Column: State tax reform creates local turmoil

Jun. 22, 2013 @ 07:49 AM

Ordinarily the top stories of the week would not be centered on the municipal meetings in the various communities, schools and county board of commissioners. But this time of the year budgets are being set, and this year each of our communities are facing a tremendous obstacle. It’s called the state legislature. Cuts expected in our county alone could amount to millions of dollars. Battles are being fought in both the Senate and the House. The House speaker said Thursday that the legislature probably is not be able to meet its July 1 deadline for passing a budget.

Even if the legislature adopted its budget on the last day of June, that would be too late for the municipalities, which also have a July 1 deadline.

Our budgets are not large, so several hundred thousand dollars out of the City of Lenoir’s budget, for example, can mean some tough decisions. How much will they have to dip into the fund balance? What types of cuts might need to be made to staff, programs and other expenses? What projects will be postponed or canceled? Will the city be forced, this year or next, to raise taxes?

Major tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations mean lower-income and middle-class residents will have to bear a much larger share of the tax burden. Studies have shown that to be the case. A household of $30,000 a year could pay an additional $1,000 a year more just in sales taxes.

Let me give two examples to illustrate the problems.

The governor and the Republicans plan to start taxing medical prescriptions and services. This means that at Caldwell Memorial Hospital (a non-profit community hospital) the proposed sales tax will impact their budget by almost a million dollars a year. This will hurt patients, their care and hospital employees. If sales tax now starts showing up on a hospital bill, it’s questionable whether insurance companies will cover the expense, which means more out-of-pocket costs for patients.

Now let’s look at teacher’s assistants, or instructional assistants as they are called in Caldwell County. The House’s version of the budget shows a cut of $24 million in funding for assistants, while the governor is proposing a $117 million cut and the Senate wants a whopping $142 million. It will decimate a program that primarily helps students in grades K-3. These assistants in Caldwell County provide invaluable service to students who are in need of extra attention. Many are licensed teachers who are hoping someday to have a teaching position in the school system, but all are trained professionals. They are the Band-Aid that keeps the schools going. They help students who are struggling. They work with students in small groups to improve their reading skills. They assist teachers in grading papers. They help students with homework. The list goes on. When these positions are cut, more will fall on the shoulders of teachers, and students who need extra attention will just be left behind.

But these aides are easy targets because they and our children do not have any political clout in Raleigh.

If either of these scenarios bother you, now’s the time to call Gov. Pat McCrory’s office at 919-814-2000 or Sen. Dan Soucek at 919-733-5742.