You know it’s not a good budget year when the best thing one can say about the state budget agreed to by the Republican leaders of the state House and Senate is: “Well, it’s not as bad as it could have been, because the way things were going, it looked like a catastrophe.”
First up, a monumentally foolish tax cut – on top of other cuts that have hamstrung the ability to do much for average people – that would raise the standard deduction amount on personal income taxes from $15,500 to $17,500 over two years. Millions in revenue will be lost to give working families an extra couple of dollars per week. Republicans couldn’t care less. It’s the symbolism that counts. They can say they gave middle-income families a tax break.
And then consider the budget’s putting $475 million into the state’s rainy day fund. Republicans apparently are proud of bringing the fund to a near-record level. It is the reserve that helps the state deal with natural disaster and the like. That’s all well and good, but without the top heavy tax cuts, the legislature could have added to the reserve and met today’s needs. There would be money to give state employees a decent raise for a change, or to restore the Teaching Fellows program, or to bolster something like the state’s funding for film companies that do business in the state, funding that has been reduced.
Teachers will get an average 4.7 percent raise. Better, but not good enough if the state wants to avoid a teacher shortage. The slogan touting this increase apparently was something like, “We’re not going to be in the bottom 10 any longer!” Great. But why isn’t there a long-range plan to get North Carolina – the nation’s ninth largest state – into the top 10? And as a further insult to public school teachers, lawmakers are putting another $34 million in public money toward vouchers so people can send their kids to private school on the taxpayers’ dime.
State workers will get a 1.5 percent raise and a one-time bonus equal to 0.5 percent of their pay. There will be some merit raises of 1 percent. State retirees will get a one-time cost-of-living adjustment of 1.6 percent. The Senate wouldn’t go along with the House to make that hike permanent.
The tax cuts are the most serious flaw in an uninspiring, low-horizon budget that does virtually nothing to help working families in North Carolina – which should have been the top priority of lawmakers.