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On Wednesday evening, the North Carolina Senate unveiled its $21.16 billion budget proposal for the 2015 fiscal year that begins in June 2014 and ends in July 2015. The Senate leadership decided to put the budget on a fast track to approval, bypassing the appropriations subcommittee process and scheduling the final debate to begin today at 4pm into early Saturday morning.

Even when lawmakers have an adequate amount of time to review the full budget proposal—and to be clear, in this case, an adequate amount of time was not allowed—budget debates tend to spend a majority of the time on the spending side. Yet, how the state raises the billions of dollars that fuel the state budget gets relatively little scrutiny compared to the rest of the budget during the budget process.

Examining how the Senate pays for its budget is more important than ever in light of last year’s tax plan that drains $438 million from the state’s coffers in the upcoming fiscal year. This is on top of the fact that lawmakers are facing a current year revenue shortfall, a projected revenue shortfall for the next 2015 fiscal year, and a Medicaid shortfall. Read More

From poverty to job creation, North Carolina has been slow to bounce back from the Great Recession on the economic front. The storyline is much the same when it comes to tax collections. North Carolina’s tax revenues at the end of 2013 were lower than its previous peak that occured just prior to the economic downturn, according to new data released by the Pew Center on the States.

These findings fail to signal an economic comeback. In fact, they illustrate that there is a considerable amount of lost ground to regain even as state revenues are projected to slowly pick up as the economy grows stronger. Catching up will be all that much more difficult due to lawmakers’ decision to pass a costly and lopsided tax plan last year that primarily benefits the wealthy and profitable corporations.

State revenues were down 4.5 percent, or $287.4 million, in the last quarter of 2013 compared to the state’s previous peak quarter that occurred in the third quarter of 2007—just before the onset of the Great Recession. Note, this was under the old tax code. See the figure below. North Carolina fared better on this measure compared to all of its southern neighbors except for Tennessee and only 19 states in total. For the states that experienced a recovery to peak revenue levels by the end of 2013, more than half of them raised taxes to keep up with the growing demands of a growing population.   Read More

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.

At a time when an increasing number of jobs in the state are expected to require some level of postsecondary training, North Carolina families and students have to shoulder more and more of the cost of a college education.

A report released today by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities highlights that state spending per student for higher education in North Carolina is 25 percent below pre-recession levels when adjusted for inflation. Meanwhile, average tuition at North Carolina’s public, four-year colleges increased by more than 34 percent during this time period.

Some of the outcomes from these budget cuts have been well-documented on North Carolina’s campuses. For example, in the 2014 academic year, state funding cuts led NC State to eliminate 187 full-time equivalent positions and 27 positions from its library system, the report highlights. UNC-Chapel Hill has eliminated 493 positions, cut 16,000 course seats, increased class sizes, cut four of its seven centrally supported computer labs, and eliminated two distance education centers. Read More

Some underling and troubling trends are revealed in the Fiscal Research Division’s newly released third Quarterly General Fund Revenue Report, which provides an assessment of revenue for the state. Not much has changed since the Division’s second quarterly report. Both reports foreshadow some of the particular challenges of the new tax plan—namely the fact that tax rate reductions for profitable corporations will be big revenue losers for the state.

On net, the General Fund was $12.1 million above the $14.5 billion revenue target for the first-three quarters of the current fiscal year that ends in June 2014. This marks a reduction from the $83 million point-in-time “surplus” that accrued by the end of the second quarter. The gap could shrink even further by the end of the month depending on any volatility in revenue collections post-tax season—a factor dubbed as the “April Surprise.”

Revenue collections were ahead of target by the end of the third quarter largely due to stronger-than-expected performances by the sales tax and the corporate income tax on net. Read More