THE RALEIGH REPORT
June 26, 2017
House and Senate Pass Budget
The NC House and Senate passed the budget bill last Thursday. It falls woefully short of what is possible; it's also irresponsible. I voted No. If Governor Cooper vetoes the bill, I will vote to sustain his veto.
Every budget has some bright spots; but this one is so far off the mark, my decision was easy. With the unexpected $500 million in recurring money that was available, we could have and should have brought the K-12 per-pupil funding up, at least, to the 2007-08 level. We could have given all K-12 teachers a 10% raise, eliminated the pre-k waiting list, expanded broadband into rural areas and created job ready sites for economic development. We could have expanded slots for developmentally disabled and avoided yet another cut to in mental health services. We could have protected the investments tax-payers have made over the past 50 year in programs the private sector depends on to grow a healthy economy.
Instead, Republican cut taxes and future revenue by $590 million with most of the benefit going to the wealthiest individuals and corporations in the state. This decision was more than misguided; it was irresponsible. As a result of the cuts – that will amount to $1 billion when fully implemented, the economist who advises state legislators reduced his revenue forecast for 2019 and 2020 from 4% growth each year to 2% and 1.7% respectively. Our fiscal staff alerted legislators that we could face revenue shortfalls in the coming years.
Budget Highlights – Education
This budget does reduce the wait-list for our Pre-K program, but leaves roughly 4,000 children un-served. Talk about penny-wise and pound-foolish. Pre-K is one of the best investments we can make. The money we spend here returns tremendous investments for our kids and our economy down the road.
For K-12 education, North Carolina invested less per pupil this year than we did last year. The budget includes a 3.3% pay raise for teachers, but it is not uniform. Some teachers get more, but others get much less. The promised funds to hire new early grade teachers and keep art/music/PE teachers are not included forcing schools to raise class sizes or give up art, music and PE.
This budget does include an additional $53 million for community colleges in 2017-18 and $73 million in 2018-19. But, there is no funding for NC GROW scholarships, Governor Cooper’s proposal for free community college scholarships to high school graduates with unmet financial needs.
Good schools lead to good jobs; but investing in job creation goes beyond education. The importance of these investments is particularly critical in rural areas and economically struggling areas of North Carolina. Internet connection is now just as important to economic development as good roads were in the last century; but this budget fails to include any money to expand rural broadband. Farmers and small businesses need better Internet access to market their products and create jobs. Everyone needs better Internet for education and to connect to the world.
The budget gives almost all state employees a $1,000 raise for FY 2017/18. Retirees receive a 1% cost of living adjustment. Unfortunately, there is no raise for FY 2018/19. Nor is there funding to offset the coming increase in health insurance premiums.
The opioid crisis is more critical than most people know. It continues to grow and consume more of our health care cost. That drives up the cost for everyone. This budget includes $15 million in federal grant funding to begin building an effective statewide response. Given the tax cut, it is not clear that recurring state funds will be available to continue the program; it is unlikely the federal grant funds will be renewed.
We need to do all we can to combat the opioid crisis both for welfare of our citizens and our communities, but also because progress we make now saves us from much bigger costs down the road – crime, break up of families, job loss, and more.
The Bottom Line
The budget prioritizes tax cuts above all else. When fully-phased in, there will be over a billion dollars less in recurring revenue to invest in education and job creation.
I voted No on this budget. As we go into the future, North Carolina cannot afford to leave any citizen behind. To do that, we need a budget that puts public schools and job creation first. Governor Cooper did that in his budget and he did it without raising taxes or fees. I will continue to vote No until we have a budget that suits the needs of North Carolina's future.
How to Engage
It's tough to keep track of what is happening. Here are some ways to stay involved.
1. Call me or my legislative assistant Gina Insko at 919-733-7208 or email me at Inskola@ncleg.net with How can I get involved in the subject line.
2. Follow us on Twitter at @verlainsko and Facebook at Verla Insko.
3. Visit ncleg.net where you can see bills, listen to session, and see daily calendars.
4. Help us spread the word on social media or by forwarding this newsletter and other alerts or key news items.
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.