Everyone who spends money makes choices about how to spend it. Whether we have an official budget or not, our spending choices say something about our priorities.
In North Carolina, where the legislature finally approved a long-overdue budget bill this week, at least one unfortunate priority squeezed out other financial needs. Legislators cut $40 million from the program that provides mental health care to people without insurance. They’re closing seven of N.C.’s overcrowded prisons, without doing anything to reduce some of the enormous sentences handed out to petty criminals. They cut education funding by hundreds of millions, including $225 million less for grades 4-12 alone, according to this story.
But, legislators left in the budget a $10 million tax break for athletic booster clubs. The break works by granting in-state tuition — thousands less than what out-of-state students must typically pay to attend North Carolina’s publicly funded universities — to out-of-state athletes recruited to play sports while attending college. Those scholarships are typically paid by well-funded booster clubs supported by wealthy sports patrons who get big tax breaks for raining money on their favorite school sports program. In return, they get perks like preferential seating for their season tickets, and if they contribute enough, a tacky blazer or their name on a stadium or field house.
The amount is not insubstantial — tuition for North Carolina students at UNC-Chapel Hill, for example, is expected to be $3,865 this year. For out-of-state students wanting to attend the N.C. tax-supported school, it’s $21,753. The bill allows booster clubs to save $17,888 for every scholarship granted to a public university.
The bill doesn’t do anything for the athletes — if they’re good enough, they’ll get full rides, whether they have financial needs or not. The break goes into the cash-stuffed coffers of athletic booster clubs that compete for the title of building athletic empires, complete with castles.
Who wins ball games, in the larger scheme of things, pales in importance compared to whether children have enough teachers and the mentally ill have treatment.
I hope the legislature will think about that when they start getting serious about next year’s budget — hopefully long before it comes due next July.