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Opinion Letters ‘Cuts’ translate to ‘creative budgeting’

Have you heard the claim made by liberal Democrat partisans that the Republican-controlled legislature’s 2011-2013 budget cut K-12 education spending by over $1 billion?

I spent time locating, analyzing, and comparing state budget data from 2008 through 2013. The data is publicly available on-line at the governor’s Office of State Budget and Management, and the Department of Public Instruction (DPI), which runs the K-12 system.

Keep in mind that beginning in 2009, N.C. was hard hit by a recession. It significantly reduced the state’s tax collections which required the legislature to cut the General Fund Budget (GFB) to balance it. The General Fund pays for: Education, health and human services, justice and public safety, general government, natural and economic resources, and debt service. Everything, except debt service, required cutting.

K-12 is funded through three sources — state, federal, and local. The legislature only controls state K-12 funding which is currently about $7.5 billion/year - about 38 percent of the total $20 billion GFB. From 2009 through 2011, N.C. received $7.6 billion in federal “stimulus” funds including about $2.6 billion for K-12. That one-time largess from Washington has been spent.

During the 2009-2011 budget period, Democrats controlled the state house and legislature. During that two year period, their budget cut K-12 spending by 9.2 percent, or $717 million. They also added a temporary one percent increase to the sales tax, and an income tax surcharge. Both were to expire after two years.

In 2011, Republicans won control of the legislature. Their 2011-2013 two-year GFB increased K-12 spending by 5.9 percent, or $420 million. The governor vetoed the original 2011- 2013 GFB, as well as the 2012-2013 modifications. Both vetoes were over-ridden.

The Republicans allowed the Democrats’ “temporary” sales tax increase, and income tax surcharge to expire as scheduled. They also reduced taxes on small businesses, and capped the gas tax.

So the Democrats’ 2009-2011 GFB cut K-12 spending $717 million, and the Republican’s 2011-2013 GFB increased K-12 spending by $420 million.

Where is the claimed $1 billion cut in K-12 spending in the 2011-2013 GFB?

The answer is “creative budgeting” used by DPI, not any actual decreases in the legislature-controlled appropriations to DPI.

Democrat GFB cuts in 2009-2011 provided DPI with smaller appropriations than DPI requested. What did DPI do? Just added those cuts to the next DPI budget request to “catch up.” Then, since the 2011-2013 legislature-controlled appropriation didn’t provide DPI with everything requested, DPI called it a “cut,” even when their appropriations have increased! This is exactly how the federal government counts spending “cuts.” It’s a shame DPI is taking its cues from Washington.

The claimed $1 billion in K-12 budget cuts for 2011-2013 are simply “creative budgeting” by DPI, and political hyperbole by Democrats, in an attempt to gain political advantage for their candidates in November’s election.

Vic Drummond — Franklin, N.C.


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