State spending isn’t out of control; it’s actually at its lowest point in since 1996-97, according to a new study from the N.C. Justice Center’s Budget and Tax Center.
- Photo by George A. Hoffman Jr.
- A replica of Antonio Canova’s sculpture of George Washington dressed as a Roman general sits in the North Carolina State Capitol building.
The report measures spending per capita in the 2010-11 budget, a $19 billion plan passed June 30, as the lowest in 14 years. It also finds that only 5.8 percent of North Carolinian’s total personal income is being spent compared to 8.2 percent in 1998-99.
Elaine Mejia, the author of the study, says these measures give greater context than comparing raw budget totals.
“A lot of people like to focus on the big picture bottom line number, but that doesn’t tell you an accurate number,” she says. “Per person and in real dollars, those tell a very different story than some would like to paint about what has really been going on.”
The real story, she says, is that the state has been fighting to maintain existing services, not spending lavishly on additional frills.
“It’s not like state budget and things that it pays for has been improving or growing dramatically in the past few years,” Mejia says. “We haven’t been doing tremendous expansions in the quantity or quality of state services. We’ve just been keeping up basically.”
Mejia argues that state legislators have allowed the tax base to gradually erode and that economic struggles have forced tough political decisions.
She says the spending debate should be reframed from focusing on “government” to honing in on the services it provides such as health care, schools and public safety.
Last year’s study found that spending was at its lowest point in 13 years.