July 2015:  Bob Simmons joined Council for Children’s Rights in April 2015 as executive director.  He shares a few thoughts on the  North Carolina State budgets now being proposed.

photo 1The NC House released its proposed budget in mid-May, and the NC Senate released its proposed budget in mid-June. Now the chambers will work to reconcile the differences.

In general, the House proposal is not generous to children and families, and the Senate proposal is even less generous.  Both continue a pattern of cutting taxes on those who can most afford to pay and cutting services to those who most need the help.

There are some positive developments in the two budget proposals, including identical increases in funding for Nurse Family Partnership programs and increases in the age of foster care (21 in the Senate and 19 in the House), but the negative far outweighs the positive.

Here are three examples of critical differences between the House and Senate proposals:

  1. While the House came up with $5 million to replace non-recurring funding and to maintain the current level of NC Pre-K, the Senate allocates only $2.3 million, resulting in the loss of 520 seats for low-income children.
  2. The same penny-wise and pound-foolish theme holds true in the Senate’s lack of adequate funding for K-12 schools, where $223 million of cuts over the next two years removes 13,881 teaching assistants from the State’s classrooms. The House funds these positions.
  3. The Senate also cuts $185 million from the agencies providing mental health services. Mental health services for our children are already inadequate, and these proposed cuts appear to demonstrate a disregard for the welfare of the State’s children, especially the State’s least affluent children. The House funds these services.

Incongruously, the Senate proposes an increase of $20.1 million (11% increase) in community programs to support the therapeutic function of juvenile court. While this is a positive development for the children who will be served, the cuts in preschool seats, teaching assistants, and mental health services mean that more of today’s children are likely to become tomorrow’s court-involved juveniles with needs that will far outstrip our future will and ability to provide and to pay for the community programs that will be necessary. Sound public policy would address both paying the current costs of past neglect and investing in prevention to reduce those costs in the future.

Finally, there are two other items in the Senate proposal that could have an effect on the Council and the children we serve:  (1) revising the formula for the distribution of sales tax among NC Counties, and (2) capping itemized deductions on personal income taxes at $20,000.

The sales tax redistribution will cost Mecklenburg County roughly $33 million per year in sales tax revenue generated in Mecklenburg County that will now be sent to more rural counties. The extent of the effect of this revenue reduction on services to our community’s children is uncertain, depending on whether local property taxes are increased to offset the difference and, if not, on where the cuts fall.

The itemized deduction limit will reduce the tax incentive of donors to the Council to give the kinds of larger contributions that are essential to sustaining the agency and our work for children. We are not alone in our concern about this provision; it affects all non-profits. The combination of an across-the-board reduction of contributions to non-profits providing social services to our neediest neighbors with the broad government service cuts to that same population is likely to increase the need for our services while reducing the funds we receive to provide them.

In addition to the immediate negative impact of the proposed budget cuts on children and families today, both budgets trade short-term savings for the inevitably greater long-term costs of perpetuating structural disadvantages.

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