The state House budget is a long way from enlightened and certainly isn’t helpful to the middle class, a characteristic of budgets drawn by the Republicans now in charge. But it’s straight from the pen of Franklin D. Roosevelt compared with some of the budget attitudes being floated in the state Senate.
The bottom line: This General Assembly is liable to be in session over a long, hot summer as senators and House members fuss over their differences.
In the House, what has been unveiled would appropriately increase spending in the general fund by 6.3 percent. Though many North Carolinians are still struggling, the state’s economic situation is improved, and thus the budget should reflect more investment. The House would boost most state employees’ pay by 2 percent, modest by any definition for people whose wages have been stagnant for too long. And it would raise starting teacher pay to $35,000, better but hardly competitive.
House budget writers, led by Rep. Nelson Dollar of Cary, also appear to recognize something that some lawmakers in the other chamber do not: Without an emergency lift in the state’s incentives money for the film industry, movie-making and the shooting of television commercials and series in North Carolina will be over. A grant program, now empty, would get $60 million a year. That’s still not preferable to the tax credit rebate program that was in effect and was wildly successful. Filmmakers would have to apply for grants. In nearby states, incentives are more robust, and those states are taking business from North Carolina.
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Restores medical deduction
The House budget also restores a tax deduction for medical expenses that Republicans previously eliminated. That backfired, as seniors and others who paid more taxes this year raised the roof.
And, in a stroke of common sense, the House budget also extends tax credits for solar energy projects and other renewable energy projects. The budget also would invest in technology centers and research and development with credits. Likewise, a tax credit for historic preservation projects would be restored, though unfortunately in a lesser form.
Alas, blustery Bob Rucho, an influential Senate leader, is pooh-poohing some of the House’s ideas, arrogantly pronouncing that the House’s budget increase “is definitely not sustainable.” That’s Rucho’s not-so-subtle way of thumbing his nose at the House.
He and his mates are obsessed with using the state’s more robust economic forecast to lower taxes and also are looking at another tax break for corporate income taxes. The Senate is unlikely to go along with the film industry deal or the renewable energy tax credits, and it may lean against a broad hike for state employees, going along with Gov. Pat McCrory’s notion that such raises should be “targeted” for positions that are more difficult to fill.
Tax breaks for wealthy
Lowering tax rates sounds like a fine idea on the surface, of course, but letting Republicans in the Senate have their way with the tax code is akin to opening the coop and inviting the foxes in for a picnic. Somehow, when GOP lawmakers start revising the tax rates, the biggest beneficiaries always wind up being the wealthy and big business.
In a time when the state and its middle-class citizens are trying to recover from the deep recession, the worst strategy of all is to say, “OK, we have more money, so let’s cut taxes some more.” That leaves no room for investment, at least substantial investment, in public education, for one example. Republican lawmakers have made no secret of their skepticism about the University of North Carolina system, viewing it as a hotbed of liberalism and wasteful spending. And they push things like charter schools and vouchers (public money going to people for private school tuition) that drain money from the state’s elementary and secondary education system.
It would be refreshing if state Senate leaders could move forward with a positive agenda, instead of one that seems bent on diminishing anything that helps average citizens. But it now appears it will be chore enough for the GOP Senate and the GOP House even to get along with each other.