It happens every week, sometimes every couple of days.
A newspaper or television station reports that a popular, important and effective state program or service is ending because of budget cuts made this summer by the Republican-controlled General Assembly. The story explains the service in detail and often includes details about a child or family affected.
Sometimes there is philosophical justification for the cuts from one right-wing think or another. Then there is a reaction from a Republican legislative leader or maybe the local Republican member of the House or Senate who says that lawmakers wanted to support the program but had no choice but to make the cuts.
The legislators are simply not telling the truth. They had plenty of choices, the easiest one to accept Governor Perdue’s recommendation to reduce the state sales tax by ¼ of penny instead of the full cent the lawmakers insisted on cutting.
That would have cost the average North Carolinian 17 cents a day but raised $750 million for the state, enough to avoid most of the severe cuts to education, early childhood, human services, and environmental protections.
The latest example came this week in a News & Observer story that reported that in Wake County a literacy program for kids and help for parents with special needs were ending because of state budget cuts to Smart Start, the state’s national recognized early childhood program.
The cuts mean the Wake County Smart Start chapter will have $3 million less in funding this year. That’s a lot of help for kids struggling to read and parents overwhelmed with the challenges of raising children with a disability.
It is impossible to argue that the programs are unnecessary or that parents and children don’t need the extra help. That’s probably why this story is missing the usual attack from the rabid anti-government crowd who is unapologetic about their demands that Smart Start be abolished entirely.
Even they don’t want to be on the record saying that children with problems from being born prematurely don’t deserve our help.
But that’s what the budget cuts did, make it almost impossible for Smart Start in Wake County to keep offering assistance to parents of infants born prematurely, and kids who need extra attention to overcome their struggles learning to read.
The News & Observer did have the customary disclaimer from a Republican, in this case Wake County Representative Nelson Dollar, the Chair of the health and human services budget committee. Dollar said the budget priority was to protect programs that address people’s health care needs and that meant they had to make reductions in other areas, like Smart Start.
The budget Dollar is defending will take $2 billion out of Medicaid in the next two years, a program that provides direct and immediate health care services to some of the most vulnerable people in the state.
Putting that small flaw in Dollar’s reasoning aside, he is also infuriatingly wrong that other areas like the literacy program for children offered through Smart Start HAD to be cut, or that they had no choice but to slash funding for programs in Dollar’s home county that help parents with special needs.
No matter how times they claim otherwise, they had another clear choice. Cut the sales tax less, like Governor Perdue recommended, and keep helping kids.
But they made a different choice, to cut our taxes 17 cents a day.