Republicans are crowing about the state’s revenue. John Hood notes that collections are up almost $900 million over expenditures. That maybe good if your primary goal is balancing the budget. However, we’re still in trouble if your goal is meeting the states needs.
We didn’t get to that surplus by accident. Over the past five years, the legislature cut funding for everything from public schools to unemployment insurance. Our budget outlook might be better but that’s because we’re we’re stiffing our students and the people who got hurt most in the Great Recession.
Now, the chickens are coming home to roost. A small article in the News & Observer notes that the dropout rate in public high schools increased for the first time in eight years. The cuts to unemployment insurance didn’t encourage people to get jobs; it forced them out of the labor market. As Kevin Rogers, director of policy and public affairs for the advocacy group Action NC, notes, “The share of employed North Carolinians actually fell well below the national average when we started out above the average.”
We already know that teachers are leaving the state because of poor pay and working conditions. We know that public universities are struggling in the wake of budget cuts. Now, we find that our workforce is shrinking and our our high school dropout rate is rising. We can cheer for smaller budgets but we must acknowledge that they come with a price.
Median household income is falling in North Carolina while per capita income is increasing. That means the benefits of the recovery are going to higher income families. GOP policies have harmed middle class and working class families and are increasing income disparity in our state. The jobs being created pay less and have less security.
North Carolina is certainly being transformed. The tax system is benefitting the wealthy and the programs that help economic mobility are suffering. The GOP is celebrating surplus revenue for an anemic budget while ignoring the investments we need to compete in the changing economy. If you were doing well economically, you’re probably doing better. If you were struggling economically, well, tough luck.