It will be up to the new Republican-controlled General Assembly and Gov. Bev Perdue to close an unprecedented shortfall in the state budget.
That hasn’t stopped others from offering their input, however.
Among those offering their own perspectives of how the state should make up for its estimated $3.5 billion budget shortfall, about a fifth of this year’s budget, are the left-leaning North Carolina Justice Center and the right-leaning John W. Pope Civitas Institute.
The Republicans who took control of the House and Senate promised voters they would close the gap in the budget without resorting to levying new taxes, or extending $1.3 billion in temporary taxes the Democrat-led General Assembly and Gov. Bev Perdue approved in 2009.
In North Carolina, about three-quarters of the budget goes toward public education and health and human services, so these would likely be the areas where the state would see the most cuts, should it come to that.
“To say it’s not going to hurt people and it’s going to be painless - that’s not the real world,” N.C. Sen. Jerry Tillman, who is expected to be an education budget-writer over the next two years, recently told the Associated Press. “The real world is that we can’t spend money we don’t have.”
In a Jan. 13 press release, the Pope Civitas Institute of Raleigh released a poll showing registered voters said they want the General Assembly to cut spending rather than raise taxes.
The poll of 600 registered voters revealed 83 percent would prefer spending cuts to tax hikes, 14 percent saying they wanted taxes raised and 2 percent who said they didn’t know.
Among party affiliations, 95 percent of Republicans and 79 percent of Democrats were in the “cut spending” category.
“Regardless of political party, voters support spending cuts, not increased taxes, in order to reconcile a record budget deficit in the midst of a weakened economy and continuing high unemployment,” Civitas Institute President Francis De Luca said in a press release.
When the question was narrowed to cutting education spending or raising taxes, however, 49 percent said they preferred cuts to raising taxes while 40 percent said they would support higher taxes.
The Civitas Institute has an interactive budget tool on its Web site, www.jwpcivitasinstitute.org. On it, one starts out with $0 out of $3.7 billion, and it allows someone to pick and choose from options such as, eliminate taxpayer subsidy for a program, along with a coinciding dollar value.
The tool also includes state employee salary reductions, with different options, and programs from Education, Arts & Culture and other state departments.
In its own appeals to state legislators, the N.C. Justice Center is asking the General Assembly to “take a balanced approach” between cutting spending and raising revenue.
“In the current economic context, North Carolina’s policymakers’ priority should be job creation,” a report released in December reads. “Even as they face a significant budget shortfall, the measures to address that shortfall must be considered in light of their impact on employment. A cuts-only approach will not only result in job losses, but would undermine public investments in public structures that are vital to ensure the long-term growth of the economy.”
In a January release entitled “No Stone Unturned,” the Justice Center offered eight strategies for addressing the budget gap:
Finding Efficiencies - Evaluate expenditures based on their goals and determine whether there are better, or more cost-effective, ways to reach those goals.
Eliminate Ineffective Tax Expenditures - Evaluate all special tax breaks, such as credits and deductions, and eliminate those that have not achieved their goals.
Improve Collections - Aggressively seek taxes due that are not being paid.
Raise Revenue Fairly - Ensure that low- and middle-income families don’t pay more than their fair share to close the revenue gap.
Prioritize When Making Cuts - Make careful decisions based on goals and effectiveness when budgets must be cut.
Rethink the Distribution of State and Local Responsibilities - Consider transferring some responsibilities to local governments, and provide them with the tax authority needed to fund those responsibilities.
Pay Close Attention to Future Impact - Ensure that today’s budget solutions don’t simply pass the buck, or make matters worse, for North Carolina’s future.
Reform the State’s Revenue System - Build a system that is adequate, stable and based on ability to pay.
The report described the task the General Assembly faces as not only closing the budget shortfall, but also “rebuilding the state’s economy.”
“Critical to that effort will be addressing the state’s fiscal challenges with forward-thinking proposals and comprehensive strategies that maintain the state’s public structures,” it reads.
Staff Writer Philip D. Brown can be reached at (910) 997-3111 ext. 15, or by e-mail at email@example.com