Opinion

Editorial: A budget should reflect aspiration to excellence not mediocrity

Thursday, June 24, 2021 -- When the state treasury is blessed with a large surplus, as it is now, that doesn't mean the state has been taxing too much or too little. Nor does it mean that the state is spending too much or too little. What it does mean is that leaders must look closely at what the state does promise to provide its citizens and assess whether it is devoting the resources necessary to fulfill that commitment.

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CBC Editorial: Thursday, June 24, 2021; Editorial #8679
The following is the opinion of Capitol Broadcasting Company.

When state Sen. Phil Berger and others became members of the North Carolina General Assembly they took an oath and swore to “be faithful and bear true allegiance to the State of North Carolina.” Adherence to other beliefs, ideals or partisanships take a back seat.

Providing children with quality public schools staffed by well-paid educators, looking after the health and wellbeing of the state’s residents – these are among the most basic elements in upholding their pledge.

Too many of our public schools are not providing the quality education our State Constitution promises every child. Yet, looking at the budget Berger and his fellow Republicans are steamrolling through the Senate this week, that nonpartisan assessment and the court order to remedy it will continue to be ignored.
“Republicans believe that every child possesses the ability and intellect to create their own success in life. Some children come from wealthy, two-parent households. Some come from poor, broken homes. Many fit somewhere in between. But the circumstances of birth don’t determine innate ability, and each child deserves an equal opportunity to develop their God-given talents via a publicly funded education," Berger wrote in an op-ed. To that end, Republicans created the (voucher) Opportunity Scholarship program with grants to less fortunate children so they, too, can attend private schools previously reserved for the wealthy if they so choose.”

There you have it, Berger says. The answer isn’t uplifting public education. It’s shipping kids out to private schools where there is little accountability to how taxpayer dollars are spent, whether students are learning anything and even if EVERY child has equal access to all of those so-called opportunities.

That confessed approach – dodge actually -- to addressing the Constitutional right to quality education is a denial of what this states founders intended.

“A huge surplus doesn't mean we're spending too little. It means we're taxing too much. You spend your money, people spend their money better than the government does,” Berger said as he unveiled the spending plan. When the government taxes too much, we have a duty to either return it to the people for a refund or cut the rate of taxes. That's what we're doing here.”

When the state treasury is blessed with a large surplus, as it is now, that doesn’t mean the state has been taxing too much or too little. Nor does it mean that the state is spending too much or too little.

What it does mean is that leaders must look closely at what the state does promise to provide its citizens and assess whether it is devoting the resources necessary to fulfill that commitment.

For much of the last decade our schools, our public health, our infrastructure, public lands, have not had the attention and resources to keep up, much less provide the excellence citizens deserve and that should be the goal.

That doesn’t mean some taxes can’t or shouldn’t be cut. But cutting taxes should NOT be the first reflex – as it is with Berger and his followers in the state Senate.

The first reaction to a surplus should be to examine what needs are unmet. What obligations are unfulfilled, what has been neglected or so well-worn that it needs repair and renewal.

The budget state Senate leaders have proposed doesn’t reflect that obligation.

There is no denying that North Carolina has unmet needs and responsibilities.

To make the determination that things are fine as they are is to be in a state of denial.

Such thinking leads to the kind of budget the Senate leaders have produced.

It is a manifesto for mediocrity.

It is an invitation to Gov. Roy Cooper to take control of the situation and order his budget office to provide for the needs of the state regardless of the legislature’s obstinance.

Let the legislators bellyache. Let them go to court.

Let them stand before a judge and explain:

  • What is being done to bring access to quality education to every student? Why do legislators ignore a court order? What is wrong with it?
  • Why don’t public school teachers and other state workers deserve better than a 1.5% pay hike? Cooper’s budget found the money for raises that range from 5% to 7.5%.
  • Expanding Medicaid will help North Carolinians most in need – and save the state as much as $500 million. What kind of economic sense does it make not to do this?
  • Why are tax cuts – particularly for corporations that don’t need them – a higher priority than meeting the obligations of their oaths?
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