On Moral Monday anniversary, we recommit to a moral budget for NC

Our state budget helps ensure that our air and water are clean, our kids can get a good education, and Boards of Election have what they need for our elections to remain free and fair.

The state budget is the biggest policy decision made each year. It must reflect the priorities of the people of North Carolina and take a comprehensive view of our needs as a whole state, not only the priorities of the powerful and wealthy few.

Last week, I joined the North Carolina Poor People’s Campaign to call on legislators to stop playing politics with people’s lives and livelihoods and to fund a better future in North Carolina.

Piggy bank with different budget areas on it, like Infrastructure, Good Paying Union Jobs, and Education, with the words "Budgets are moral documents" around it.

North Carolina can be a place where every person has opportunities and can secure well-being — because through taxes we all contribute to building the good schools, the good jobs, the health care, and the healthy environments that are fundamental to achieving that goal.

But as I was reminded on the 10-year anniversary of when Moral Monday demonstrations began in North Carolina, we cannot get very far if elected leaders don’t unrig the rules and don’t require corporations and the wealthy to pay what they owe through taxes.

A collective commitment to show up for each other is the way that we can fund our brighter future.

As it is today, the budget was front and center in 2013 as the state continued to emerge from the Great Recession and legislative leaders began their push to eliminate income taxes for the wealthy.

The Moral Monday movement came forward with a set of priorities that if funded instead would advance the well-being and equity we need for all our communities to thrive.

Then as today, political leaders attempted to avoid the fiscally responsible path to meet those priorities by playing political games — they drafted a political amendment that suggested the costs would be too high.

Our analysis at the Budget & Tax Center showed that funding for schools, health care, and workforce development was within reach and could be affordable if policymakers made sure that corporations and the wealthy paid what they owed.

Instead, legislative leaders enacted the first in a series of tax cuts that continued and will continue to roll out through this decade if we don’t come together to demand a different path for our state.

At the same time, legislators began to shift the ways in which they put policies and the budget together — stopping the practice of building a budget that was committed to keeping current service levels constant over time; reducing the time and space in committees for review and debate of the issues and funding proposals for all legislators to engage; and blocking the opportunity for public input and assessment of how funding proposals using our dollars stack up against our needs.

This year, our leaders are presenting us with another set of false choices by trying to hide the fact that they already have chosen to give the largest tax breaks to the wealthy and large corporations. They are following a playbook that sets the budget terms before even trying to understand the priorities of people in community.

North Carolinians overwhelmingly agree on the priorities that our budget must fund:

  • Access to care and health care, including expanded coverage through Medicaid.
  • Community safety and infrastructure and affordable housing.
  • Economic growth for all, including support for small businesses, good paying jobs, and job training for workers.
  • Children’s education and quality care during early childhood.
  • AND the ability to participate in free and fair elections.

Once again, we must come together to demand that our priorities are the focus of our policymakers. In the face of closed-door policymaking and magic math that sets arbitrary spending numbers that have no meaning in everyday life, we must come together to demand an explanation for persistent inaction in the face of hardship and to create the opportunity to do better.

When we do come together, we can win a better decade and fund a better future.

It is time for North Carolina’s leaders to show that they value the people of our state by recognizing our budget is a moral document and unrigging the rules so that every community has what is necessary for well-being.