Budget doesn’t fare well for growth concerns

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The budget approved by the NC General Assembly last week is cause for concern for the issues WakeUP works to advance. Water quality and environmental protection are at risk as the Department of Environmental Quality (already struggling to meet its mission because of large past cuts) will be hit with another significant cut, this year of $2 million. Legislators, however, are spending precious state funds on a chemical algae treatment for Jordan Lake expected to be another “Solar Bee” boondoggle.

While most teachers and principals fortunately will receive some type of pay increase or bonus (bringing NC to 35th in teacher pay), overall funding for the classroom is still austere. Funding only will be 1.8% higher than pre-recession spending (adjusted for inflation and growth). While teachers and principals are challenged to deliver higher student achievement, school resources are inadequate, and thousands of teacher assistants have been cut from schools. Per public spending is still 6.7% below pre-recession levels, and the budget does not include funds for “specials” — arts, music and PE — when class size restrictions take effect next year.

In transportation, WakeUP had advocated for removal of the cap on funding for commuter and light rail, but unfortunately Senate leaders put it back in place. However, a Senate provision that would have discouraged using state Transportation planning funds for bicycle transportation projects was reduced to a mild extra reporting requirement.

Overall, tax rate reductions mean many important programs will be cut this year and beyond as revenues decrease.