It collides head-on with the conservative ideology espoused by the majority leadership in Raleigh….

What is not debatable is that for nearly 60 years tax dollars have been flowing from the pockets of every North Carolina motorist to pay for driver education. To remove the service with no relief to those paying for it — and requiring others to pay again — amounts to something akin to highway robbery.

Not what we should expect from a GOP-led Legislature that professes a desire to shrink government’s reach into our personal lives.

What the piece should have noted, of course, is that rather than being some kind of aberration, “fee for service” government is the right’s favored model these days, while the notion of broadly applicable, fairly distributed taxes are quickly becoming a thing of the past.

News

A nearly-dormant N.C. Courts Commission came back to life at the state legislative building Tuesday, with hopes from commission members that it will be tapped once again to advise the legislature on the statewide judicial systems’ needs and problems.

Less than a dozen of the 28-member commission attended Tuesday’s meeting, chaired by state Rep. Sarah Stevens, a Mt. Airy Republican and an attorney herself.

Stevens said the commission’s work had been negligible in recent years, and some in the legislature floated the idea of getting rid of the commission. N.C. Policy Watch’s courts and law reporter Sharon McCloskey wrote about the potential demise of the courts commission in 2013.

On Tuesday, Stevens said the request to revive the courts commission came from the governor’s office.

“This is one that Gov. McCrory really wanted to save,” she said.

So, just how long has it been since the N.C. Courts Commission has done substantial amounts of work?

More than 15 years, James Drennan of the University of North Carolina’s School of Government told the commission’s newest panel of members, many of whom are in elected position in courts around the state.

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News

North Carolina’s food stamps program continues to face major problems in how it operates and monitors federal funds for low-income families struggling to get food on their tables, according to a recent report by federal officials.

NC FAST logoA strongly worded management evaluation by the U.S. Department of Agriculture of the state’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program  listed more than 38 faults with North Carolina’s system, ranging from “critical findings” regarding a lack of oversight at the state level to regulatory violations about what is included on applications for food assistance.

“There are critical findings in the Claims/TOP area that are related to a lack of State oversight and monitoring,” read one finding in the 19-page report. (Scroll down to read the report itself.)

The major findings also included a “lack of State oversight in Recipient Integrity” that led to instances of potential fraud not being referred to for prosecution and “serious findings” in the state’s employment and training program.

The Sept. 10 management evaluation rested on visits that officials from the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service office made in May and June where operations were observed at the state level, as well as in social services offices in Guilford, Pitt and Wake counties.

It requires DHHS to provide a corrective action plan within the next 60 days.

The report came on the heels of a major breakdwon in North Carolina’s food stamps delivery system last year that left thousands of low-income families without access to food assistance for weeks or months. The problems were attributed to glitches in a new technology system, N.C. FAST (Families Assessing Services through Technology) and issues that county-level workers had in accessing the new system while struggling under heavy caseloads.

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