Governor Bev Perdue has not yet announced if she will veto the budget approved by the House and Senate last week. It’s one of three controversial bills on her desk. The others would legalize fracking in North Carolina and repeal the Racial Justice Act. All three deserve her veto and it shouldn’t have taken her this long to figure that out.
The folks on the Right are touting the budget as “the right and responsible thing” and dismissing the legitimate criticisms of the spending plan as silly “apocalyptic predictions” not grounded in reality. They smugly predict that the budget won’t result in the demise of public schools or the collapse of the state economy.
That’s the same condescending tone we heard last year when the Republican budget made the biggest cuts in history to education, human services, and environmental protections, cuts that for the most part were not restored in this year’s plan.
Republican legislators and the leaders of the think tanks that develop their talking points like to remind us that schools opened last fall and they will open this fall too, that everything did not fall apart last year and won’t fall apart this year either if this budget goes into effect.
They are technically right about that. The schools won’t close and the economy will not immediately collapse. Most people won’t immediately sense any difference in their daily lives.
That’s the insidiousness of these Republican budgets. They don’t destroy public schools, the social safety net, or environmental protections, they just weaken them significantly step by budget step.
This year’s budget means public schools have $189 million less to educate 12,000 more kids. That is the salary of 3,400 teachers. That comes after last year’s budget cost the schools 3,000 teachers and teacher assistants and slashed funding for supplies, textbooks, and vital administrative support.
Schools may be open but they can’t offer students the same education and support as they did the year before. And it’s not just public education.
Thousands of at-risk four year olds are locked out of pre-k programs that would make it more likely they will succeed in schools.
That may not seem like a disaster now, but it will when many of students struggle to learn and eventually drop out of school without a diploma.
The budget does not replace cuts in need-based college scholarships. Tuition goes up, financial aid goes down. That may not be the apocalypse, but it means thousands of students from low-income families won’t be able to afford college next year.
The budget abolishes funding for the drug courts. That means people struggling with substance abuse who could have entered intensive treatment programs and kept their jobs and stayed with their families will now head to prison instead where they cannot work and pay taxes and pay restitution to their victims.
That may not be the end of the world to comfortable right-wing pundits in Raleigh, but it’s a tragedy for people committed to overcoming their addiction and turning their lives around. And it is bad news for taxpayers too, who now have to pay $26,000 a year to keep someone behind bars who doesn’t have to be there.
The budget is filled with these wrong-headed decisions, each one weakening us as a state, damaging our schools, turning our backs on children, filling up our prisons.
Lawmakers decided in this budget to allow millionaires to get a tax cut billed only as a break for small businesses.
It means we can’t afford to finally compensate the victims of the state’s horrific eugenics program or restore the NC Teaching Fellows program or adequately fund services for people with a mental illness or developmental disability.
This budget will not cause the apocalypse or the collapse of North Carolina as the right-wing pundits sarcastically maintain.
But it will continue and hasten the decline that last year’s budget began, weakening our schools, denying opportunities to kids and basic services to vulnerable adults.
That’s why this budget deserves a veto. It diminishes us as a state and a civil society, piece by piece, school by school, child by child.
And there is nothing right or responsible about that.