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Piecemeal budgets reveal dysfunctional process and a refusal to come to the table

Yesterday the NC House gave unanimous approval to the Senate’s version of four bills that would provide pay raises to state employees, adult correctional employees, state highway patrol employees, and state bureau of investigation (SBI) and alcohol law enforcement (ALE) employees, respectively.

At first glance, this effort to provide small pay increases may seem like a genuine effort to get things done for our state. But in reality it’s a way to appease narrow, politically powerful segments of the population by providing extremely small – less than the rate of inflation—pay increases.

This “effort” reveals a new level of dysfunction whereby legislative leaders continue to refuse to come to the table to pass a complete budget. It fails to recognize that the budget process is an important one, because it requires debate and a full accounting of how our tax dollars will advance our shared priorities. It is a vision of where our leaders think we should go.

North Carolinians deserve more than a few elected leaders making decisions behind closed doors about how the state should be funded for the next two years. They deserve more than piecemeal approaches that can’t chart a path forward.

Rather than take the Governor’s June 28th veto of the budget as an opportunity to score political points, it should have been an opportunity to sit down at the negotiating table. Instead of viewing the veto as a sign of no compromise, it should have opened dialogue about concerns with the budget.

The reality is that North Carolina deserves a budget that works for everyone. Maximizing investments in areas that benefit us all, like public education, classrooms that are safe for learning, opportunities for early childhood education, resilient communities, and healthy environments.

The path to strong communities does not include tax cuts for those at the top. It requires corporations and wealthy North Carolinians paying their fair share, not asking more from those with the fewest resources, as reflected in our current tax code and would be worsened with the budget’s proposed tax changes.

The legislative budget failed on all of these fronts, and the “mini budgets” also fail our state.

The piecemeal pay raise budgets are a way to strong-arm support for modest pay raises and are a distraction from the real problem at hand: North Carolina is two months into the new fiscal year and operating on insufficient stopgap measures. More fundamentally, we are a decade into the austerity that results from prioritizing the few over the many.

The current ploy is an attempt to isolate issues—public education, taxes on the wealthy and corporations, Medicaid expansion, school infrastructure—and pit them against each other.

The reality is that we do not need to choose state employee salaries over safe schools for our children, or healthcare over roads, or parks over food. These are false choices. North Carolina deserves a good faith effort on the part of our lawmakers to invest in our state.

Suzy Khachaturyan is a Policy Analyst at the Budget and Tax Center, a project of the North Carolina Justice Center.

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Piecemeal budgets reveal dysfunctional process and a refusal to come to the table