THE RALEIGH REPORT
May 26, 2016
It's always risky to predict when any legislative session will end; but, for this election-year session, all the clues point to an early adjournment. The rush to pass the state budget, adjourn the short session and start campaigning underscores the pivotal importance of the 2016 elections.
The 2016-17 State budget the NC House just passed and sent on to the Senate lays out what is at stake. At first glance, the House proposal seems very reasonable; so reasonable, in fact, that I was one of only 12 House members Ė all Democrats - to vote against it. Teachers and principals receive the best boost in pay since 2008. State employees received a modest pay increase. Retirees receive a 1.8% COLA increase.
In education, the UNC system and public schools received funding for "enrollment growth." Thatís funding for new students equal to what they received last year on a per student basis. Budget writers reduced a planned cut to the community college system from $60 million to $44 million. Public school received an increase for textbooks and $25 million for grades 1-3 literacy coaches.
The Health and Human Service budget writers reduced the $152 million cut to mental health by $60 million and set aside another $30 million for grants. They restored some cuts to our early childhood subsidy program; the NC Pre-K program received funding for 800 additional students. The Clean Water Management Trust Fund received $16 million to restore part of the cut to that program. For the most part, the appropriations subcommittee chairs did a good job given the funds allocated to them by the full Appropriations committee.
The big problem with this year's Houses budget is the initial target of $22.25 million. Thatís still below the 2007 budget as a percent of State GDP adjusted for inflation. Itís less than is required by the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) goal that limits State budget increases to inflation and population growth. The House proposal actually leaves $127.4 million on the table rather than funding programs that are still far behind their pre-recession figures. Teacher pay still lags behind where it must be to retain our best teachers. The funds promised in last year's budget to reduce class size in K-3 was diverted to hire literacy coaches. Our Pre-K program still has 7,000 children on the waiting list.
Reducing the cut in mental health from $152 million to $60 million still leaves a growing back up of mentally ill in our emergency rooms and too many in our jails and prisons. We refused to restore the Earned Income Tax Credit although one in every four children in North Carolina lives in poverty. We refused to expand Medicaid, a step that would bring billions in federal funding and thousands of good jobs into the State.
Republicans say, "We have to live within our means," but our budget isn't just a result of the recession. Republicans cut taxes significantly in 2012 and put in automatic tax cuts that will eventually eliminate the corporate income tax altogether. These tax cuts have already reduced State Budget availability by $1 billion. That total will grow to $2 billion by 2020 and further reduce funds available for essential pubic services. Unfortunately, the budget the Senate will send back to us will probably be even worse. What can we do? What can you do?
Democrats are fighting back. If Roy Cooper is elected governor and either the NC House or NC Senate Democrats regain enough seats to sustain a gubernatorial veto, the power shift will be seismic. Senate Democrats need to take back five more seats to reach that goal. But, House Democrats need to regain only four more seats. That will give them the required 49 votes to sustain a veto.
That would give Democrats the power to stop any policy bill they believed was not in the best interest of the state. There would be no more HB2-like bills or bills that restrict the authority of local governments to control their own destiny, or take medical decisions away from physicians and their patients, or disproportionately increase taxes on low income workers, or expand the right to carry gun laws, or let hazardous waste go untreated, or limit the right to vote, or weaken our UNC System, or send public school tax dollars to the discounted virtual charter schools and more and more.
Republicans aren't the only ones eager to get out on the campaign trail. For Democrats, 2016 is the year to stop the decay by electing a governor and enough House Democrats to sustain a veto. That sets them up to win more seats in 2018 and enough in 2020 to regain the majority in one chamber for a leading role in the 2021 redistricting. This year, Democrats are even more eager to focus on campaigning.
As always, thank you for your support of my work in Raleigh as your representative. Please let me know of your position on issues, your suggestions for legislation and your requests for help.