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NC Budget and Tax Center

Last week, Governor McCrory unveiled his two-year budget proposal for July 2015 through June 2017. He has since touted how his plan reinvests in the public services and programs that are essential for economic opportunity and quality of life. However, a close look at his 2016 fiscal year (FY2016) spending plan reveals that he fails to reinvest in a meaningful way in the critical public structures that benefit us all. Genuine progress will continue to be hampered until state lawmakers build a tax system that can adequately match the needs of a growing economy.

Governor McCrory’s proposed budget for FY2016 increases year-to-year spending by nearly $439.8 million, or 2 percent. This is in sharp contrast to past recoveries when state investments were far quicker to return to, and advance beyond, pre-recession levels. Enrollment growth in public schools, the UNC system, and the Medicaid/Health Choice programs is estimated to exceed the year-to-year increase in spending in the governor’s proposal, totaling nearly $442.6 million in FY2016. That means every new dollar increase, on net, is dedicated to funding enrollment growth (see chart below).

It also means that non-enrollment expansion items in the proposal are made possible by cutting or allowing spending to expire for other vital programs that are already stripped bare from previous underinvestment. That’s like rearranging the deck chairs on a sinking ship. Read More

NC Budget and Tax Center

This morning, Governor McCrory released his two-year plan to invest in education, health care, public safety and other priorities that are essential for economic opportunity and quality of life. He spoke of a “new paradigm” for state budgeting. A new paradigm indeed, one that abandons many of the practices that served North Carolina well in the past—like ensuring funding to maintain current service levels year-over-year or reinvesting in the recovery rather than locking in low levels of revenues by keeping the 2013 tax plan on the books.

A preliminary review of his budget plan shows that too many vital public services are at diminished levels, threatening their effectiveness, reach, and efficiency. No amount of “budget spin” will cover up how the budget baseline has been eroded from years of cuts or how the current tax system cannot sufficiently keep up with growing needs.

Below is a quick summary of how the Governor’s budget compares to pre-recession levels and also how the Governor chose to pay for his budget. Read More

Commentary
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Rep. Paul Stam

Faced with the hard reality of a growing state budget shortfall resulting from their ill-advised tax giveaways to wealthy individuals and profitable corporations, state legislative leaders have apparently opted to try to spin their way out of the mess.

House Speaker Pro Tem Paul Stam was the latest to try out a little song and dance step on the issue yesterday when he issued a statement claiming that there is no shortfall because “After controlling for population and inflation, we are likely to have just as much revenue in 2014-15 as we did in 2013-14.”

This is classic political double-speak.

The fact of the matter is that a budget shortfall exists when the state does not bring in enough money in a new year to pay for the level of services it provided in the previous year. It’s not about “growing government” as Stam alleges; it’s about sustaining the services we have — i.e. not raising class sizes, not cutting health care reimbursements for the disabled, not further decimating our broken courts system, etc….

Right now, it’s clear that the 2013 tax cuts have led directly to a situation in which the state will bring in hundreds of millions of dollars less than it needs just to keep things going at their already inadequate levels in the new fiscal year that begins July 1. Indeed, as a percentage of total state income, state spending during the current year is already at 1970’s levels.

The bottom line: Try as Stam and his allies might to lower the bar with talk of red herrings like inflation and population growth, they simply won’t be able to spin their way out of this situation. And absent some kind of dramatic ideological turnaround that would lead to the implementation of the kind of policy changes that would produce a truly responsible state budget, North Carolinians will soon suffer the consequences of this latest ill-conceived and destructive experiment in trickledown economics.

Commentary

In case you missed it, Tazra Mitchell of the N.C. Budget and Tax Center had a great letter to the editor in Raleigh’s News & Observer over the weekend that exposed the silly story state lawmakers have concocted in order to create the illusion that everything is now fine with state budget. As Tazra explains:

“Regarding the Feb. 13 news article “ NC forecasts budget surplus for fiscal year that begins July 1”: State lawmakers are making a major change to the budget process in an attempt to mask the fallout of their recent decisions. The change also allows them to claim a “surplus” that merely reflects revenue growth – and revenue growth that’s far under the long-term average.

For many decades, the starting point for the budgeting process has been the amount of resources necessary to maintain the current quality of public systems that Tar Heels expect. Starting with this “current services budget” is standard practice for virtually all responsible governing bodies across the country.

The governor and legislature now are, crudely, redrawing the starting point for this year’s budget. In fact, the funding level they declared to be “base budget” for the upcoming year is roughly $213 million less than the budget for the current year. When and if they manage to cover the additional costs of things like more students in schools, inflationary increases in health care services or cost-of-living raises for teachers and highway patrol officers, they will claim credit for their acts of generosity.

Lawmakers lowered the bar, and when they clear it, they’ll declare themselves the winners. But budget gimmicks will not hide bigger class sizes or higher tuition rates. North Carolinians have seen too much to be fooled into thinking there is any kind of “surplus” afoot.”

Commentary

2014 End of Year Charts_tax cuts dig a holeAs the fiscal wonks at the N.C. Budget and Tax Center have repeatedly warned us would happen, the 2013 tax cuts (which went overwhelmingly to the rich and large, profitable corporations) continue to wreak havoc with the North Carolina state budget. As WRAL.com reported late last night, a new memo to lawmakers from the legislature’s Fiscal Research Division warns that the state budget shortfall is now up to $271 million for the current year.

Remember, this is happening in a time of (albeit imperfect) economic recovery around the country. For the most part, other states are gaining back the ground they lost during the Great Recession and repairing the damage inflicted upon essential state services.

Here in North Carolina, however, the opposite is true. Public spending on core functions like public schools remains mired near the bottom of the 50 states and, amazingly, many state agencies are now being asked to plan for a new round of additional budget cuts in 2015-16.

The bottom line: If things continue this way, conservative state leaders will succeed in their quest to fulfill right-wing icon Grover Norquist’s dark and disturbing vision of shrinking government down to the size at which they can “drown it in the bathtub.” Moreover, from the looks of things, they’re going to take a lot of average North Carolinians down the drain with them in the process.