Each year the NC General Assembly meets to review the financial needs of the state, producing a full budget every other year and allowing for amendments in the year between. In 2017 a full two year budget was passed by the NCGOP but overridden by Governor Cooper for failing to fully invest wisely in the needs of North Carolinians. This year, the GOP took the unprecedented step of gutting an old bill which was in limbo, and used that shell to craft their own budget adjustments in a closed door conference committee, with no Democrats present. Because of this procedural sleight of hand, the bill was only eligible for a yes/no vote, with no opportunity for amendments or recommendations made from the floor. It was a complete and total silencing of the voices of all citizens who are represented in Democratic districts, as well as Republicans who were not included on the conference committee drafting the plan.
With the GOP supermajority’s current veto override powers we are left with an unrepresentative group of legislators prioritizing their ideological pursuits over the majority of voters in NC. (The effects of gerrymandering reach deep and touch everyone.)
Below we have provided key areas to review about how the budget was created and the impact on North Carolina. Use this background information as you make calls to your legislators or as talking points when speaking with other voters leading up to November’s election.
Historical Lack of Due Process and Budget Transparency
CBC Editorial 5/29/18: Is NC in the Hands of Dictators?
N&O Editorial Board 5/26/18: Cut from the NC budget: Democracy
WRAL.com on 5/31/18: Acrimonious Budget Debate Roils House
This move is clearly a political gambit from the GOP who don’t want to be targeted before November with accusations of what amendments they voted against. In the words of Dallas Woodhouse, NCGOP Executive Dir: “The Democrats voting no on this budget, while bad for the people of North Carolina, will absolutely expand our target list,” he said. “If they don’t vote for it, they suffer the consequences.” Voting in November 2018 for candidates who denounce this process and lack of good governance is critical. Every issue of importance to our state, from education to healthcare to clean water to school safety and more, depends on it.
From the NC Budget Accountability and Transparency Reform Initiative:
” As such, the State’s budget must be clear, transparent, and credible if it is to serve as a basis of accountability to its citizens. Therefore, it is the intent of the General Assembly to provide flexibility and support to the Governor in continuing efforts to effectuate the necessary changes to the structure and presentation of the State budget. The purpose of the Budget Accountability and Transparency Reform Initiative established by this section is to ensure the highest level of transparency for meaningful review of the State budget by all citizens of the state.” – Section 6.3(a)
Concerning Issues Included in the 2018-19 GOP Budget Bill
- Radically alters the education funding formula to let local governments divert public school funding to private and for-profit charter schools. Combined with the bill allowing Matthews and Mint Hill to secede from their school district (see below), this enables municipal public funds to actually contribute towards segregation.
- Why this is bad:
- The class size mandate created by the state can now be argued that it can be funded by the use of local taxes.
- Charter schools can now ask the local governments for revenue to use for their for-profit resources.
- It will allow for the segregation of school system populations with tax-payer money.
- It will create an even bigger divide between wealthier and poorer counties.
- It goes against the Leandro Decision to provide every child an equitable quality education regardless of their zip code.
- And from Thomas Mills of PoliticsNC:
- Ultimately, the GOP legislators will almost certainly tell towns and counties, “If you want more for your schools, raise the property tax, but don’t ask us.” They’ve been trying to slowly place the burden for school funding on local government for years. This policy is just more dramatic.
- North Carolina made a smart decision back in the Great Depression to put the responsibility for schools in the hands of the General Assembly. In a state that has pockets of extreme poverty, the measure ensures that low-income areas can still offer quality education for their children. It’s enshrined in the state constitution and is essential to maintaining good public schools in North Carolina.
- Why this is bad:
- Encourages racial segregation in Charlotte schools,
- Allows the wealthy towns of Matthews and Mint Hill to secede from the Charlotte-Meck school district and create their own charter schools.
- Gives more funding for school supplies to schools in one senator’s district, while other schools go without.
- Once again leaves veteran educators with almost no pay raise
- Virtual charter schools pilot extended from four years to eight. North Carolina has two virtual charter schools. Both are considered very low-performing. Now both will get another four years.
- Even provides $25,000 in funds for constructing a specific charter school’s classrooms in Rep. Blackwell’s district of Burke Co. Rep. Blackwell happens to be on several Education Appropriations and Oversight committees.
