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TeachersHeadline-hunting legislative leaders got what they wanted and needed (for now) with yesterday’s latest budget announcement. They wanted the story to be first and foremost about big teacher raises and it appears pretty clear that they got that. Media outlets around the state are reporting that central component of the proposed budget agreement this morning and millions of North Carolinians are waking up to the news — even if it’s frequently tinged with skepticism.

The problem with this story, of course is that, by all indications, the pay raise is being purchased at an enormous price — i.e. big cuts everywhere else –including education — along with tiny and inadequate pay raises for other public employees (including education personnel).

In short, though many details remain to be seen, the central and disastrous driving force behind this year’s budget — last year’s regressive and backward-looking tax cuts remain in full force. As budget analyst Tazra Mitchell wrote here yesterday:

There are better choices available that will put North Carolina on a stronger path to recovery for children, families, and communities across the Tarheel state. For starters, lawmakers need to face the reality that we can’t afford further tax cuts and stop the income tax cuts that are scheduled to go into effect next January. Doing so will save approximately $100 million in the current fiscal year and $300 million in the 2015 calendar year. These revenues would go a long way towards reversing the most damaging cuts that were enacted in the aftermath of the Great Recession. That’s a short-term fix.  A longer term fix requires restoring the progressive personal income tax structure so that revenues are stable and more adequate.

The only saving grace of the budget is this: the message it sends to progressives. As dreadful as the budget is — both for the near and long term — it does serve to remind progressives of the power of advocacy. Read More

SmokeIn an allusion to the signal that’s seen in the Vatican when the leaders of the Catholic Church elect a new Pope, at least one news media report this morning is talking about “white smoke” being visible on Jones Street. The story accompanying the headline, of course, is that leaders of the North Carolina General Assembly signaled over the weekend that they have agreement on the framework of a state budget deal. Assuming it really comes to fruition, the agreement comes a full month into the 2015 fiscal year.

A closer look at those puffs of smoke, however, reveals them to bear a notably blue tinge — that is, the kind one typically see with an engine that’s leaking oil and about to blow. As Alexandra Sirota details in the post immediately below and Chris Fitzsimon highlights in this morning’s “Monday Numbers,” one important impetus for the agreement would appear to be the latest calculations of the General Assembly’s Fiscal Research Division staff that the income tax cuts enacted last year are harming state budget revenues even more than had been officially forecast – i.e. more along the lines of what the Budget and Tax Center has been predicting all along.

So, keep in mind a couple of things this week as lawmakers and the Governor are falling all over themselves to issue statements of  self-congratulations:

1) Notwithstanding their rosy claims, the engine driving state government — the tax system — remains cracked and badly in need of an overhaul.

2) The current proposed solution — rolling up the window and ignoring the smoke — will provide only a temporary solution at best.

Barbara Dell Carter

Second grade teacher Barbara Dell Carter

Do you remember Barbara Dell Carter?

She’s the second grade classroom teacher at John Cotten Tayloe Elementary School in “little” Washington, who I visited late last summer while she dutifully prepared her classroom for the first day of school.

As she straightened up her books (many of which she procured through her own means), Carter told me of her fears of facing yet another year without a dedicated teacher assistant (TA), not to mention how to cope with a state budget that dealt significant cuts to other areas of the classroom.

She is worried. Not the back-to-school jitters kind of worried; she has deep-seated concerns about the challenges she will face this year as educators grapple with a public school budget that spends $500 million less than what was spent in 2008.

Five years ago, the teacher assistant who is now sitting in Carter’s classroom preparing instructional materials would typically spend the entire day, every day, with Carter during the school year. That teacher assistant would help her manage 21 or 22 seven-year-old children who need to go to the bathroom, get fed, learn a lesson at a slightly slower or faster pace, or go to the nurse’s office, among many other possible situations, all throughout the day.

Now, that teacher assistant will be shared among four or five other classrooms. So maybe Carter will have a colleague help her manage her classroom for just an hour each day.

Maybe.

Read More

Phil BergerWhat’s this? Did I read that right?

Yes here it is, dated  Monday, July 14: “Berger: Budget delay is incompetence”

And here’s Senator Berger’s lead quote:

“For the average person, when they have a deadline and they need to get something done, they are held accountable,” said Berger, an Eden Republican, at the weekly Republican news conference.

What the heck is going on? Has North Carolina’s Senate President Pro Tem had some kind of  revelation? Did he meet with a therapist or member of the clergy and decide to bare his soul? I mean, what could have possibly spurred such a powerful admission/confession?

Wait a minute. Oh, now I see; the article is dated Monday July 14, 2009. Berger was talking about the Democrats  — you know, the folks who were desperately trying to wend their way through the fallout from the worst economic crisis in 75 years.

Obviously, Berger wouldn’t use such language to describe the current situation — you know, the one in which state leaders are calling each other insulting names and just generally acting like children as they work diligently not to solve myriad problems – most notably an unnecessary budget shortfall – of their own creation.

Glad that’s cleared up.

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