The ever clearer priorities of the General Assembly

The ever clearer priorities of the General Assembly

- in Fitzsimon File

It has been five weeks since the General Assembly gave final approval to the Republican budget by overriding Governor Perdue’s veto. And it’s been just 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 teachers 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 four 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.

This 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.

No bright high school seniors who want to become teachers will have the chance to apply for a college scholarship from the N.C Teaching Fellows program this year. The budget eliminates the program.

The Raleigh Police Department will have to be responsible for patrolling the state government complex at night as the budget slashes the funding of the State Capitol Police in half. The News & Observer reports that the additional expense to the City of Raleigh is roughly the same amount as the budget cut to the State Capitol Police Department.

The cuts to community colleges and the university system that will cost thousands of faculty and staff members their jobs have been reported several times, but there has been little attention paid to the specifics, like the reduction to services like the Basic Skills Plus Program at community colleges that helps adults without a high school diploma acquire the skills they need to find a job.

Lawmakers like to talk about how important quality teachers are to public education, but not many Republicans are mentioning the $53 million the budget slashes in teacher development and mentoring programs. The young teachers left in the classroom this fall are on their own.

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 a disability.

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 Governor Perdue’s proposal to leave ¾ 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 four 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.