The elephant in the budget

The elephant in the budget

- in Fitzsimon File

House Speaker Thom Tillis made a revealing comment at a news conference Wednesday that was held to urge Governor Bev Perdue to sign the budget lawmakers passed last week that Perdue accurately points out slashes overall funding for public education by $190 million.

Tillis admitted that the cuts could affect 3,000 positions in schools across the state. The budget the Republican leadership passed last year cost schools more than 3,000 teachers and teacher assistants.

Twelve thousand more students are showing up at school this fall with 6,000 fewer teachers and teacher assistants to help them. That’s why Perdue’s balking at signing the budget.

Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger appeared with Tillis before reporters and both took turns blasting Perdue and listing all the bad things that could happen if she vetoed the budget bill and they couldn’t muster enough votes to override it.

Neither discussed the obvious alternative, that they make adjustments to their budget to provide more funding for schools and while they are it, add compensation for victims of the state’s horrific eugenics program to their revised plan.

Both the Republican leaders claimed they didn’t have the money to increase education funding or do anything else. That raises the other issue that neither Berger nor Tillis want to talk about, the tax cut passed last year billed as a break for small businesses that is also going to wealthy lawyers and business equity partners.

The plan was to allow the owners of companies with up to $825,000 in annual revenue a break from paying taxes on their first $50,000 of income. That comes to roughly $3,500. But that cap was dropped as the tax break made its way through the legislative process last session and was not included in budget bill when it finally passed.

That means the tax cut will cost the state $336 million, with roughly $150 million going to wealthy lawyers and business partners, not mom and pop operations. Neither Berger nor Tillis have ever offered any explanation for why the cap was lifted or why they didn’t reinstate it this year and use the savings to offset the school cuts.

Tillis told the News & Observer earlier this month that he thought the tax cut only went to small businesses. Whether that was true or not, he knows now that millionaires are getting it and he has done nothing to address it.

Berger too continues to refer to the tax cut as a break for small business and his chief of staff also joined in on the disingenuousness, tweeting Wednesday that folks opposed to the tax cut must want hairdressers and truck drivers to pay higher taxes.

Folks opposed to the tax cut understand the idea behind giving a break to small businesses. That’s a legitimate public policy position worthy of debate.

But it’s hard to see how anyone can defend giving millionaires another $3,500 when the budget is firing teachers, ignoring eugenics victims and denying at-risk four-year-olds the chance to enroll in pre-k programs.

Democratic Senator Clark Jenkins offered an amendment during the Senate budget debate to cap the tax cut and use the money saved for schools and eugenics victims. Senate leaders used a parliamentary maneuver to bury it without a vote.

They chose millionaires over teachers and eugenics victims.

There’s still time for Tillis and Berger to realize the error of their ways and cap the tax cut to provide the funding to end this budget impasse and keep teachers in the classroom.

Schools need the money far more than the state’s wealthiest lawyers.

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.