The enduring legacies of the Republican budget

The enduring legacies of the Republican budget

- in Fitzsimon File

The Republican spin machine has kicked into hyper drive, making all sorts of absurd statements about the final budget agreement between House and Senate leaders, most notably that the budget adds $251 million in funding for public schools.

That is simply not true, no matter how many times they say it. Public schools in North Carolina will have almost $200 million less to operate next year than they have this year. That comes to roughly 3,400 teaching positions.

That will be one of the tragic and enduring legacies of this Republican budget, that it forces schools to make another round of layoffs and damaging cuts after last year’s budget slashed more than 3,000 teachers and teacher assistants from the classroom.

After last year’s budget, schools superintendents testified before the State Board of Education that they were at the breaking point and couldn’t take another round of cuts without seriously hurting the education of their students.

Legislative leaders may have heard their pleas, but they didn’t listen. Another round of deep cuts is on the way.

The second enduring legacy of this session’s budget is that it ignores several thousand living victims of the state’s forced sterilization program that operated until the 1970s, maiming people the state decided were unfit to have children.

The House passed a plan to give $50,000 in compensation to each living survivor of the program, an amount agreed to by members of a bipartisan commission created to his credit by House Speaker Thom Tillis.

It should have been a signal when almost half the Republican members of the House voted against the plan sponsored by their own Speaker. Senate leaders never let things get that far. They simply refused to consider the eugenics compensation and it was left out of the final budget deal.

And it was not a financial decision. The compensation plan from the House would have cost $11 million in a $20 billion budget. They could have easily found the money if they had wanted to find it. They chose to ignore the victims, to make them wait even longer.

And maybe most telling of all, the legacy of this budget is who it helped while making more deep cuts to schools and leaving the eugenics victims out in the cold.

It helped millionaires, the state’s richest lawyers and owner of medical practices. That’s who won, some of the wealthiest people in the state who will be receiving a tax cut that was allegedly designed only for small business owners.

Democrats in the Senate gave the Republicans a chance to make sure it went to only small businesses as intended by offering an amendment to cap the tax cut to prevent millionaires from receiving it.

The amendment was buried by a parliamentary maneuver, never even coming up for a vote. Capping the tax cut could have saved teachers’ jobs and paid for the compensation for the eugenics victims.

It could have avoided or at least reduced some of the other inexplicable choices in the Republican budget, like the decision to abolish the N.C Teaching Fellows program or end all funding for drug treatment courts.

The list of absurd cuts is long, from tobacco prevention money to leaving thousands of at-risk four year olds locked out of pre-k programs.

Lawmakers could have freed up $4 million in federal funding to make the November election run more smoothly by spending just $600,000 in state money.

Instead they not only forfeited the federal money, they slashed funding for the State Board of Elections in the biggest election year in the state’s history.

There’s plenty more in the details that defies common sense, like increasing the number of people in state government who are political appointees instead of career public servants from 100 to 1000. On what planet is that a good idea?

But if you are looking for the real story in the 2012-2013 budget passed by this General Assembly, it is this—less for schools, less for kids, a slap in the face for eugenics survivors, and more for millionaires.

Those are the shameful choices this budget makes and how it will be remembered. And no fancy, well-funded spin machine can make that go away.

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.