- Raids $50 million in early childhood development funding to pay for anti-abortion pregnancy clinics and Christian hunting clubs
- Triples the newborn screening fee — “birth tax”
- Doesn’t include funding to test rape kits requested by DOJ
- Eliminates funding for the Suicide Prevention Hotline
- This will hopefully be resolved in a technical correction but could have been avoided with more transparency upfront.
- Sabotages current and future public transportation projects
- Language added requires federal funding to be in place before state and local funding can be provided for light rail projects; however, federal language requires local funding to be in place first.
- Increases, but also cuts, funding for Higher Ed
- Phil Berger’s former science adviser, Jeff Warren, is receiving $5 million for a controversial environmental policy center he created, the NC Policy Collaboratory. The center did not ask for additional funding.
- NC Universities had funding cut.
- $250,000 to Cross Trail Outfitters, a Christian hunting and fishing group for boys ages 7 to 20. The money is coming from the budget for the Department of Health and Human Services, specifically from a pool of money for health projects that also goes to purposes like fighting the opioid epidemic.
- $100,000 to Onslow County to build a YMCA. Onslow County is the home of Sen. Harry Brown, a Republican who is the Senate majority leader. Brown did not respond to a request for comment as of Tuesday morning.
- $35,000 to the Forsyth Jail and Prison Ministries, a group that sends volunteers to the jail and prison near Winston-Salem “to help imprisoned men and women find Jesus Christ through study, through counseling, through worship and through actions.”
- $7,500 to All the Kings Children Foundation, a Christian group in Mount Olive that gives food and school supplies to kids from low-income families.
- $7,500 for Men of Faith, Integrity and Character, another group in Mount Olive that works with local schools.
This state legislature is clearly in the business of funding Christian special interest groups with public funds and making an effort to avoid scrutiny while doing it. Let’s remember what conservative voices have said regarding past NC State Budgets.
Conservative Voices on Past Budget Processes in NC
“Back in February (2017), Rep. Verla Insko (D-Orange) – who does not align with Americans for Prosperity on very many issues – filed a very simple bill that would have dramatically increased budget transparency. Her short bill would have simply added into law that, “Every special provision contained in the Current Operations Appropriations Act shall indicate the name of the member or members who requested the provision.” Simple!
Unfortunately, despite being sent to the state House Appropriations Committee on February 9th, the bill was never heard or debated. Rep. Insko also tried to amend the 2017 House Permanent Rules – the rules of the state House itself – to include her transparency language. This amendment also failed.
While tax cuts and overall controlled spending are great things for North Carolina taxpayers, we deserve to know our tax money is not being spent on pet projects. If a project is important enough to use public funds for, then a legislator should be proud to put their name on it.
Let’s hope Rep. Insko files her bill again, and that more legislators stand up to support greater transparency instead of backroom pork barrel deals.
From an earlier Civitas web post:
“North Carolina’s state government does a poor job of providing the transparency Jefferson saw as necessary to a democratic government. Citizens wishing to understand how their tax dollars are being spent encounter a complex myriad of lengthy and confusing data sources… This massive document is typically subjected to little or no discussion or public debate.
Making matters worse, the 2007 budget – not to mention previous budgets – included millions of dollars of appropriations inserted into the budget without prior discussion. While crafting the 2007 budget, the General Assembly repeatedly broke its own legislative rules, adding new pork projects that had not been debated on the floor, making major changes to budget provisions, and inserting new laws into the budget bill.
Greater transparency regarding state expenditures will empower taxpayers, activists, and the media by providing them with easily accessible details on state expenditures. Greater transparency will also enhance public debate regarding the size of North Carolina’s government.”
2017 Budget Summary – a reminder of what was proposed and finalized for the 2017-19 biennium budget.
Comparison of Governor Cooper’s recommended 2018-19 budget adjustments against the Senate and House plans.
SB99 2018 Budget Bill – a link to the actual bill finalized without opportunity for bi-partisan amendment. This bill was vetoed by Governor Cooper on June 6th, which will be overridden by the GOP supermajority.
Now is the time to invest – NC revenue surplus grows to $580.5 million as Senate finalizes budget, from the N&O