Opinion

In budget fight, North Carolina’s well-being is at stake

Gov. Roy Cooper will veto GOP-backed state budget

Gov. Roy Cooper announced Friday that he plans to veto a GOP-backed state budget. It’s the first time Republicans don’t have enough members to override his budget veto on their own.
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Gov. Roy Cooper announced Friday that he plans to veto a GOP-backed state budget. It’s the first time Republicans don’t have enough members to override his budget veto on their own.

The Senate and House leadership have taken to the media with statements that the Governor is in pursuit of one policy— Medicaid expansion — in the current negotiations to finalize the state budget and will sacrifice all else.

Never mind that his statements have been quite clear that his veto of their budget proposal was about more than the lack of a plan to provide health care coverage to those currently without — nearly half a million of our neighbors.

This budget fight is about health care and so many other missed opportunities to strengthen families and communities through things like quality child care for infants and toddlers, educational supports for children with disabilities, and connecting people to good jobs through a fully funded workforce development system, apprenticeships and affordable post-secondary education and job training. The legislative budget vetoed by the governor is unacceptable because it fails in numerous ways to advance the well-being of us all and instead chooses to solidify the gains in this national expansion for the few.

We understand that it is tough for legislative leaders to acknowledge that their entire approach to budgeting has failed — failed to deliver exceptional economic results, failed to meet the expectations of North Carolinians, failed to position North Carolina communities to thrive. Its results have meant the erosion of the foundations of our quality of life. But make no mistake: It has failed.

As evidenced by numerous economic indicators, North Carolina has not outperformed our neighbors and has kept in place persistent barriers to opportunity for black and brown North Carolinians, all while also fueling the reality that where one lives determines one’s ability to get ahead. As evidenced by emerging trends in a range of health and well-being indicators, North Carolina is experiencing rising rates of suicide and overdose deaths, lowered life expectancies, and higher infant and maternal mortality rates.

This budget fight is about whether North Carolina values the lives of every person and whether we are willing to invest together in recognition that the well-being of one of us is tied to the well-being of us all.

The path to opportunity is currently riddled with potholes and barricades for North Carolinians based on the money they have, the wealth of their parents, the color of their skin, or the county they live in. But those potholes can be smoothed over with the intentional use of smart public investments.

But smart public investments at the scale and with the precision and efficiency to achieve more equitable outcomes don’t happen without taxes. The governor’s offer to legislators to accept their spending proposal in large part but stop the tax cuts for big business is too modest, in fact, to reach the goals North Carolinians have for their own lives and their communities.

It is however an important start.

The choices made in this year’s budget stalemate will ripple through the next downturn and for generations. There is no viable path to prosperity that gives away tax cuts for the rich and big companies while underinvesting in our communities. At a minimum, it is time to stop cutting taxes and commit to the smart public investments that help communities thrive.

Leaders are needed who recognize that our fates are shared. Their success, as well as all of ours, will be measured by whether North Carolina has built a pathway free of obstacles that we can all walk toward greater prosperity.

Alexandra Forter Sirota is the director of the NC Budget & Tax Center, a progressive research and advocacy organization.

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