North Carolina needs a budget. With half the fiscal year gone (the year began July 1, 2019) we are operating with a budget that is more than a year old. Even routine inflation renders a negative outcome, never mind the burgeoning needs of a growing state that must limp along on 2018 numbers.
Reaching a compromise to pass a budget should have been the primary objective for our elected leaders when they returned for the special session last week at the General Assembly. Instead, they adjourned without even taking a vote to override the Governor’s veto of their ill conceived budget from last summer. Those in charge remained determined to override the governor’s veto of their ill-conceived budget from last summer. When that override effort appeared doomed to fail, they adjourned.
At the very least, a budget conversation should include funding the social safety net that helps protect some of our most vulnerable citizens. One important knot to tie in that net could be accomplished with Medicaid expansion.
By now, most people understand the evidence from the 37 states that have expanded Medicaid, evidence that shows such expansion has economic stimulus ripples that go far beyond the half million people who will suddenly have access to affordable health care. The multiplying effect of Medicaid expansion creates a win for N.C. that should overrule concerns that we are contributing to the federal deficit by taking this money. Clearly, concerns about the federal deficit, unfounded anyway, haven’t bothered the other 37 state legislatures.
Another potential win for the budget designers and a strong knot for our social safety net is to fund adequately public education. This funding should include responsible raises for our teachers and support staff, appropriate per pupil spending in line with other states (we currently rank 42nd), and renovation and construction of facilities. Due to years of neglect, current estimates of what’s needed to achieve adequate funding run as high as a further $8 billion over eight years. Of course, the corporate tax cut enacted with the 2018 budget–the one we are still using–siphoned off a huge chunk of revenue that could have been used to start the process.
The recently released report by WestEd, an independent research organization appointed in the landmark Leandro v. State case, confirms that N.C. continues to fail to meet its constitutionally mandated requirement for every child to receive the opportunity for a sound basic education. Much of that because of inadequate funding.
A detailed education report, an election year, a missing budget . . . Voters should ask legislators and candidates about their fiscal commitments when this year’s campaigns for General Assembly seats get under way.
Funding for the public good rests on the premise that tax revenue should benefit everyone in N.C., not merely those who live in the “right” zipcode. When we rip the fabric of our social safety net, the most vulnerable are the first to suffer.
Testimony within the Christian scriptures confirms that God hears these cries, in fact, that God privileges the cries of the vulnerable. Such privileges come with a call to the faithful to enact systems that are fair and life-giving for all our neighbors. Our elected leaders’ task remains to pass a budget ensuring every one of us in N.C. have the ability to flourish into our God-given potential. We’ve got a long way to go, but two important pieces lie within our grasp. Expand Medicaid. Fund public education. Tie the knots tighter for our social safety net.
We should vote only for those willing to make it so.