The spin, the truth, and the numbers

The spin, the truth, and the numbers

- in Fitzsimon File

Don’t worry if you are not clear about what the latest version of the Republican budget really means for education, human services, jobs and the future of North Carolina.

That is not an accident.

They don’t really want you to know. That’s what the blizzard of carefully crafting talking points and wildly misleading claims about jobs are designed to do, keep you from understanding the real impact of the Republicans’ budget decisions.

The static is only going to get worse in the next two weeks as Republicans try to override the inevitable veto of the budget by Governor Perdue.

It’s all up to the five House Democrats who are selling their votes for things like bridges and prisons in their home counties, a promise not to toll a local ferry, maybe a slightly better district when the new lines are drawn by Republicans next month.

Here are a few things to keep in mind during the next ten days as the pressure mounts on the Gang of Five to stand up for education and human services instead of local projects and their political futures.

First—jobs. Republicans leaders like Senator Bob Rucho keep saying that a study by the UNC Center for Competitive Economies shows that the tax cuts in the budget will create 17,000 jobs in the next year.

That is simply false. The study did not take into account the impact on the economy of the massive cuts in the budget or the loss of thousands of public sector jobs.

The study’s author acknowledged that in the cover letter that he sent to Rucho and other legislative leaders but they have yet to mention it.

Senator Jerry Tillman made the remarkable claim Thursday on the Senate floor that no jobs would be lost in public schools. That is a candidate for biggest whopper of the year.

The budget cuts $257 million more from education overall than Perdue recommended, $124 million in additional cuts that lawmakers are forcing local schools to make. Last year more than 88 percent of discretionary cuts resulted in job losses.

Education officials say the budget will abolish more than 9,000 jobs in K-12 and pink slips are already going out around the state. That’s a long way from zero.

Add in the cuts to community colleges and the university system and as many as 12,000 jobs will be lost in education if the current budget becomes law.

Then there is health and human services, where the budget would slash $750 million from Medicaid over the next two years which means a loss to the state of roughly $2 billion when you add in the loss of federal money the cuts will cause.

That is $2 billion taken out of the state’s economy that supports as many as 40,000 private sector jobs, the ones Republicans claim they value more.

The indisputable bottom line is that the budget now under consideration would cost North Carolina tens of thousands of jobs in the next two years, right as the state is struggling to climb its way out of the worst recession in a generation.

Then there is the damage the cuts and the job losses will do to education, human services, and environmental protection.

Senate President Pro Tem Berger defends the cuts to education saying that the current system does not work and cites statistics about graduation rates and academic achievement showing North Carolina ranked in the low 40s among the states in several categories.

Berger never mentions that North Carolina currently ranks 47th in the country in per pupil spending. The budget he supports would drop the state to 49th, just below Mississippi. You don’t get what you don’t pay for.

Spending less on schools is no way to improve them but that seems to the strategy across the board in education. As Senator Josh Stein pointed out this week, the budget makes the biggest cuts in the history of the state to community colleges and the university system.

The budget also counts on what state officials say privately are unrealistic savings from Medicaid. That means services to seniors will be cut, services like dental care and eye glasses.

The budget directly cuts community services to people with a mental illness or a disability, which might be the hardest cut of all to understand given the woeful under funding of the mental health system in the last ten years.

There’s plenty more in the budget behind the spin, like a restriction on state environmental and workplace safety rules that is a gift to polluters and sweatshops that has nothing to do with state spending.

The budget inexplicably abolishes the award-winning N.C. Drug Treatment Court and slashes the highly acclaimed early childhood programs More at Four and Smart Start and transfers More at Four out of its logical home in the education system.

There’s plenty more but the raw numbers are these. The Republican budget spends $580 million less than Governor Perdue recommends and spends that lower amount less wisely.

It will cost the state thousands of jobs, damage education from public schools to the universities, and deny services to the most vulnerable people in North Carolina.

About the author

Chris Fitzsimon, Founder and Executive Director of N.C. Policy Watch, writes the Fitzsimon File, delivers a radio commentary broadcast on WRAL-FM and hosts "News and Views," a weekly radio news magazine that airs on multiple stations across North Carolina.