There’s something for almost everyone to dislike in the state budget. I’ve heard from folks saying legislators spent too much or spent too little but no one has said the spending was just right.
A little perspective may help.
A time bomb went off under the budget (not once but twice during the last six months) called Medicaid. Medicaid spending exploded, soaring to an additional $1.25 billion. Like kudzu, the cost of Medicaid grew like crazy.
Wait, you might say, Medicaid is a Washington program. It is. But the state has to pay part of the cost and, this session, years of bungling and mismanagement flew home to roost.
Another issue received little attention – no one demonstrated or protested against the state’s ‘unfunded liabilities.’ But it’s a cold hard fact the state is obligated to pay $3.7 billion more than it has already to the State Retirement Fund to provide pensions for teachers and state employees. The state is also obligated to pay state employees’ future medical care – and that’s another whopping $29.6 billion ‘unfunded liability.’
Despite those hurdles, the new state budget spends more money on education than has ever been spent on education in North Carolina ($11.5 billion out of a total $20.6 billion budget). I know that’s not what Democrats like Reverend William Barber, who led the ‘Moral Monday’ protests, are saying. But what Republicans actually did this session was slow the increase in state spending – which is hardly a radical change.
The General Assembly cut taxes. The Democrats label it a tax cut for the rich. But, here again, the political rhetoric is wrong. The legislature cut taxes for everyone from single working mothers to small businessmen to retirees.
The Teachers Association doesn’t approve of the legislature ending teacher tenure – but most people in North Carolina are paid based on how well they do their job. Now teachers will now be awarded contracts based on the same principle. That’s a step in the right direction – it’s preferable to reward state employees and teachers based on how well they do their job, rather than give blanket pay raises.
The legislature funded new technologies to schools (like digital textbooks) and laid the groundwork for a new high school curriculum to teach more about technology, engineering, and other high-employment fields.
We also launched an innovative Opportunity Scholarships program to allow low-income parents who are unhappy with their children’s schools to seek other schools. The Democrats claim that will mean less money for public schools. But that’s more political rhetoric. It costs an average of $9,200 to educate a child in public schools. The maximum Opportunity Scholarship is $4,200. When a child accepts an opportunity scholarship and attends a private school, the difference ($ 5,000) stays with the public schools – meaning they have more net income.
I’ve heard from a lot of unhappy state employees and teachers – who did not receive a pay raise. I don’t know the right number for teacher’s pay but, right now, with an anemic economy it isn’t a time to raise taxes on struggling families. Hopefully, we have laid the groundwork for a stronger economy – which is the key to a brighter future.
Naturally, there were a lot of political charges thrown around during the session. Here are the key facts: The legislature didn’t cut spending. But it did cut how fast spending is increasing. It didn’t pass a tax cut for the rich – it cut taxes on almost everyone. Those aren’t, as some Democrats have charged, radical changes. They are reasonable steps in the right direction.