The unvarnished numbers

The unvarnished numbers

- in Fitzsimon File

It is not a surprise that many people are confused about what the budget recently approved by the General Assembly will mean for North Carolina.

That is not an accident.

That’s what the Republican leaders of the General Assembly are hoping for. They realize that their claims that the budget doesn’t fire any teachers or teacher assistants won’t hold up as people across the state see teachers they know receive pink slips.

But they can at least try to create confusion to divert attention from the damage their budget will do. The misleading statements about teachers are just one part of that strategy.

They and their propaganda machines also like to say that their budget couldn’t be as bad as critics charge because it spends only two percent less than Governor Perdue recommended while keeping their campaign promise to cut taxes.

Then there are the distortions about jobs, with Republicans leaders telling us that the tax cuts will create thousands of jobs next year but never mentioning how many people the massive spending reductions will throw out of work.

The N.C. Budget and Tax Center cuts through all the haze and budget smoke and mirrors in an upcoming report. Here is a preview of some of its important findings.

The final legislative budget spends $600 million less than Governor Perdue recommended. That may only be a 2.1 percent difference but $600 million would keep a lot of teachers in the classrooms and prevent a lot of vulnerable people from losing essential services.

The final budget will cost the state roughly 30,000 jobs in the next two years. That is even after taking into the account the jobs that the Republicans say may be created by the tax cuts they approved.

Much of the job loss will come in the health care industry where the budget takes roughly $2 billion out of the economy when you consider cuts to Medicaid and the state’s children health insurance program, both of which draw down federal matching dollars. The health care jobs will be lost in the public and private sector.

The Republican budget also directly abolishes 2,200 state jobs and more than 10,000 jobs in education.

Those are the numbers and the facts not partisan political rhetoric.

Even the Republican claims about the soundness of the spending plan are off base. The BTC report finds that the budget spends more than $800 million in one-time money on recurring expenses. That is not only a practice Republicans have long condemned, it creates an $800 million hole for next year when the money is gone but the expenses remain.

The report identifies many of the tricks that make the final numbers deceiving too, like the transfer of the Highway Patrol and Wildlife Resources Fund to the General Fund, where their budgets are then reduced.

Then there are the actual reductions themselves, a 12 percent cut in the university system, 11 percent in community colleges and a total of $32 million in cuts to early childhood programs.

The cuts are troubling in total and make even less sense when you consider individual decisions like the abolition of highly acclaimed programs like drug treatment courts and the teaching fellows program and crippling cuts to everything from indigent defense services to environmental protections.

This is not a budget to be proud of. It is not fiscally sound, it costs the state thousands of jobs and does serious damage to education, human services and vital state institutions.

No wonder they are trying to confuse us.

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.