Raising the Bar: North Carolina needs a budget debate focused on building an economy that works for all

North Carolina can have quality schools, accessible health care, a sound transportation system, affordable housing and safe neighborhoods—all of the things necessary to strengthen the economy and grow a strong middle class. We just have to make the choice to build this infrastructure of opportunity.

In recent years, state policymakers have undercut the effectiveness of our public systems, instead enacting tax cuts that primarily benefit the wealthiest taxpayers and profitable corporations. Because of those tax cuts and a slow economic recovery, the state doesn’t have enough revenue to adequately support the systems that fuel economic growth.

That’s not how it worked in the past. Coming out of previous recessions, North Carolina quickly reversed the cuts made when times were tight and increased investments in roads, schools, and universities that paved the way for an economy that outpaced many other Southern states.

North Carolina has never looked to other states to show us the way forward. On the contrary, other states in the south have always looked to us for leadership and innovative ideas. Our state created a progressive personal income tax in 1921 that made us a leader in state funding for public education at one the time and further established our reputation as the Great Roads State. We created a community college system that was the envy of the nation. And, more recently, our innovative early childhood programs were held up as a national model.

Today, instead of making investments, policymakers are using the tax system and the state budget to bulldoze the infrastructure of opportunity.

As state leaders create the Fiscal Year 2015-2017 biennial budget, we can encourage them to make investments that are proven to grow our economy and promote financial stability for families and the state government. But we have to acknowledge that they can’t make those investments without the necessary revenue.

Over the next few weeks, experts on a range of issues that support stronger communities, families and economies in North Carolina will share their perspectives here. They will speak not just on where state investments have been and what has been lost in recent years, but they will also share proposed solutions for what North Carolina’s leaders could do to achieve the better outcomes we all seek.

We hope that our leaders will consider how we raise the bar in the budget debate not how we race our neighbors to the bottom.

Editor’s note: This is an installment in “Raising the Bar” — a new series of essays and blog posts authored by North Carolina nonprofit leaders highlighting ways in which North Carolina public investments are falling short and where and how they can be improved.

 

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