As legislators return to town today, hopes aren’t high for Gov. Pat McCrory’s proposed budget for the fiscal year that begins in July. It’s a modest spending plan that includes election-year pay hikes and bonuses, but it’s hardly the blueprint for a state on the rise. It’s about keeping North Carolina’s state funding where it has been – stuck in the austerity of the Great Recession.
Sure, the governor’s $22.8 billion budget is up 2.8 percent, and that’s more than the 2 percent aim expressed by Phil Berger, Senate president pro tem. And the governor says his budget, coming out Wednesday, won’t include income tax cuts. That’s something else Berger wanted by raising the standard deduction for married couples and single people.
This means the governor could be wasting his time presenting a budget. He’ll be received by the House and Senate, and his plan will promptly be consigned to the dust bin. Legislators care little for any of the governor’s ideas, and they’ll likely ignore this budget.
Frankly, it appears worth that kind of reception, but if anything is certain, it’s that a budget formulated by the leadership of the General Assembly will be even worse.
North Carolina is pulling out of a recession, and yet legislative leaders are wedded for life to recession-era budgets, all in the name of providing tax breaks for the wealthy and for large corporations. The result is inadequate money coming in and no room to really address the vital needs of this state and its citizens. Instead, General Assembly leaders are ready for the state to just hold the line. Given the state’s growth, the effects of inflation and increasing cost of neglected infrastructure needs, “holding the line” means slipping backward.
Teacher pay – the governor has backed a 5 percent average hike and one-time bonus of 3.5 percent – remains dismally low, at a time when public schools are under assault from GOP lawmakers who want to give public money to people for vouchers for private schools and keep per pupil spending flat.
Boosting teacher salaries, addressing infrastructure needs (roads and bridges and state building improvements) and certainly any initiatives to help older people, the mentally ill or the disabled, or restore cuts to public university funding are short-circuited by budgets that seek only to keep a lid on spending.
As North Carolina’s economy recovers, the state’s budget should be pushing the state forward, not locking it in place as the world goes by.