GOP budget short on vision, long on breaks for the rich

NC Senate President pro-tem Phil Berger discusses budget with House Speaker Tim Moore on his right.
NC Senate President pro-tem Phil Berger discusses budget with House Speaker Tim Moore on his right. tlong@newsobserver.com

It’s hard to say which is worse: that Republicans boast of all their puny good deed-doing for teachers and lower-income people in the state budget, or that they think so little of the citizens they represent that they believe they’ll be fooled by the GOP’s rhetoric.

Sure, the GOP budget gives teachers an average pay raise of 3.3 percent, but it’s a paltry sum if the intent is to make up for years of underpaying those entrusted with the future of North Carolina’s children, and thus the future itself. Retired state employees are getting a 1 percent cost-of-living increase – don’t spend it all in one place, unless it’s a gumball machine.

But not everybody came up short. Tax cuts that will benefit the wealthy will come in 2019, with the personal income tax rate going from 5.499 percent to 5.25 percent, a nice boost for the wealthy but one that won’t make much difference to average folks – who, by the way, are paying more in taxes thanks to sales tax hikes and others that hit lower- and middle-income people hardest but make no different to the rich. And all those undertaxed corporations out there, just hold on. The corporate income tax will be dropping again, to 2.5 percent from 3 percent.

Gov. Roy Cooper had it right with strong criticism of the GOP plan, saying his staff had found the Republican budget conveys a belief “that those making millions of dollars should get a tax break 85 times bigger than middle class families.”

Gov. Roy Cooper
Gov. Roy Cooper Chris Seward cseward@newsobserver.com

Cooper ripped the budget for falling short on economic development in rural areas, on the opiod crisis and for teachers.

One of the more outrageous omissions from the budget has to do with a cut to legal aid funding, a pittance as critics note, but something that’s not a Republican priority. This is just another slap at the poor. It’s just plain mean.

Republicans boast of raising the standard deduction, the amount on which people pay no income tax, for married couples and individuals, but that’s no great break for them (remember those additional sales taxes) and it’s a hit for state revenue.

Oh, Republicans are indeed adding additional slots for subsidized prekindergarten, and that’s good, and they’re improving things for 16- and 17-year-old kids in the criminal justice system, who won’t be charged in the adult justice system for many crimes.

And GOP leaders apparently want to take a bow for not cutting out the Governor’s School (the school has influential friends, some of whom are Republicans) and for cutting the UNC-Chapel Hill law school by $500,000 instead of the threatened $4 million. That’s solely about the GOP’s grudge against Gene Nichol, an outspoken law professor who criticizes Republicans in opinion pieces for The News & Observer. But the cut is ridiculous – legislating by revenge.

But Republicans continue to pump more money into the voucher program that gives public funds to people to apply to private schooling. It’s a terrible idea, but only likely to expand as long as Republicans are in charge. Sadly, it reflects what the entire budget reflect: more of the sorry old same.