The stories are coming fast and furious now. The Winston-Salem Journal reports that schools in Rockingham County, the home of Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, don’t have enough textbooks to go around and there’s no money to make copies or even buy toilet paper for the bathrooms.
School officials are searching for a warehouse to collect donated classroom supplies. The public schools are the new struggling charity in town.
The Charlotte Observer reports that the state court system is almost paralyzed by lack of funding. The courts, already woefully behind in technology, have experienced a 25 percent cut in technology staff in the last five years.
The percentage of criminal cases more than two years old has doubled in the last four years, leaving defendants and victims waiting for justice. The percentage of civil cases that old have tripled, leaving businesses unable to resolve legal disputes they must address before they can expand or increase their investments in their communities.
Money to pay jurors will run out in a few months, long before the end of the fiscal year.
Thousands of low-income parents across the state are finding out they will no longer receive child care subsidies that allow them to work or go back to school to learn a marketable skill. The leaders of the General Assembly changed the eligibility guidelines to save money. That’s why they cut education budgets too and refused desperate pleas from court officials for more funding. They had a massive tax cut for the wealthy and corporations to pay for and the bill is growing.
When lawmakers passed the great tax shift of 2013 that gave millionaires a $10,000 tax break, they told us it would cost the state $513 million in the current fiscal year of 2014-2015. Since then the projected cost has risen to $704 million and may increase to a billion dollars before year’s end.
That’s a lot of textbooks, court technology and day care subsidies.
And it was not supposed to be this way according to someone who has the final say, Governor Pat McCrory. McCrory told the General Assembly in his State of the State speech in 2013 that any tax reform must be revenue neutral, that it must bring in the same amount of money that the tax system was generating for the state before the changes were made. And yet the tax legislation that McCrory signed last year is now at least $700 million away from neutral and he knew it was out of balance when he signed it.
That decision, to break his commitment to a revenue neutral tax plan, ranks among the most devastating of the long list of bad choices made by state leaders in the last few years.
That’s not even taking into account the startling regressive nature of the tax changes that gives millionaires their windfall while ending the state Earned Income Tax Credit that helps low-wage workers. More than two-thirds of the 2013 tax cuts are going to the wealthiest one percent of North Carolinians.
The tax cuts were a disaster all on their own, apart from the benefits directed to the wealthy, because of the cuts they forced lawmakers to make in state services to pay for them, from schools to courts to safety net programs like child care and low-income housing.
McCrory has never said much about breaking his commitment, other than one clumsy and belated effort to redefine what revenue neutral means. He was right the first time. The last thing the state needed after the Great Recession devastated state revenues and forced deep budget cuts was to force another round of cuts on its own by slashing revenues again. But that’s exactly what the General Assembly did and what Gov. McCrory allowed with his signature on the tax shift bill in 2013.
Senator Jeff Tarte told the Charlotte Observer recently that financially-strapped state agencies are asking lawmakers for money the state doesn’t have and that the budget process “operates like a United Way” with everybody making requests. But the United Way doesn’t start out by giving away half its available resources to the wealthiest families in town and then throw up its hands at all the requests for assistance from soup kitchens and say there’s not money available to help.
The top economist at the General Assembly recently confirmed that state revenues are running almost $200 million below projections for the year. And that’s even after adjusting once for the rising costs of the 2013 tax cuts.
It’s too bad Governor McCrory didn’t live up to his commitment in 2013. You will be reading about the repercussions of that decision for years to come in stories about desperate schools, paralyzed courts, and struggling families in your community.