To truly reflect what we value as a country and a state, our budget process and final product has to both consider and make greater effort to meet the pressing needs in our communities. There should be an open process, a consideration of all sides of the debate, and movement toward compromise.
The reality is that the final budget, vetoed by the Gov. Roy Cooper on June 28, was never a compromise for legislative leaders. It would have been a compromise for us all and of our future.
It includes another round of tax cuts for big companies and an expansion of tax breaks that haven’t yet been evaluated for their impact. Tax breaks for NASCAR and jet owners were extended even as tax credits for working families were blocked from a full hearing.
It includes a series of special projects for various communities — providing narrow services or, in some cases, genuine “pork” rather than building systems to sustain a higher quality of life across the state.
But just as important as what it includes is what it didn’t.
It didn’t include a plan to expand Medicaid for those living in the coverage gap.
It didn’t include a plan to drive expanded federal dollars for child care assistance and maintain the state’s commitment to early childhood overall.
It didn’t include a plan to fully address the new toxins found in water and soil in communities across the state.
It didn’t include a plan to provide job training to those who are seeking work but whose prior occupations are no longer around.
It didn’t include a plan to fully fund the Raise the Age legislation that will go into effect at the end of December.
The final budget put together this year is not exceptional. It is another unexceptional effort on the part of legislative leaders to keep moving in the same direction with the same approach. The outcomes aren’t likely to be different.
Tax cuts won’t get people the health care they need. Tax cuts won’t put textbooks in classrooms. Tax cuts don’t build new schools.
Legislative leaders must go back to the drawing board if only to jolt them out of the complacency with which they lead — a complacency that has led them to turn their backs on at least 500,000 neighbors without health care coverage when a fiscally responsible solution is available to them.
To begin again could give us all the opportunity to remember that the budget is ultimately about our collective values. It is about our whether and how we care for the well-being of each and every North Carolinian and not just the wealthy few.
Alexandra Forter Sirota is director of the Budget & Tax Center for N.C. Policy Watch.