CHRIS FITZSIMON: An Odd Definition of 'Niceties'
The folks at the Pope Civitas Institute are now claiming that state lawmakers wasted $1.64 billion from 2004-2008 on extravagances like health care for kids, teacher assistants in classrooms, reducing the child care subsidy waiting list, food banks and college scholarships.
They don't call it waste directly, referring instead to the programs and services as "niceties" that should not have been funded. Much of the Civitas niceties list is small amounts of state funding for nonprofits or local governments to pay for libraries, museums and bike paths.
They are also upset that the state provided money for museums and art programs, funded a new storage shed at the zoo and provided vision screening for kids before they start school. Quite an extravagance.
The big items on the list are investments in education, health and safety, and economic development, apparently not core functions of state government in the Civitas world view.
It seems to especially trouble them that public money helps kids in working poor families see a doctor or go to college. These are described as unnecessary programs for "middle-class" children.
The state's insurance program for kids is Health Choice, which provides coverage for children in families with incomes up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level, about $44,000 a year for a family of four.
The 2008 Living Income Standard Report from the North Carolina Budget and Tax Center found that 37 percent of families make less than the $41,000 a year they need to meet their basic needs -- food, housing, child care, transportation, health care and other necessities and taxes.
Roughly two-thirds of the adults in those families work full time, many of them in jobs that don't provide health care or offer an unaffordable family plan to cover their children. And health care costs continue to rise.
It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that kids who do not have access to health care have a much harder time keeping up in class, though the Civitasers don't want schools to hire any counselors or school nurses to help. Those are extravagances too.
Local nonprofits could step in, but the Civitas folks want to slash their public support. Kids who are sick will have to wait. Their care would require a "nonessential appropriation."
If the kids do manage to beat the odds, succeed in school and think about going to college, too bad if they can't afford it. The Civitas list identifies college scholarships for families who earn less than 200 percent of poverty as waste too.
The family that couldn't afford heath care for their children is now supposed to find thousands of dollars a year to pay for college.
There are a handful of small things on the Civitas list that should prompt a debate. But they can't just list those. It doesn't add up to enough money to make government look bad.
And that is one major objective of the report, trying to discredit state government and in the process cut off health care for kids and leave schools without enough administrative and support personnel to operate effectively.
Chris Fitzsimon is executive director of N.C. Policy Watch. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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