Gov. Roy Cooper says the budget just unveiled in the General Assembly is “the most fiscally irresponsible budget I’ve ever seen.”
There he goes again, understated to a fault.
It’s all that Cooper said it is, and much worse. It’s either stupid or irrational – or both. Why in the world would the General Assembly feel driven to cut the corporate tax rate by half a percentage point when ours is already the lowest rate in the country – by two points or more? What business could our legislative leaders believe they will attract here when we already outdo every other state in that category? And why would our lawmakers make that move when their own economic analysts have warned them that we risk running into a deficit in a few years?
The only reason to further cut that tax is to serve loud notice that they are deep in the pockets of corporate interests who are far more important to their legislative agenda than the health and welfare of the residents and taxpayers of North Carolina.
Yes, the people get a break too, with the tax rate dropping by a quarter percentage point. And the standard deduction, the tax-free base income, will be increased. For most taxpayers, it’s a small but welcome gift – just in time for next year’s legislative elections.
But all of that comes with what may be a terrible cost. The tax cuts will slash $530 million out of the state’s cash flow over the next two years. The damage could grow in the future, compounded by the fact that our state’s population is steadily growing, imposing proportionately larger costs on government.
And while the budget does give decent raises to most state employees and even better ones to many teachers, it doesn’t replace the billions that have been taken away from the school funding for teacher assistants, school nurses, supplies, bus replacement and other assistance for districts. It does, however, allocate more than $100 million in lottery profits for school building in economically distressed counties. But even though it does increase funding for pre-k education, it still leaves thousands of preschoolers on waiting lists for the program – the proven best route out of poverty for our at-risk children.
This doesn’t begin to address the state’s needs for infrastructure expansion. When’s the last time we heard a state politician talk about the growing need to expand and replace most of Interstate 95 in North Carolina? And what about broadband expansion, which most of our lawmakers have agreed is the vehicle needed for economic growth in the state’s rural areas? This budget invests nothing in it.
We’re pleased that the budget includes $10 million for opioid addiction treatment, but that’s a pittance compared to our needs. If we’re serious about taking a new course in the battle against opioid abuse, sending users to treatment instead of jail, then we need to make an enormous investment in programs that will work, and the facilities that will house them. Cumberland County alone is scores, if not hundreds, of beds short of what it needs to deal with the epidemic.
If we had a choice, we’d send this budget back to the General Assembly and tell the lawmakers to try again. That’s clearly what the governor wants to do. But in most matters, the legislature holds a veto-proof majority. Unless a lot of Republicans desert their leadership, this dangerous budget is likely to become law.
And we'll all sit and wait to be part of the coming train wreck.