Op-Ed

NC budgets chipping away at our building blocks

While the foundation of our great North Carolina communities is their people, we must also invest in the building blocks that help people grow and prosper, like schools with great teachers, good roads, safe streets and access to high-quality health care. These investments don’t appear out of thin air. We all chip in with our taxes to supply the money to make them a reality.

We haven’t done this perfectly in North Carolina – too many communities have been left behind, particularly communities of color. But for decades, under Republican and Democratic leadership, we’ve been on the right trajectory in education and health care to improve the lives and futures of our children.

Unfortunately, our current state leaders are mistakenly under the impression that we can do this on the cheap. That we can create a world-class education system, provide our children with high-quality health care and build strong communities while implementing poorly conceived tax breaks that do little to help working families.

Over the past three years, the state legislature has implemented tax breaks that disproportionately benefit upper-income taxpayers who don’t need the benefit. As a result, the state has already lost over $1 billion annually that could have been invested in our communities. Now several bills are making their way through the legislature that endanger future investments, bills that sound like protections for taxpayers but would actually shortchange families and communities.

Both the House and Senate have already approved an increase in the standard deduction (the amount of income that you pay no taxes on), which will come at a price tag of $145 million annually once fully implemented.

While this change to the standard deduction is at the forefront of public discussion, other proposals are lurking in House and Senate committees. Senate Bills 607 and 817 are unnecessary constitutional amendments that would permanently restrict the ability of future state leaders to raise sufficient revenue and to strengthen our public schools and other vital community investments. The leaders of the state Senate have made it very clear that they want to move on these constitutional amendments this year.

These dramatic changes to our tax code would further weaken our already inadequate ability to invest in communities. Consider the recent House and Senate budget proposals. In both, unmet needs remain unmet. Tens of thousands of children will remain on waiting lists for child care assistance; the number of nurses, social workers and counselors in our schools will remain well below recommended ratios; and funding cuts previously made to services for young children with disabilities will persist.

This trajectory is uninspiring at best, perilous at worst. For North Carolina to prosper, we need a vision. Our vision is that all children in our state have the opportunity to achieve their full potential, regardless of their race, ethnicity or the ZIP code in which they were born.

To make that happen, state leaders must address the lack of opportunity that plagues too many communities across our state. Their most powerful tool for removing barriers to opportunity is the state budget, which they could use to invest in children, families and communities.

But writing permanent tax breaks into our constitution will shortcircuit the ability of current and future leaders to innovate and strengthen the building blocks of thriving communities.

Now is not the time for shortsighted political gimmicks. Now is the time to prepare our children and our state for a stable and prosperous future by investing in the building blocks that create opportunity and make great communities.

Michelle Hughes is executive director of NC Child, a statewide nonprofit child advocacy organization. Easter Maynard leads ChildTrust Foundation, a corporate foundation focused on early childhood and literacy.

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