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Editorial pages across the state are calling on state lawmakers (and, in particular, the state Senate) to end the absurd delay in the FY 2016 budget that is already more than a month overdue.

Sunday’s Greensboro News & Record says it’s clear that lawmakers should adopt the House version of the budget:

“It’s been a decade since the legislature went so late into the summer before agreeing on a budget, and there’s no end in sight. Every day adds to the cost of keeping the General Assembly operating. Unlike in some states, North Carolina’s legislature doesn’t put any limits on how long it can stay in session. It should. But it also should simplify the budget process by excluding everything that isn’t actually necessary.

At 500 pages, the Senate’s proposed budget is 200 pages longer than the House plan. Yet the House managed to fund every state agency in its modest 300 pages. The House budget was approved by a strong bipartisan vote. Senate budget writers added too many measures that should have been handled in separate legislation. Only Republicans voted for the Senate budget. A concurrence vote in the House failed unanimously. Clearly, the House blueprint is more broadly appealing, and Senate negotiators could move things along if they would simply adopt the House version.”

This comes on top of similar calls last week from Raleigh’s News & Observer and the Charlotte Observer to end the posturing get on with things. Here’s the N&O:

The delay isn’t just a problem of political dysfunction. It has serious consequences for funding public education, and there’s nervousness among school administrators about how long the impasse will continue.

Read More

Commentary

If you had dollar for every time conservative politicians promised to start “running North Carolina like a business” back when they were engineering their rise to power at the start of the decade, you’d have a lot of money — maybe enough to hire back some of the educators they’ve fired since then.

This morning, the business that comes to mind when you think about their performance is Enron: a deceptive and secretive shell game that fell apart when people finally figured out what the heck was going on. As Raleigh’s News & Observer reports:

“Several top Republican lawmakers say they likely won’t reach a budget deal by an Aug. 14 deadline – a delay that will prolong uncertainty for public schools and other agencies that depend on state funding.

Since the last fiscal year ended June 30, the state has been operating under a temporary budget that keeps government running at current spending levels.

But the House and Senate budget writers tasked with negotiating a permanent spending agreement haven’t met yet….”

And while it’s true that the House version of the budget is, though badly inadequate, much superior to the Senate’s (thus providing good reason for House members to fight hard in negotiations), this really is getting past the point of being ridiculous. The public schools are paralyzed on many important decisions, the Governor is a complete, ribbon-cutting non-factor and people are seriously talking about things dragging on well into the fall. At some point, it gets down to a matter of basic competence to run the state and a commitment to governing, and unless things get moving in a good direction and fast, one has to conclude that the folks in charge in Raleigh these days simply don’t have either one.
Commentary

Budget see sawAs a one-time civics teacher, my job was to explain to 8th graders how our government works. On one level, it was simple: people vote for leaders who will represent them. The leaders make decisions on their behalf.

But, of course, that wasn’t the whole story. I usually stumbled through the part about politics and special interests. I labored to explain out how our tax system has grown increasingly regressive, shifting the responsibility off of large corporations and onto the pocketbooks of their parents. Inequality is an ugly reality, but a reality nonetheless.

North Carolinians understand the inequality that exists in our economy. They also understand how to fix it. On Wednesday, North Carolinians from across the state delivered a petition calling on lawmakers to listen to them – and not the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) – when it comes to budget and tax choices. The petition, which included more than 6,000 signatures (and which was accompanied by a sign-on letter from 17 organizations representing tens of thousands of individuals) calls for an equitable and adequate tax system that keeps North Carolina strong.

As legislators continue to work on a final budget, many North Carolinians are concerned that their leaders will ignore their voices and instead choose to listen to ALEC. ALEC, a national arch-conservative group funded by large corporations, has designed many of the policies, such as tax cuts, low investments for protecting our communities, and giveaways to big corporations, that have moved North Carolina backwards. Indeed, as the post below notes, many lawmakers left Raleigh early this week to attend ALEC’s annual conference in San Diego.

At a press conference announcing the delivery of the petition, Tazra Mitchell, a policy analyst with the Budget & Tax Center, explained, “The disproven theory that corporate tax cuts help our economy move forward is economic snake oil that ALEC sells to state legislators around the country … These policies are a prescription for poor results that hinder the ability of our state to set up a foundation for future growth.”

After Mitchell’s remarks, more than a dozen North Carolinas spoke out on why they felt investments are critical to a strong and equitable economy. Some examples: Read More

NC Budget and Tax Center

Within the last month, policymakers in three states approved tax changes that will strengthen family economic security and support a stronger, more inclusive economy. Policymakers in New Jersey and Rhode Island approved expansions in their state Earned Income Tax Credits (EITC) and California officials adopted its first state EITC, which goes to people that work but earn low wages so that they can better make ends meet and avoid raising their children in poverty.

North Carolina is no longer among the 26 states that have a state EITC. Our state lawmakers allowed the state EITC to expire in 2013 when they enacted deep tax cuts that primarily benefited the wealthy and profitable corporations. The result was a tax shift—away from the wealthy and onto everyone else—that did nothing to improve the financial well-being of people who work hard for low pay and struggle to pay the bills.

On the other end of the spectrum, New Jersey lawmakers approved an increase in its state EITC to 30 percent from 20 percent of the federal credit that will benefit over half a million families. Read More

Commentary

Two stories really symbolize the state of North Carolina state government this morning on the first day of Fiscal Year 2016:

The first is the gridlock that’s starting to grip the state’s public schools. With a final state budget agreement light years away and few clear indicators from state leaders as to where things are headed — other than perhaps slashing thousands of teacher assistants — Raleigh’s News & Observer reports this morning that “At least one-third of North Carolina’s school systems are suspending their driver’s education programs this summer until they learn whether they’ll receive any state money to help pay for the classes.”

Meanwhile, the second part of the story is crystallized in yesterday’s edition of the Fitzsimon File in which my colleague Chris Fitzsimon — who has closely observed North Carolina politics for the past three decades — explained how extraordinary the latest inaction by the General Assembly is:

“House and Senate leaders couldn’t meet their budget deadline of June 30, the end of the state fiscal year, so they approved a continuing budget resolution this week to give themselves 45 more days.

Next week they will be on vacation and two weeks after that many Republican lawmakers plan to be in San Diego for the annual meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

It’s true, as supporters of the General Assembly have pointed out, that not having a final budget by June 30 is relatively common. Lawmakers have passed continuing resolutions many summers while they hashed out final budget details.

But the resolutions usually come after some effort at negotiations between House and Senate budget writers and the extensions are usually for 10 days or maybe two weeks, not a month and a half.

And there’s never been a case when lawmakers gave themselves 45 more days and promptly took the next week off. It’s especially noteworthy coming from Republicans, who promised a more transparent and efficiently run General Assembly when they won control of the House and Senate in the 2010 election.”

In short, state legislative leaders — who promised to “run government like a business” — are instead fiddling, Nero-like, while core state services they have already badly undermined crumble around them. All in all, it’s quite a mess. Perhaps the business they had in mind was Enron.

Happy Fiscal New Year!