The Follies (of McCrory’s forgettable budget)

The Follies (of McCrory’s forgettable budget)

- in Fitzsimon File

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The summary released this week with Governor Pat McCrory’s budget recommendations for the next two years starts out with a falsehood.

The first sentence in the first section of the highlights of the budget says “No tax increases are proposed in this budget.”  But that is simply not true. McCrory wants to raise the state gas tax by stopping a scheduled reduction in the tax this summer.

Motorists in North Carolina will pay higher gas taxes if McCrory’s budget is adopted. That is a tax increase.

There is a rationale for it.  The state needs more funding for transportation. Bills have passed the House and Senate to raise the gas tax in a similar way.  McCrory ought to at least be honest about it instead of starting out the description of his spending recommendations disingenuously.

It’s a theme that runs throughout the budget and the spin about it from the governor’s office. McCrory touted how much the budget increases spending on education, but more than $100 million of the new funding would pay for the more than 17,000 additional students expected to enroll next year.

The budget also includes funding for keeping teacher assistants in the classrooms, the ones who are still there after several years of cuts.

McCrory apparently expects praise for simply funding the ongoing expenses of the public schools.

Another big chunk of the proposed increase in education funding goes to fulfill a promise to raise the salary of starting teachers to $35,000.

There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s the least the state can do, but McCrory’s budget would again leave many veteran teachers without much of a raise at all, which won’t do much to stem the tide of teachers leaving North Carolina for other states or leaving the classroom altogether.

And, as the N.C. Association of Educators pointed out, there’s nothing extra in McCrory’s plan to help  schools with high percentages of low-income students who recently were branded with a grade of F in the recent debut of a new school grading system. The schools get the stigma, but no assistance to help their students who are struggling.

Higher education doesn’t fare well in McCrory’s budget either. The budget funds enrollment increases at the university system but then imposes another $50 million cut after several years of deep budget reductions.

McCrory wants to raise tuition again at community colleges and there’s nothing in his budget for raises for faculty at universities or community colleges, which is a priority for community college system president Scott Ralls.

Most rank and file state employees will also not receive a raise under McCrory’s plan, though there’s a pool of money for raises for some workers in hard to fill positions.

McCrory also wants to spend $155 million on economic incentives and tax breaks, and the House and Senate have already passed competing bills expanding corporate incentives.

There some other small increases in individual programs but not many. The budget doesn’t replace many of the damaging cuts made in the last four years. There are no new major initiatives, no defining programs or signature investments.

It’s a cautious, lackluster, disappointing proposal.  McCrory and State Budget Director Lee Roberts called the budget plan tight and said it reflected tough choices—but as Alexandra Sirota with N.C. Budget & Tax Center pointed out, the tough choices were self-inflicted by the massive tax cut for corporations and the wealthy passed in 2013, the cost of which has ballooned to more than $700 million a year and it’s still climbing.

Both House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger offered vague praise for McCrory’s proposal, which seemed fitting somehow.  The legislative leaders are putting their own budget together anyway.

It’s too bad McCrory didn’t give them something better to start with.