The final budget approved by the General Assembly last week and signed by the governor is based on a rather narrow vision of what is possible for North Carolina. Policymakers have clearly put their blinders on and are asking North Carolinians to do the same.
History and today’s realities have shown, however, that North Carolinians understand what is at stake. The state budget is a key document that puts on paper our shared priorities, allows us to keep up with growing or changing needs and sets the state up to compete in the future. Those who fail to recognize the power of our investments in public education, rural health care, roads and bridges, and research and development in high-growth and high-wage industries, don’t know our state’s great history and the traditions set by previous generations.
Policymakers’ choices to underinvest in our children’s education, cut back on re-employment services for jobless North Carolinians and further reduce the state’s commitment to make all communities — rural and urban — successful will hurt our quality of life and economy in the long run and are tied to their flawed belief that cutting taxes will result in an economic boon.
One could argue that such flawed economic beliefs from elected officials is part of the democratic process, but enshrining inflexible and failed policy ideas into the state’s Constitution is certainly inherently undemocratic.
That is why legislation that also passed out of the Senate this session — and is still viable until Sept. 30 and certainly alive through next year — should be of concern to all North Carolinians. If it becomes law, rather than two years of cuts to public services and budget gimmicks, North Carolinians would be saddled with a low-resource, low-investment approach forever.
This legislation is modeled after a proposal made infamous by the various failings and challenges experienced by Colorado after passing a similar law. It would set into the Constitution a flawed formula for determining year over year spending targets. The formula does nothing to help policymakers make better decisions, providing no guidance on where best to spend public dollars nor allowing them to consider that the state’s older population is rapidly growing, our children are increasingly needing different learning tools in the classroom and our economic development efforts need the support of data and sound analytics, for example.
Instead of future policymakers being able to pursue ways to make North Carolina a better place to live and do business, the budget process would be put on autopilot.
Tax cuts and budget formulas have never proven effective at delivering the boom in jobs that North Carolina needs. Education investments, on the other hand, have. That’s because tax cuts that primarily benefit the wealthiest do not trickle down to the rest of us, and low taxes don’t attract people and businesses looking for a high quality of life, good infrastructure and vibrant, efficient marketplaces.
Unfortunately, because of the budget passed by policymakers, we have to deal with another year of missed opportunities for our state to rebuild and put in place the foundation for an economy that works for all. But we should all say enough moving forward. Start with rejecting the proposal that would set North Carolina on an even worse path by putting our state’s spending on autopilot with a fundamentally flaw formula.
By Alexandra Sirota, Director, Budget & Tax Center
Alexandra Sirota is director of the N.C. Justice Center’s Budget & Tax Center.