The best thing you can say about the House budget released this week is that it’s not the same as the dreadful Senate budget released two weeks ago.
The House plan does not kick thousands of aged, blind and disabled people off Medicaid or fire 7,500 teacher assistants or slash funding for hospitals and medical providers. It does not give a raise of 11 percent only to teachers who agree to give up their career status protections.
The Senate budget does all those things and more and House leaders deserve something for not stooping to the Senate’s base level, though praise doesn’t exactly seem to fit. Not being awful is hardly worthy of a compliment.
And the House budget makes unwise cuts of its own, most notably more reductions to the already strapped university system and the scandalously underfunded courts, and it counts on more than $400 million in reversions from state agencies—that’s legislative speak for an across the board cut to the operations of state government.
The House plan gives teachers a five percent raise that is not tied to giving up job protections, a step in the right direction, but pays for the increase with a cynical move that smacks of hypocrisy and the further shift of the cost of paying for state government to people who can least afford it.
The House proposes to double the advertising budget of the state lottery to sell enough tickets to raise enough money to pay for the teacher raise.
Studies are clear that low-income people play the lottery disproportionately. More advertising and more lottery ticket sales mean more money from families who can ill-afford to pay.
Republican legislative leaders and conservative think tanks know that’s true because they have been making that case for years as part of their opposition to creating and then expanding the state lottery.
Now they are reversing themselves and using the lottery to raise money that they would rather not raise honestly, with budget cuts or–more appropriately–with more tax revenue.
The additional lottery money built into the budget for next year is roughly the same as the cost of the next round of tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy that take effect January 1, 2014.
House leaders decided to prey on poor families with more aggressive lottery advertising rather than put off yet another tax cut for the rich and big corporations.
It’s a disturbing choice on its own. It’s startling when you consider the longtime opposition to the lottery by most Republicans. Just last year many Republican House members wanted to lower the percentage of the lottery’s budget spent on advertising.
Governor Pat McCrory railed against lottery ads in his State of the State speech last year, asking lawmakers to direct some of what he called the “bloated and annoying” advertising budget to pay for school technology.
All that seems to be forgotten now in a House budget that still makes too many cuts to vital state institutions and services and funds teacher raises and tax breaks for the wealthy on the backs of low-income families.
Many health care and education advocates understandably breathed a sigh of relief with the release of the House budget, which at first glance seemed far better than the Senate’s draconian proposal.
But House leaders are playing their own regressive game with people’s lives, demanding more from people least able to afford it because they can’t find the political courage to raise revenue honestly.
The House budget is better than the Senate budget. There’s no question about that. But the House plan is not about progress or helping people. It’s about cynical politics, pure and simple, and we deserve better.
Chris Fitzsimon is founder and executive director of N.C. Policy Watch, a progressive think tank affiliated with the North Carolina Justice Center.