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State Rep. Nelson Dollar said he anticipates the state will be able to patch the $445 million shortfall for next year and use money from budget cuts for modest teacher and state employee salary raises.

State Rep. Nelson Dollar

State Rep. Nelson Dollar

“The question is will we be able to pay teachers and state employees or have increase, modest though they might be, and… keep on track with raising beginning teacher pay,” Dollar said. “The answer is yes.”

Dollar, a Wake County Republican and chief House budget writer, made his comments Monday at a reporters’ roundtable held in downtown Raleigh.

The N.C. General Assembly short session begins on Wednesday, when lawmakers arrive to begin making revisions to the upcoming budget year and deal with proposals for coal-ash cleanup, teacher and state employee raises and more.

Dollar, who said there will be cuts, or “budget reductions,”  coming, but didn’t say from where with lawmakers still waiting to see a proposed budget from Gov. Pat McCrory’s administration.

‘There will be budget reductions, yes. There will be budget reductions in the various agencies,” Dollar said. “That will flow right back into raises.”

He said he did not anticipate an across-the-board percentage cut, but expected cuts to be “much more thoughtful than that.”

Dollar also said:

  • The Medicaid shortfall may be lower than the estimated $130 million shortfall currently projected, though Dollar did say that the continuing problems with the NC TRACKS Medicaid billing system makes it difficult to project accurately.
  • No major changes to Medicaid system this year. Any reforms to the $13 billion system will come with significant legislative input, Dollar said. “We need to keep momentum moving forward on Medicaid reform,” Dollar said. “It’s going to take a while to get the system that we want.”
  • Less babysitting of the UNC system? Dollar, in mentioning that the UNC Board of Governors now consists completely of appointments by Republican legislative leaders, said he expects the General Assembly will dictate less about how the UNC should make cuts. “There’s a lot of interest in letting them do their work,” he said. He added, “A lot of what they’re doing is evaluating the whole system.”
  • No independent redistricting process  any time soon. Dollar said he doesn’t see much desire at all in the Republican-led legislature to hand over redistricting responsibilities to a non-partisan group. “I get asked that sometimes by my colleagues in the other party and I always remind them that we introduced bills and they refused to take them up or consider them,” he said. “So, it’s sort of, it is what it is. I don’t see that moving anywhere anytime soon.”
  • Interested in the Speaker job? “I would certainly be willing to serve in any capacity that the caucus would choose,” Dollar said. “But my focus right now is solely on the budget.”

When state policymakers convene next week for the 2014 legislative session the budget debate will likely be at center stage. The most recent consensus revenue forecast signal that boosting investment in critical public services will not be an option unless state policymakers take a new direction.

Today, the Budget & Tax Center released a report that highlights opportunities for legislators to begin bolstering investments in various areas of the state budget that help create pathways to the middle class, strengthen communities across the state, and alleviate the economic struggles of North Carolina families. These opportunities include boosting investments in education, workforce development initiatives, safe and healthy communities, and environmental protection.

The BTC report also highlights the significant challenge that legislators face if they choose to seize this opportunity to change the state’s direction and boost investments in North Carolina’s future. The tax plan enacted by policymakers last year reduces the amount of revenue for public investments in the years ahead. When policymakers return to Raleigh next week, they will have to address a budget gap of $335 million as a result of a forecasted revenue shortfall for the current fiscal year and a Medicaid shortfall.

The budget challenge continues beyond this fiscal year. Next year, state policymakers look to face a budget gap of at least $228 million according to the consensus revenue estimate. This budget gap, however, could reach as high as $637 million based on cost estimates that identify higher costs for the personal income tax changes in last year’s tax plan.

The reality is that policymakers must revisit the tax plan in order to bolster schools, health care, and other things that help strengthen North Carolina’s economy. Under the inadequate tax system created last year, every year going forward, policymakers are likely to struggle to fund these needed supports to a strong economy.

Here’s a story that’s unfortunately gotten very little, if any, play in the North Carolina mainstream news media. It comes, interestingly enough, from national NBC News:

“How politics buries science in landslide mapping

The six geologists were just starting their work, climbing the mountains of Western North Carolina to map the debris left behind by landslides over millions of years, when the political footing gave way beneath them. Opposition had been building from real estate agents, from home builders planning subdivisions, and then from politicians. When all that energy was released, the science was crushed flat.

The new Republican leadership in the legislature cut off all funding for the state’s landslide mapping project in 2011, and the five geologists were laid off. They had mapped just four of 19 counties. Only one geologist kept a state job, but he is not allowed to do any landslide mapping. Another is helping a mining company search for gold. Two are in private practice. The fifth is checking the work of road paving crews. And the sixth moved to Virginia, mapping landslides until the temporary funding for that project ran out.

Against the backdrop of the March 22 mudslide in Washington state, which killed 33 people and left 12 still missing as of Monday, geologists say the story of the team in North Carolina illustrates how America has never put forth a serious effort to learn from the earth’s past. Geology experts say science is often a casualty of land politics, as the nation fails to protect others who are unaware they are at risk from deadly landslides….”

Read the rest of this excellent and very disturbing story by clicking here.

This tax season marks the final year North Carolina taxpayers will file their income taxes under the state’s old tax code. By next year the increased tax load for many North Carolina taxpayers will be apparent as a result of the tax plan passed by state leaders last year.

Today, the Budget & Tax Center released a report that highlights how the tax plan passed last year shifts the responsibility of paying for public investments to middle- and low- income taxpayers while providing generous tax cuts to the wealthy and profitable corporations. The report highlights various elements of the tax plan that fundamentally changes the state’s tax system and, subsequently, who pays taxes in North Carolina.

The tax plan passed last year replaces the existing graduated personal income tax rate structure with a flat tax rate that will largely benefit wealthy taxpayers who will now pay a much lower income tax rate. A number of tax provisions that benefit middle- and low-income families – such as the personal exemption and child and dependent care credit – are eliminated under the tax plan. Read More

GerrymanderingPolitical gerrymandering has almost always been a problem in North Carolina, but new evidence continues to emerge that when conservative politicians drew the current maps (with right-wing godfather Art Pope literally sitting at the table) they took the whole thing to new and historic depths.

If you think that’s an overstatement check out this morning’s “Monday Numbers” from Chris Fitzsimon over on the main Policy Watch page in which Chris highlights some the most amazing facts in a new WRAL.com story entitled “Many state legislative races all but over before contests begin”:

50—-number of seats in the North Carolina Senate (N.C. General Assembly)

21—number of seats in the Senate where the winner of the Republican or Democratic primary will face no opposition in the general election in November  (Many state legislative races all but over before contests begin,” WRAL-TV, March 1, 2014)

120—number of seats in the North Carolina House (N.C. General Assembly)

57—number of seats in the House where the winner of the Republican or Democratic primary will face no opposition from the other party in the general election in November (Many state legislative races all but over before contests begin,” WRAL-TV, March 1, 2014)

Read all of the remarkable Monday Numbers by clicking here.