Debriefing yesterday’s Senate budget press briefing

You can watch yesterday’s press briefing here. Continue reading for additional context and fact-checking statements made at that event, and other budget items not mentioned at that time.

$6.5 billion in “excess revenue” because we’re “taxing too much”

Would you be proud of my family budget if I had a large savings account yet my children are hungry and their clothes are too small? If you’re a state GOP leader apparently that’s worth thumping your chest over.

NC GOP wants you to believe $6.5 billion in “excess revenue” is because we’re “taxing too much” not because we’re investing too little in public services such as our schools. The math throughout this post debunks that myth.

If we have “excess revenue” not related to lack of investment in the public good, then why is NC in need of adding $3.7 billion to fulfill the Leandro mandate to meet the constitutional requirement to offer a “sound, basic education?”

If we have “excess revenue” why are GOP Senators like Phil Berger and Deanna Ballard shirking their responsibilities and thumbing their noses at court orders to provide students with support?

We have a pristine credit score and excess revenue but apparently those are trophies for politicians, not tools for the public good.

Many students in NC learn in trailers yet Senate GOP leaders brag about “excess revenue” instead of doing much over their decade in power to offer the space (and health) of a brick-and-mortar classroom, including refusing to put a statewide school construction bond on the ballot. Our state is $8 BILLION behind in school infrastructure needs.

The GOP Senate budget proposal includes 1 full-time psychologist for every school DISTRICT…

…yet an NCGA study on student support staff in 2018 shows our state is woefully behind in student to support staff ratios.

You can read the full results of that study here. There is no initiative to address the needs identified in their own study with the “excess revenue” built on the backs of our students by shortchanging them.

“strong record of increasing education funding over time”

North Carolina has not yet restored funding support offered before the Great Recession. NC GOP likes to start the clock at 2013 when they began slow-walking restoring funding levels, but their ownership began in 2011 when they took the majorities in both NCGA chambers. Their first biennial budget continued cuts in education. Soon after they cut taxes slowing the recovery of per pupil expenditure.

As a result the Class of 2021’s peak of state support was the year they entered kindergarten and our state couldn’t even make it up to them by the time they graduated. Instead of giving our students more, they put them on the baker’s dozen plan of education funding.

“3% raise over biennium” for teachers

The 2020-21 schedule below is the same schedule from 2018-19 since there have been no raises beyond annual $1000 step increases since that time. The next two columns are the proposed $90-$130 annual raises offered by GOP Senators. Many educators have noticed $180 over the biennium doesn’t = 3%

To get to 3% GOP Senators include salary step increases (for those on the part of the salary schedule who actually get them). Berger cites the baked-in increases that have existed since 2018 as “raises.” That’s some fuzzy math.

courtesy Stu Egan caffeinatedrage.com

“We made several attempts to give larger raises” during the last budget cycle but Governor vetoed

Here is the breakdown of salary schedule proposals during the last budget cycle when NC GOP’s talking point was “something is better than nothing” aka their way or the highway on teacher pay. Governor Cooper didn’t veto teacher raises, he pushed for raises worthy of the label. In their desperation to override the veto, NC House Speaker Tim Moore disgraced our state with a surprise vote on September 11.

I’ve debunked the “Republican Record Raise Runaround” throughout this blog. See below for examples

“The increase in the education budget is somewhere around $500 million”

The WestEd Report prescribing a pathway for our state to meet its constitutional obligation to provide a “sound, basic education” calls for three times that amount in the next two years.

$13/hr minimum wage for noncertified employees in schools

Other state employees were offered $15/hr minimum wage in 2018. School employees were left out and this slow-walking what folks are due whether it’s students, faculty or staff is par for the course.

“There is no ongoing promise or mandate” that COLAs (cost of living adjustments) are provided to retirees

It’s interesting how the same party claiming we shouldn’t have too many laws but should just trust folks to do the right thing – hide behind lack of legal requirements to do the right thing.

During the press conference, Berger cited inflation concerns as he tried to defend keeping $5 billion in the rainy day fund and not using some money to offer better wages to current and retired state employees. It’s good to know he understands inflation as he leaves it out of most of his talking points that fall flat once inflation is accounted for (see above for per pupil funding & salary schedule).

Until the Great Recession, retirees received annual cost-of-living adjustments. Here’s what it looks like during the “decade long fiscal success story” under GOP leadership. The last two columns show actual inflation, the columns to the left show cost-of-living adjustments (not) offered to state retirees because apparently we can have “fiscal success” even without helping seniors keep their heads above water.

“Local LEAs have received over $5 billion from the federal government”

NC has 115 school districts that worked to meet the needs of students during a global pandemic. That $5 billion is one-time funding to supplement state and local funds for COVID-related needs, not meant to supplant state funding. Our Senators should understand this since in their budget they direct local governments not to use state money to supplant their obligations:

“Federal money allowed us both to cut taxes…and also dedicate billions of dollars to infrastructure projects without taking on any additional debt”

Sounds like using federal funds to offer tax breaks and supplant state funding obligations instead of using that “excess” $6.5 billion – that breaks a condition of accepting federal relief funds:

(PS NONE of NC’s GOP members of Congress voted in favor of the American Rescue Plan Act but you’d never notice the lack of GOP support for that law as GOP state Senators recite the laundry list of state projects it benefits.)

Expands private school vouchers despite its “excess funding” and shortage of interest

State leaders are confused about the terms “critical need” and “imperative” given the lack of interest in vouchers to unaccountable and discriminatory private schools given the $85 million surplus at last check, yet they want to add more money and extend the program.

Our state’s “critical need” is to support public schools as mandated by the constitution, and if the state thinks vouchers are an “imperative” then perhaps they should redirect their attention to the need for quality child care in our state to support families and our future students. It’s easier for a family of four to get a private school voucher for 13 years than it is to get their four-year-old into 1 year of NC Pre-K.

The Senate GOP budget wants to make it easier for families with higher incomes to get the vouchers the market signals have demonstrated they don’t want, and pay thousands to “sell” the unpopular program.

“Decade-long fiscal success story”

We’re below average in many measures, particularly related to funding effort on education, so it’s no wonder GOP would define “average” economic performance as a “fiscal success story.”

https://www.ncjustice.org/publications/north-carolinas-tax-cuts-failed-to-boost-economic-growth/

We’ve given up billions already to tax cuts with nothing to show for it (as seen above) except underfunded public services.

We cannot afford another decade of gaslighting North Carolinians into believing our state has met fiscal success and is meeting its obligations.

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