Most of the discussion about the House budget now under consideration has focused on the more than 20,000 jobs it will abolish in education and human services.
House Speaker Thom Tillis and House Majority Leader Paul Stam, worried about the rising opposition to their spending plan, claimed Monday that the job loss numbers were vastly overstated.
That is simply not true. The estimates come from legislative staff and the state agencies that are affected. The House budget absolutely eliminates jobs and even 20,000 may be a low number.
But the proposal does far more than create a new army of unemployed workers as the state is struggling to climb out of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.
There are literally dozens of other troubling decisions made in the House budget that have not received not nearly enough attention. Here are just six.
1—Taking the nationally acclaimed pre-K program More at Four out of the Department of Public Instruction. This move along with the budget cuts to both More at Four and Smart Start will deny access to quality preschool programs for at-risk kids, end the ability to coordinate with federal funding for early education, reduce the quality of preschool teachers and end the logical connection between pre-K and kindergarten.
2—Crippling the state’s system of providing legal representation to people who cannot afford it. The House budget cuts in indigent defense services (IDS) are so deep that attorneys in some counties are now taking their names off of court-appointed lawyers list because IDS will not be able to afford the modest $75 an hour it currently pays the attorneys.
3—Abolishing the Health and Wellness Trust Fund. The Fund is the only entity currently receiving funds from the national tobacco settlement that is directly involved in improving public health, including leading the state’s anti smoking efforts. The budget also ends the Tobacco Trust Fund and intercepts two years of settlement money that goes to the Golden Leaf Foundation that invests in economic development projects across the state.
4—Shrinking the State Board of Elections. The budget shifts the responsibility for campaign finance reporting from the Board to the State Ethics Commission despite the Board’s expertise. The budget also eliminates voter registration personnel and technology, which must make sense to folks trying to make it harder for people to register and to vote.
5—Transferring management of forests from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to the Department of Agriculture. This is part of the evisceration of environmental protection and land conservation efforts that are on full display in the deep budget cuts to the regulatory staff of DENR.
6—Further damaging public education with cuts to services and personnel that support teachers and schools. These cuts are everywhere in the education budget, from a $92 million reduction in funding for textbooks to the elimination of teacher mentoring programs to an almost 50 percent cut in instructional supplies.
There are plenty more bad recommendations in the House budget that do more than slash jobs and they are all part of the Republicans’ far-right radical agenda not only to shrink government but to dismantle it by weakening or abolishing services that support and protect millions of people in North Carolina.
Abolishing 20,000 jobs at the tail end of a recession makes no sense but the House budget would do it. But don’t be misled by all the job talk. The damage wouldn’t stop there.