General Assembly's Priorities Growing Clearer Every Day
It has been five weeks since the General Assembly gave final approval to the Republican budget by overriding Gov. Beverly Perdue’s veto. And it’s been just over three weeks since the beginning of the fiscal year when the budget took effect.
But already many of the ramifications of the budget decisions are becoming clear across the state. And not just in the well-publicized layoffs of teachers and teacher assistants in places like Cumberland County, where school officials recently told 137 teacher assistants they were out of a job. That’s on top of 90 teacher jobs already lost there and another 46 school support positions eliminated.
And it’s not just the $100 million slashed from the early childhood programs Smart Start and More at Four in the next two years, cuts that are making news with the ruling by Wake County Superior Court Judge Howard Manning that lawmakers’ budget decisions deny at-risk 4-year-olds the sound, basic education that the state constitution guarantees them.
The cuts are far more pervasive than firing teachers and denying thousands of children the help they need to succeed in school.
Last weekend the Winston-Salem Journal reported that budget cuts mean fewer services to victims of crime as they are navigating their way through the court system.
The cuts to the judicial system also mean the end of many of the state’s nationally recognized drug treatment courts that put nonviolent offenders into intensive treatment programs instead of prison cells, saving the state more than $20,000 per offender and giving people a chance to turn their lives around.
WRAL-TV reported last week that deep cuts to the Forest Service have left the state scrambling to find enough money to battle forest fires this summer.
There are plenty more examples of what this year’s budget will do to communities across the state and many of the cuts are still to come, especially in the Department of Health and Human Services, where officials may have to end Medicaid services to seniors and people with disabilities.
Republicans leaders ran for office last year promising that they could cut taxes and balance the budget by simply eliminating waste in state government and reordering priorities.
After just a few weeks of experience with their budget in place, we now have a good idea of what those priorities are and what they are not.
Their refusal to go along Perdue’s proposal to leave three-fourths of a cent of the temporary sales tax in place means the average North Carolinian has an extra 17 cents in their pocket every day. That’s what the leaders of the House and Senate cared most about, cutting the sales tax to keep their pledge to right-wing anti-government groups.
Not nearly as important to them were services to crime victims, resources to fight forest fires, helping bright students become teachers, helping people find jobs, keeping nonviolent people out of prison, even protecting state buildings and state property. Not to mention teachers in the classroom or 4-year-olds getting the help they need.
It’s quite a budget legacy the Republicans are creating for themselves this fiscal year. And we are only three weeks in.
Chris Fitzsimon is executive director of N.C. Policy Watch. Contact him at email@example.com.
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