Editorial: New NC budget - poor management, failed responsibilities, missed opportunities
Posted June 23
A CBC Editorial: Friday, June 23, 2017; Editorial # 8177
The following is the opinion of Capitol Broadcasting Company
They can try all they want. They can spin gullible reporters, political partisans and unsuspecting citizens all they can. They can desperately try to portray a distorted picture of the slap-dash, ideologically slanted North Carolina budget as a masterpiece.
In the end, the budget the leaders of the General Assembly have dictated is a monument to bad management.
It falls damagingly short of serving even the most basic of the state’s priorities. It ill-serves our public education system, those most in need and sells short agencies and individuals seeking to make North Carolina a better place to live and prosper.
Effective business leaders invest in their employees, provide a work environment that encourages success, set high standards, focus on the future and are positive about the companies they run.
In the General Assembly, the leadership denigrates the state’s employees, short changes the resources they need to do their jobs well, cuts the benefits of new employees (and makes working for the state even less attractive), and rarely misses opportunities to bad-mouth the government and taxpayers who finance their mismanagement.
This malfeasance is aided and abetted by an organization that should be leadership’s harshest foe – the North Carolina Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber has sold its soul, and the state’s economic viability, in return for short-sighted cuts in corporate income and other business taxes, a third-world minimum wage and a neglected workforce.
To spin the notion of bipartisan support for their budget, legislative leaders dumped pork barrel spending into the districts of nine of the 61 Democratic legislators in the effort to buy their backing. Democratic senators voting for the bill were: Ben Clark of Cumberland County; Don Davis of Pitt County; Joel Ford of Mecklenburg County; and Erica Smith-Ingram of Northampton County. House Democrats voting for the budget were: William Brisson, Bladen County; Elmer Floyd, Cumberland County; Howard Hunter, Hertford County; Marvin Lucas, Cumberland County and Michael Wray, Northampton County.
Most emblematic of the legislators disregard for civic responsibility is the MILLIONS of voucher dollars they are throwing at private schools while per-student funding of public schools, when adjusted for inflation, has dropped from $6,716 in 2008-09 to $6,115 in 2016-17 and the state’s per-student spending ranks a paltry 43rd nationally. On top of that, legislators are adding millions more for “personal education savings accounts.” This program gives qualifying parents a cash card loaded with money to spend on broadly defined education-related needs for children with disabilities.
The voucher program has sent tens of millions of taxpayer dollars to private schools across North Carolina without a care as to how the money is used; whether the schools have any standards; are accredited; are properly established businesses; demonstrate students’ education progress; or are even schools at all. Nor is there any requirement that they follow state and federal law. Many of the schools receiving taxpayer dollars openly discriminate on the basis of religion, race, gender and whether the students or their parents are LGBTQ.
Even as the state’s top recipient of private school vouchers is embroiled in an investigation into embezzlement of nearly $400,000 in employee tax withholdings, legislators have voted to increase voucher funding to $54.9 million in the 2018-19 school year. A token effort at providing some small notion of accountability – to test student learning that was in the House version of the budget -- was stripped from the final budget deal.
Gov. Roy Cooper has stopped short of promising to veto this disastrous budget. Frankly it would be mere symbolism. Even without the microscopic “bipartisan” backing the budget has received, the Republican majority alone has plenty of votes to override a veto.
But that shouldn’t be the end. We urge Cooper to hearken to the example Republican Gov. Jim Martin set 32 years ago. The then Democratic majority in the General Assembly (much akin to the way today’s GOP majority behaves) would send millions in pork barrel funding to private agencies and programs without any accountability. Martin ordered his budget office to review each item to be sure the spending met all state constitutional and legal public purpose requirements, the agencies accounted for how the state funds were spent and that the agencies were established businesses.
Cooper’s budget office should examine the business operation and education credentials of each and every school receiving vouchers to be sure they meet the appropriate legal standards BEFORE they receive funding. We have little doubt, unfortunately, the result will be the exposure of waste, fraud and abuse – and a trail of irresponsibility that leads to the top leaders of the General Assembly.