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What’s best use of $500 million?

You can have your opinion about teacher pay, other spending and tax cuts – we certainly have ours. But here are the facts:

• North Carolina cut personal income taxes and corporate income taxes last Jan. 1. Those tax cuts will reduce state revenue in the current budget year by at least $500 million and possibly by closer to $1 billion. Most of that money went to the state’s wealthiest taxpayers.

• North Carolina is scheduled to cut taxes further this coming Jan. 1. Those cuts will reduce state revenue by about $300 million in the 2015 calendar year, according to the N.C. Budget and Tax Center. Most of that money will go to the state’s wealthiest taxpayers.

• North Carolina ranks 48th in the nation in teacher pay, and dead last on what has happened to teacher pay over the past decade. The legislature would like to give teachers a raise totaling around $400 million, but is struggling to pay for it. All proposals involve cutting elsewhere, and some would lay off thousands of teacher assistants and kick people off Medicaid.

• Both the House and Senate are looking to cut hundreds of millions from K-12 spending for the current fiscal year. According to the Budget and Tax Center, the latest House plan cuts $293 million from the previously enacted 2015 budget and the latest Senate plan cuts $437 million.

• Many states, meanwhile, are enjoying budget surpluses as they recover from the recession. As personal and corporate incomes have bounced back in those states, so have state tax revenues. Many of those states are restocking their rainy day funds.

Those are facts. They lead to our opinion that the best use of that money is to fund teacher pay raises without cutting teacher assistants, rather than to give it to the state’s wealthiest taxpayers. Others, including the Republican leaders in Raleigh, have the opposite opinion.

It’s not too late for them to change their minds. While it’s extremely unlikely that they’d undo the tax cuts that took effect last Jan. 1, they could get themselves out of a financial bind, and do the best thing for the state, by unplugging the next round of tax cuts. The previous cuts established a flat personal income tax rate of 5.8 percent, down from staggered brackets of 6, 7 and 7.75 percent. The next cut would drop it to 5.75 percent and drop the corporate income tax another percentage point, from 6 percent to 5 percent.

In other words, legislators could go a long way toward helping teachers without raising taxes one cent. All they have to do is not cut them even further.

That would be a political winner, and that’s practically a fact.

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