Friday Follies (of the budget aftermath and spin)

Friday Follies (of the budget aftermath and spin)

- in Fitzsimon File

The good news this Friday is that no legislators are standing on the floor of the state House or Senate making ridiculous claims about how much the Republican budget does for education. They have gone home for the weekend.

Before they left, House Speaker Thom Tillis, Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, and their top lieutenants continued to tout the budget as one that increases funding for public schools.

But that’s not what their own legislative staff says. An Associated Press story about the budget put it this way.

When the loss of $259 million in federal money used to hire 5,400 local school personnel is taken into account, the 115 districts combined would have $189 million less to work with next year, according to data provided by the General Assembly’s nonpartisan fiscal staff.

Sorry, but a cut of $189 million in education funding is not an increase.

Berger also tried to claim that lawmakers had no choice, telling WRAL-TV,

“The reality is, we have so many dollars to spend, and we have to make decisions based on what money is available “We don’t have the money to do everything.”

Nobody expects lawmakers to do everything but they surely could have done a lot more if they weren’t so determined to give a tax break to millionaires. The extent of that tax break, revealed by the News & Observer a few weeks ago, remains one of the most under discussed part of this year’s budget debate.

Last year’s Republican budget included a tax cut that was billed as a break for small business, but as it turns out thousands of the state’s wealthiest lawyers and other business partners will also receive the $3,500 break.

As you have read here before, Democratic Senator Clark Jenkins offered an amendment during the Senate budget debate to limit the tax cut to small businesses and use the money saved to keep teachers in the classroom and pay for compensation for eugenics victims.

Republicans refused to allow Senators to vote on the amendment, a decision that Berger has never really explained.

Most of the public debate about the budget has been about public school funding, but it makes bad decisions in plenty of other areas too, slashing funding for things like mass transit, public health programs, foster care funding, even highway maintenance. It abolished important and nationally recognized programs like the N.C. Teaching Fellows and the state’s drug treatment courts that save money and lives.

Governor Perdue must now decide if she will veto the budget that falls woefully short of her proposal to invest more in public schools.

Five House Democrats voted for the Republican budget. That is enough to override Perdue’s veto, though it’s not certain all five would stick with the Republicans in a showdown with the governor.

One question raised by Republicans during the budget debate that gave some Democrats pause is what would they recommend if this budget were defeated since the state’s fiscal year ends just eight days from now.

Rep. Deborah Ross responded that budget writers ought to go back to the drawing board and that is the obvious solution. If it took a little longer than eight days, nothing would shut down. There is a budget for next year already in place.

Taking another week or two to come up with more revenue to soften some of the cuts would be more than worth the time, though it seems likely this Republican General Assembly could ever muster the courage to confront their ideological funders and actually raise revenue with the sales hike that Perdue has proposed.

The obvious solution would be a supplemental budget bill that includes the amendment Jenkins offered on the Senate floor.

Limiting the tax cut to small businesses would give lawmakers $141 million to spend on schools eugenics, public health, and a few other key priorities.

It is not nearly enough and the budget would still fall well short of what it should accomplish but it would be better than the one that passed this week and lawmakers could pass the supplemental bill in a few days.

It is the least they can do.

The state cannot afford for this regressive budget to stand.

About the author

Chris Fitzsimon, Founder and Executive Director of N.C. Policy Watch, writes the Fitzsimon File, delivers a radio commentary broadcast on WRAL-FM and hosts "News and Views," a weekly radio news magazine that airs on multiple stations across North Carolina.