Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger placed a motion to override Gov. Cooper’s June veto of the 2019-2021 state budget bill on the Senate calendar this week and though no vote was taken last night, Berger’s action appears to make it possible that a vote could take place at virtually any moment.
The issue is surrounded by a great deal of speculation and intrigue for a variety of reasons – not the least of which is that an override motion requires a 3/5 vote to pass in a body in which Republicans hold a 29-21 advantage.
Add to this that a small handful of Democrats voted for the measure the first time around, that some members have remained tight-lipped about their intentions, that Republican leaders have been wooing Democrats with all sorts of policy and pork promises, and that the House has already succeeded in overriding the veto through the use of a rather stunning and unprecedented bit of trickery, and it all shapes up as a moment of high political drama.
Of course, it didn’t have to be this way. Throughout the summer, Republican leaders have refused to pursue the result that the state’s electorate clearly voted for last year when it ended several years of GOP legislative supermajorities – namely, a comprehensive compromise between the legislature and the Governor.
Instead, Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore have stubbornly resisted genuine, give-and-take negotiations in hopes of ramming through one last, hard-right state budget before a widely-forecast Democratic electoral wave approaches in 2020. Like U.S. Senate Republicans who are madly advancing every Trump judicial nominee as fast as they can, the strategy appears to be to get as much as possible done while the proverbial “getting is good.”
And make no mistake: if Berger and Moore do succeed, the negative impacts will be significant. Here are four that stand out:
#1 – Worsening an already inadequate and regressive tax structure – It often gets lost in the shuffle in the discussion of high-profile matters like teacher pay and Medicaid expansion, but it’s critical to remember that repeated GOP tax cuts have slashed North Carolina’s overall public investments dramatically over the last decade. When one looks at state spending as a share of total state income, the budget proposal is nearly 18% below North Carolina’s 45-year average and as much as 25% less than what the state spent on public structures and services in the boom years of the mid-1990’s.
And, of course, this decline in spending has been accompanied by a similar crash in the progressivity of the tax code. Today, low and moderate-income taxpayers pay significantly more of their income in state and local taxes than do the top 1%. The proposed tax cuts in the vetoed budget will only worsen this problem
#2 – Further undermining the state’s desperately underfunded public schools – As veteran education policy analyst Kris Nordstrom explained in July, there are myriad ways to illustrate the damage the state lawmakers are doing to North Carolina’s once-proud and now-threadbare public education system, but here are three that tell you about all you need to know:
- Overall, the conference budget would have left total school funding 2.9 percent below pre-Recession levels when adjusted for enrollment growth and inflation. This figure underestimates the actual budget pressures faced by North Carolina’s public schools, as schools’ largest cost drivers – salary and benefit costs – have increased faster than traditional measures of inflation.
- Of the 24 biggest allotments in FY 08-09, 20 of them remain below their pre-Recession levels (see tables here and here).
- North Carolina would continue to spend significantly less per pupil than South Carolina.
#3 – The Medicaid failure – It’s been thoroughly and repeatedly documented how the GOP budget’s failure to expand Medicaid will cost hundreds of lives, billions of dollars and thousands of jobs, but here’s another less-well-publicized fact: it will actually make the current system even more inadequate. As NC Budget and Tax Center analyst Suzy Khachaturyan explained this summer, the budget slashes funding for existing Medicaid by underfunding adjustments for anticipated enrollment and cutting millions in administrative funding.
#4 – Shortchanging our natural environment – At a time of a dire global environmental crisis, the proposed budget does little-to-nothing to tackle this vital issue. For instance, as Policy Watch’s Lisa Sorg reported in June, the Department of Environmental Quality had requested 37 new positions in the state environmental budget to address the crisis of perfluorinated compounds in drinking water supplies. The proposed budget adds just five additional full-time positions – only two of which are devoted to the critical roles of sampling and analysis.
The bottom line: There are dozens of other similar shortcomings in the budget – shortcomings predicated on a cramped ideology that devalues human wellbeing and public service in favor of tax cuts that benefit the well-off. Whether it becomes law in the coming days or not, one can only hope that it will serve as a low watermark in state policy debate for decades to come.